BANDIT IN BIRMINGHAM: UK Classic Motor Show 2005
by Chris Dunnett, overseas correspondent

Birmingham, UK: The rumble of pampered engines, smell of gasoline and gleam of paint and chrome permeated the National Exhibition Center (NEC) in Birmingham for the 2005 Classic Motor Show ( The cavernous exhibit halls of the NEC were packed with upwards of one thousand of the finest classic cars in Britain for this preeminent indoor show wrapping up the season. There was something for everybody on offer. From pre-war behemoths, to tiny classic Minis and Sunbeam roadsters. From the utilitarian VW camper busses, to a corral of gull-wing Lamborghini Countach 80s dream cars. And yes friends, while British and European marques dominated, there was a healthy and popular showing of American Muscle.

Born in the U.S.A.

The Yankee contingent reflected the diversity of the overall show, offering up some less often seen at the local cruise night rides. Three shining Edsels, one a stunning yellow drop-top with tasteful mods, made a bold statement for American “heavy iron.” For the Mopar fans there was a long and lovely Petty blue Superbird casting its winged tail over the show floor, as well as a Plum Crazy Purple ‘Cuda of the non-Hemi variety.

The Blue Oval was the most pervasive U.S. marque at the show given Ford’s long history of European manufacturing. Sprinkled through the UK display areas were a bevy of Euro-Falcons, Capris, etc. The Brits have also fallen hard for the 2005 retro Mustang, with dealers selling them at about the same price in Pounds Sterling as they go for in dollars. A tidy profit, given the almost 2 dollars per Pound exchange rate. Older ponies were also galloping about. Two of the finer examples were a 1966 Shelby 350 GT-H model that Hertz used to actually rent, and a glimmering 1971 Mach 1.

For red arrowhead guys like me there were a selected few treats. The best Poncho on offer was a beautifully restored, and richly rewarded, 1972 LeMans Sport coupe. Despite the Bow Tie styling evoked by the stripes and Crager S/S wheels, this was a lovely car in which the owner has obviously invested serious effort and coin. Also black and beautiful was a very clean 1972 Formula 350 that was also deserving of its displayed trophies. For third-gen T/A buffs there was also a 1982 Trans Am hiding the shame of its 305 c.i. Chevy engine with the best hand-painted Screaming Chicken I have ever seen. And in a country where Knight Rider reruns still show in prime time, there was, of course, also a K.I.T.T. replica among a group of “Star Cars” that also included the General Lee and one of two Starsky and Hutch Torinos. And speaking of Star Cars…

Blimey!! It’s the Bandit!!

In the proud culmination of careful training and indoctrination, it was my wife who first spotted the legendary beast. “Look! there’s a Bandit!” she said with endearing glee. And there it was. Perched in a rightful place of honor in a show of over 1,000 cars, the Bandit was in a group of 10 for which show goers could vote for their favorite dream car. Our brutish, but graceful, chosen one was in the running against the likes of Ferrari. While to the trained eye the ’77 T/A sporting the S/E stripes was clearly of the clone variety, it nevertheless inspired pride to stand back and watch the size and enthusiasm of the throng gathered around “our” car, forsaking for a time the likes of the exotic Ford GT and stable of Ferraris sitting but feet away. This Bandit was a worthy representation of the Legend, with an aggressive stance, gleaming paint, accurate external S/E detailing and inviting Carmel Tan custom vinyl interior. The posted information stated that a 220hp (W72) 400 was mated to the automatic gearbox. Owner Steve Martin (no, not that wild and crazy guy) of Star Car Hire ( said it well on his signage: “It’s Cool Because...Burt Reynolds Jumped a River in One.”

For the “Bandit” aficionado there was one final treat. On display in another part of the venue was a classic Formula One racer decked out in the John Player Special black and gold colors that were the inspiration for the color scheme Pontiac rolled out at the 1974 Chicago Auto Show, and later so memorably applied to the LE, S/E cars that we love. It was a rare treat to see this part of automotive and Bandit history up close. I hope that the photos will be of interest and use to other LE, S/E fans in documenting the evolution of these cars.

With the show season now ended and the classic rides on this side of the Atlantic also now put to bed for the winter, your London correspondent looks forward to bringing you coverage of the vibrant UK American car show scene come spring.

Cheers, Chris

Photos from the show

My photo gallery