It seems there is very little in London life that the Irish are not involved in. Sometimes it’s very obvious. Other times it is necessary to scratch well below the surface. Such was the case at the Classic Car Show at London ExCeL last weekend.
The second edition of the capital’s biggest car show had more than doubled in size since its 2015 opener.
Centre to this year’s show was the Nations Cup, where event organisers pitched six of the world’s biggest car making countries against each other in a public vote to decide which is the greatest motor-manufacturing nation of them all. Home team Britain went up against France, Italy, Germany, Japan and USA.
So far, no Irish connection, and rightly so as the Emerald Isle never really had its own car manufacturing industry.
Maybe the De Lorean sports car, the car made famous by the Back to Future franchise of movies, could make that claim, but there was not one of the Belfast-made cars on show.
Ireland could have jumped on board the Team USA bandwagon, the American team was lead by a 1910 Ford Model T. Henry Ford’s grandfather hailed from West Cork but still not a strong enough connection.
Instead it was left to another country, Finland to provide the missing link. The Scandinavian country is not known for its motor manufacturing but is certainly known for producing some of the world’s best racing and rally drivers.
The show was opened on Thursday evening by rally legend Ari Vatenen.
The 1981 World Rally Champion is still a much-revered hero in world motorsport, especially in Ireland, where he is patron of the Donegal Motor Club.
His professional career coincided with the fearsome Group B rally cars that entered the world rally championship from the early 1980s to 1986 when they were outlawed as they were deemed too fast to be safe.
Vatenen, and the cars then found homes on the transcontinental Paris Dakar Rally Raid and Pikes Peak International Hillclimb in Colorado.
The Flying Finn’s Rally career was celebrated at the London Classic Car Show alongside a display of Group B Rally cars to mark the 30th anniversary of their demise.
One such vehicle was the Peugeot 406 that Vatenan drove to victory on the 1990 Paris Dakar Rally, it was on display by Peugeot UK.The car is now owned by Kent-based Armagh man Enda Garvey and is a very popular exhibition piece at events like the London Classic Car Show and the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
Garvey also owns the Peugeot 405 the Vatenan drove to victory on the 1988 Pikes Peak Hillclimb and that car was also on show.
And he owns another Peugeot, the 205 T16 that Juha Kankkuneen, the driver signed by the French make to replace Vatenan following his 1985 near fatal crash in Argentina. The second Finn drove this car to victory on the Acropolis Rally in Greece in 1986 and formed one of the lead displays on the Group B stage.
A few doors down from Peugeot UK’s official stall was Cheshire Classic Cars offerings.
The company specialises in the sale of rare, historically important motorsports cars. On show at ExCel over the weekend was the 1990 Lotus 102 Formula One Grand Prix Car. Using a Lamborghini engine, this is the car that the Lotus factory team used during the 1990 Formula One season. Northern Irish racer Martin Donnelly will have bitter-sweet memories of the car.
Donnelly was promoted to the team’s number two driver after a season as test driver at the start of the year.
However a horrific crash at during qualifying for that year’s Spanish Grand Prix left Donnelly seriously injured. The life-threatening injuries ended Donnelly’s F1 career but kick-started Briton Johnny Herbert’s career and that is the car that is now offered for sale by Cheshire Classic Cars and the centre piece of its display at its ExCel stand.
At least the next big classic car event on the radar for the Irish in London will not require as much beneath-the-surface scratching. The London Irish Vintage Club rally day will take place on July 17 this year, two months earlier than its traditional September date.