My 10 best automotive experiences of 2018 – and what was your favourite?
On my Hungarian blog, I developed a tradition, that by the end of the year, I recall the 10 best car events and activities of the year. Such a list evidently assumes that I had 10 car experiences throughout the year, which was safe to say in 2018. International and classic car shows, races exhibitions and museums, my year again surpassed the previous one. It will be more difficult to draw up a fair list, than ever before.
One important thing, before we get on, is that it’s my personal list of favorite events, that reflects my impressions, my passion and my non-partisan approach. I am a car maniac without any direct link to the automotive world, I am not a professional journalist, and I am neither fixed on a single brand. I try to observe these events with a holistic approach perhaps with a slight bias toward the historical aspects.
In my view, a lovely showcase of every Presidential DS Limo at Retromobile would take precedence over a drift championship of crazy cars in Essen.
Also, I couldn’t care less about world premiers, an aspect that lets journalists neglect a few excellent car shows (most notably Brussels). Professional journalists might end up hardly noting the beauty of historical car exhibitions, running between the press sessions of car shows. The irrelevance of premiers will bear important consequences on the list and will also bring up a few surprises.
Automotive experiences are about indulging myself in the past, present and future of automotive, with as much interactivity as it gets, and marvel all kind if beauty from stage layout to technological achievements. I tried to ensure as much variety during my trips, as possible.
I could get lost for hours with an acute overdose of pre-WW II cars in Mulhouse, but I also managed to take the time to drift with a Dodge Viper on the Cité de L’Automobile’s private oval track.
Or I had a lovely break in Paris enjoying the latte and cakes at Mercedes’, wondering about which stage left the greatest impressions…
It is fair to include here only those events, that I could actually attend. I start as early as January to draft my calendar, a kind of ultimate European automotive bucket list of major events, while cruising the forums for novelties and interesting pilgrimage sites.
As it turned out, I started too late this year, as the first event InterClassics Maastricht already passed before I noticed. : ( There are a few missing candidates that could probably have ended up with a podium finish here, like the Geneva Car Show, that I have always missed, due to winter weather. On the other hand, summer break prevented me from attending the lovely local concours at Schloss Dyck. Distance and difficult route are an essential factor as well, that kept me away so far from the exciting London Classic Car Show and the Goodwood events (the Festival of Speed and the Revival), as well as the bi-annual Le Mans Classics and the Villa d’Este. Also, there appears to be a fierce competition now among classic car events, culminating this year in the consecutive timing of Europe's two flagship events, Essen Techno Classica and Stuttgart Retro Classics, that forced me to chose only one. I guess some of the dissected specimens at Essen are the proof that even factory museums had to split up their stock between Essen and Stuttgart.
I couldn’t help noticing that the Stuttgart guys also delivered a wallop to the Dutch organisers, by arranging their Cologne event to the weekend of the InterClassics Brussels.
It is to be noted that none of the individual Museums could make this list. Nevertheless, by letting my museum road trips among the finalists, they will be well represented, but honestly, a very few museums could compete with such an incredible amount of awesome. But now that I set out the rules, let’s get on with the list!
10. Antwerp Classics – times change
The Antwerp Classics was the very first classic car show I attended some five years ago, and it made such a great impression on me, that basically lasted ever since. Nevertheless, I've seen a lot of great events since then, that just raised the bar by an incredible magnitude: factory museum shows that matched the standards of international car shows and legendary race cars revisiting their best forms at classic race tracks like at Spa.
The 2018 Antwerp Classic could not account for factory support, but one of the strengths of Antwerp Classics is the presence of avid owners’ clubs, showcasing nice dioramas and interesting classics. Many of the shows included spectacular stands, in particular for the two anniversary themes (Porsche 356 and Citroen 2CV), but none of the stages were close to factory or at least importer level representations. The main thematic exhibition focusing on Belgian racing successes at Le Mans brought in a lot of substance, but ultimately, these themes failed to impress me as much as for the first time, five years ago.
9. Essen Motor Show – the good, the bad and the ugly
The Essen Motor Show can best be summarised as a European SEMA meets classic car show. It is nothing like the international car shows from the news, but safe to say that EMS will leave its marks. With a clear aim to please everybody by offering everything on all fronts, in this list, however, it only made it to the penultimate spot.
In a few hours walk in the vast halls, I could witness, VW’s electric Pikes Peak stormer ID R and Porsche’s 919 Nürburgring dominator, I watched the training session of a drift championship, I marveled all forms of beauty and was paralyzed by shock and awe in the taverns of tuning.
I missed the special guest appearances (e.g. by Ken Block) and much of the show, but I could still bring home great memories. It is not a sophisticated thoroughbred event, but fans of many subcultures will find the object of their desire from JDM to movie cars.
8. Spa Classics - a historical race in a genuine environment
The Spa Classics event is part of the classic racing series run by the French Peter Auto. This year’ calendar comprised of eight diverse events (races and tours), and while the flagship event seemed to be the bi-annual Le Mans Classics, the roaring circus visits Spa every year. Since 2016, I try to squeeze in a classic car race, and the Spa Classics has a lot to vouch for.
The Peter Auto series brings up a comprehensive spectrum of epochs and classes, from entry level open wheel to high-end Group C race cars and multi-million dollar collectors’ dream cars (like the Ferrari "Breadvan"). Among the locations visited by the series, Spa Classics proved to be as immersive such an experience can be, compared to mainstream events.
Spectators are allowed to visit and see things no visitor would ever get to see on a crowded F1 weekend, like the Sky Bar on top of the Pits, let alone the pits themselves. Unless the doors are deliberately closed, we can enter the boxes, where some of the crew even stops to pose or to move out of the view to allow a good shot.
7. InterClassics Brussels – the ultimate car spotting experience
For those not so familiar with the event, it was held now for the fifth time in 2018. However, the organizers are far from being beginners, their main event, the InterClassics Maastricht is the most important classic car event in the Netherlands that had celebrated its 25th anniversary last year.
Even as a newcomer, InterClassics Brussels quickly established itself, thanks to the very active classic car culture of the region. The event is located pretty close to where I live, so it’s an obvious choice but furthermore, last year’s event raised the stakes considerably with their Big Five theme, so that it became one of my favourite events of the year.
I used to say, if there is one classic car show to see this year, it would not be InterClassics Brussels, but not since 2017, and that is also true to this year’s event. The 2018 InterClassics Brussels offered two thematic exhibitions and lots of classic cars, making good use of four halls of the Brussels Expo.
The first theme commemorated the 60th anniversary of the Brussels World Expo ‘58. Sixty years ago, the World Expo was held in Brussels, attracting some 42 million visitors, and imprinted as one of the most memorable events in Belgium’s post-war history. The second thematic was dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the first Porsche production car, the 356.
It might be no match for the largest shows, like Techno Classica or Retromobile but still, it took at least a good day spent with interesting, marvelous sometimes jaw-dropping cars, and a memorable amount of show elements.
6. The second European automotive road trip – Destination Wolfsburg
I will explain the point of these road trips later, the idea is to optimize a route to maximise the automotive experience, and to ease the overload by bringing variety into the programme.
This second road trip was perhaps even longer than the first one I did in July, partly due to the fact that it was more of a round trip than a one-way route, and maybe even more diverse, in terms of polyvalence of impulses.
The first two stops could not be more contradictory, one being a high-class German Art Museum with the pride of the noblest private and factory collections, the other being a Truck Museum, where old-school grease-monkey technicians were working on the cherished restoration project cars, buses and trucks, and the most sophisticated vehicle was a Dakar desert racing truck.
The strategical destination was the largest automotive theme park Autostadt in Wolfsburg, the heartland of the Volkswagen Corporation.
This location offers a full day programme, but I could still discover other surprise locations the PS Spiecher museum and the Automuseum Melle, concluding with another discovery at the Abarth Works Museum.
It was a nearly complete three-day event with a lot of variety. Some of those locations could have made it to this list on its own right, albeit not at the same position.
5. Techno Classica – the king of classic car shows
The Techno Classica is one of the most important automotive events in the continent, and that probably also means one of the most important classic car event in the world. The exhibition claims to be the number 1 of classic car fairs, but this does not mean much, as about half a dozen car shows have made a similarly bold announcement. But this show also delivers.
The size of the Techno Classica is truly impressive. 1250 exhibitors from over 30 countries are showcasing their very best, and the exhibition can hardly be covered on foot in a single day: 21 halls and their open air surrounding on 120,000 square meters offer plenty of sights. To give an idea, it takes a full day to walk through without really dropping the anchor anywhere. Even if there are plenty of reasons to stop…
Apart from the show’s sheer size, the real value added is the factory presence that makes the top-tier events (such as Retromobile, Goodwood Revival, Stuttgart’s Retro Classics and Maastricht Interclassics) reach far beyond the traditional second-hand car fairs. The flagship contributions encompass factory museums and historical parts divisions, often supported by current models. Factory stands not only enhance the reputation among collectors but also attract the general public, beyond the connoisseurs of classic cars.
Considering the nearly 200.000 visitors, manufacturers increasingly recognize the advertising potential of top-tier classic car shows. Essentially, Techno Classica resembles now a lot to the Frankfurt Motor Show but with classic cars taking center stage. The event secured a podium finish in my best of list of the past three years, but not this year. The only thing that stood in the way to perform better this time, was the arrival of the road trips, and fact that the Techno Classica 2018 was held in the same weekend, as the other most important German classic car event, the Retro Classics Stuttgart.
This implied that many major and mid-field players had to divide their efforts, and smaller traders, and most importantly visitors, like myself had to choose between the two events. Still, it was a rock solid performance, Techno Classica is a genuine top-tier car show.
4. Retromobile Paris – The queen of classic car shows
At first sight, I described the Retromobile exhibition in Paris as the queen of classic car event events. When I saw it for the first time on 2016, I already went through a few things, but this event raised my level of tolerance to where there is no turning back, I stepped on a path leading straight to an overdose.
In this case, it is not a question of size but quality. Retromobile performs really well on all fronts, from factory presence, through a high-class record chasing auction, down to serious efforts by major collectors, traders and sponsors.
The area where Retromobile outperforms everybody is the record-breaking auction results.
They were competing for the most expensive classic car ever sold, but visitors will also find the most complete presence of major collectors, like Fiskens or Lukas Hüni. This event is a playground for real players, but of course, visitors will have their fun even if they might not cross the gates of the stands.
As far as factory presence is concerned, the French manufacturers bear the torch, but many others came with a factory stage.
Museums also ensure a strong participation, not just from France (including the Tank Museum), but from abroad (the British Beaulieu Museum usually showcases a set of cars), many events book a surface just to put themselves in the map or streamline their presence.
The fabulous trio of classic car world (Porsche, Mercedes and Jaguar) were on board, but also Aston Martin came with an impressive set of cars from all epochs, Fiat Group’s Heritage Division with a world premiere statement and Mclaren honored by the best show of all time by Richard Mille.
3. The Paris Car Show - anything lower than gold is a failure
The Automotive World Fair of Paris always had a special place among car shows. In the past, it always boasted with visitor records but that goes at the expense of the visitor experience.
Nevertheless, despite the round (120th) anniversary, the automotive industry seemed to ignore the event.
Even the recently acquired Opel was far absent, so was Nissan. Hard to imagine, that Volkswagen missed too, while most of its brands attended. These are pretty big names to miss out, but even the mid-weight Volvo and Mazda, Alfa Romeo, Maserati and the Jeep (or even Chrysler) will leave an empty feeling, in particular, because almost all of them were present in Brussels. This part of a growing trend (many brands were absent in Frankfurt too), but it has never been that striking.
The remaining brands and the additional thematics offer lots of interesting programmes. True to its French spirit, the Show usually includes special expositions that relate somehow to the world of automotive, but its thematic go well beyond the role of a traditional trade fair. This year’s special exhibition is called Legendary Roads (“Routes Mythiques”), and showcases an exceptional historic exhibition gathering automobiles, motorcycles and the decoration on the road itself.
The Paris Motor Show is still a flagship event, but the greatest challenge for these events will be to break this negative trend.
2. The Brussels Car Show - never see me coming
The Brussels Motor Show is not the most well-known international car show, to put it mildly. Somehow, it never gets press coverage as the flagship European car shows (like Paris / Frankfurt or Geneva).
In recent years, however, it has delivered pretty high standards, standing out far from the other car shows in the region, like Amsterdam or Essen. Since it takes place every year, it has remained a stable point in my calendar, and I recommend it as a secret tip to all who do not have time to pass by Geneva in the first quarter of the year.
One of the reasons for not hitting the headlines is the timing of the show: they are held very close to the Detroit Car Show and the well-oiled Geneva Car Show, which is already snatching all the serious premieres. For that, the Brussels car show excels primarily as a commercial trade show, and not so much for journalists, but the stages bring all the greatness of the flagship events, and many brands are present at a pretty high level, who passed in Paris this year.
The objective is to create an aesthetic environment for potential customers who are lured by massive car show rebates. Thus the main focus here is on sales, and not to overthrow the visitor records.
Although the primary purpose of the exhibition is to sell, car enthusiasts got quite a show at the 2018 Brussels Motor Show. In fact, it was this show that managed to raise the bar this year, to the extent that I grant them the best car event of the year (that I actually saw).
This also means that it had to beat the Paris Car Show, that missed a few important things this year, among them half the European car industry. Volkswagen, Nissan, FIAT or Opel, but also a few mid-weight challengers known for their excellent shows, like Volvo (a genuinely hospitable host with the best Coffee), Mazda (showcasing exciting concept cars), and the Italian car companies such as Alfa Romeo and Maserati were present.
Also, most luxury brands were appropriately represented, far above their performance in Paris. I really liked the Mystic Routes exhibition in Paris, the supercars exhibition does have a lot of substance for car enthusiasts.
Their thematic show, the recurring dream car exhibition also delivered quite an impression.
1. The ultimate road trip in a European automotive nirvana
The primary purpose of automotive blogging is to let the steam out from my excessive automotive mania. Since I’m beginning to feel the signs of addiction, after some brainstorming, I’ve come up with a practical cure: the most obvious way of dealing with mental addiction is an overdose. The golden shot shall be administered by a region with the most dense automotive heritage, that lies in the heart of Europe.
On a 600-kilometer route between Sochaux and Salzburg, over a dozen major car museums become accessible. As I consider myself as an automotive enthusiast with a faible for high-end classic cars and car shows, in the crosshair of these factors one will find car museums that offer technology and history usually paired with a breathtaking scene setting.
While cars remained in the centre of my interest, the tightly scheduled trip still gave plenty of opportunities for sightseeing, to enjoy driving and to indulge in culinary adventures.
During this trip, I saw the complete history of a 200-year-old company in Sochaux. I could live through the entire history of automotive, and saw the rise and fall of one of the most excellent car companies along with Bugatti's unrivaled automotive mastodons, while also taking the opportunity to drive an iconic Supercar of my childhood, all this in a single day in Mulhouse.
The next day, I could see revenants of Mankind's greatest challenges to conquer space, and I witnessed the relentless strive for perfection to present corporate histories in Stuttgart. A few hours later I could see that the enthusiasm of a single person can make a huge difference in the private Mazda Museum, and learn the importance of not relying on Google for actual opening times in Munich.
This was not the first road trip in my life, but the first automotive pilgrimage. The question remained, however, whether the road trip achieved the ultimate objective to administer an overdose of automotive experience to ease my addiction. The three-day journey lifted me up and squashed me to the ground like an emotional roller coaster with no seat belts on, but I always kept a feeling that I could revisit any of museums the next day. About the question, whether the trip quenched my thirst, you probably guessed from the list, that it did not. In fact, it might be that I found a new addiction…
Well, that was my list for this year. If you managed to get this far your reward is to grant you access to the Poll, where you can vote for your favourite event, or delegate your own.