Festival of the Unexceptional Is Sui Generis To Say The Least

FOTU, as it is informally known, has been gathering more fans every year. It celebrates passion for regular cars in a way that deserves more attention than you would think

Top three participants of the Festival of the Unexceptional 2023
Top three participants of the Festival of the Unexceptional 2023 (credit: Rich Pearce)
  • Hagerty hosts the Festival of the Unexceptional once a year in a British castle
  • Event celebrates regular cars which are usually forgotten for several reasons
  • It also hosts the Concours de L’ordinaire, which awards the best examples

The first time I remember going to the beach was with my aunt, in her burgundy Volkswagen Parati. The first car I saw being released in Brazil, my home country, was the Fiat Palio in 1996. In 1998, my parents and I visited many cool places in the US using a white rental Chevrolet Cavalier. The first full-size car I ever entered was a gray Chrysler 300M in 2003. Can you see where I am going with those memories?

Our car references are usually Ferraris, Lamborghinis and such because they are superlative. High powers, high prices, low production runs… However, the truth is that our lives happen with a whole other group of cars. Cars with a tenth of that prestige, yes, but also ten times more presence around us. If you agree with that, you will like to know that there is a whole festival to celebrate these cars. And this is our topic here.

What are unexceptional cars?

I do not want you to think of a specific make or model. Regular cars are made by base trim levels, small or low-performing engines, tedious design… Until the 2000s, we could also distinguish them by visual items such as plastic hubcaps, unpainted bumpers, and the lack of chrome and/or wooden trim. In short, we are aiming for the lack of anything that can possibly render a given car model unique, special, or desirable.

You must have already figured that such cars are primarily practical – no one would buy a Dodge Aries K because it was their lifelong dream. Most people buy these cars out of necessity, whether for work, family chores, everyday tasks, or a combination of those. The thing is, that is exactly what ends up making them unique. They are there when we need them the most. Common cars help us write our personal history.

Regular cars can be rare, too

Most of those cars are low-cost, so they tend to sell at high volumes. At a first look, that is another point in which they differ from prestigious cars. The Renault 5, for example, sold over 5.5 million units in its first generation alone. Nevertheless, here is something interesting. Take a look at any car dealer or any auction website. How many supercars will you find on sale there? And how many genuinely unexceptional cars?

Prestigious cars may exist in fewer numbers, but there are more people willing to preserve them. Regular ones do not usually have the same luck: most are resold a few times and then scrapped. In fact, it is usual for collectors to buy one of them to restore and another one for spare parts. When you try to buy a usual car, most options you will find are in bad condition thanks to many years of careless and/or heavy use.

Festival of the Unexceptional

The paragraphs above should make it easier for you to understand the FOTU’s purpose. It gathers car fans that appreciate the type of cars I chose for this article’s photos. Some appreciate the simplicity of steelies, others discuss the historical context in which a car was released… There are also fans who cannot believe that people used to live with such basic cars. As with all hobbies, this one shows passion in many forms.

This festival is hosted by Hagerty at the Grimsthorpe Castle. If you just want to attend the event, you can go on your own or with your car. There is plenty of room to park with the others and even make a day of it. Some people go with their families to make a picnic while seeing all those unexceptional cars. However, the British event features a distinctive section for a few people who are really passionate about their cars.

Concours de L’ordinaire

Every year, the event hosts select 50 of those cars to participate in the contest. In this case, being usual or unexceptional is not enough. Applicants must send external and internal photos to prove the car is in an immaculate shape. They are also encouraged to tell the car’s story, like how it participated in the owner’s life, or how they acquired it in the first place. “The enemy is prestige”, as Autocar’s Steve Cropley said.

The Festival of the Unexceptional 2023 happened on July 29th. These are the owners and cars that won:

  • First place: Stephen Pike (Sweden) and his 1991 Daihatsu Applause
  • Second place: Siôn Hudson (United Kingdom) and his 1983 Austin Metro
  • Third place: Hugo Naaijkens (Netherlands) and his 1993 Subaru Justy
Entrance of the Festival of the Unexceptional (credit: Rich Pearce)
Entrance of the Festival of the Unexceptional (credit: Rich Pearce)

As you can see, the FOTU is heaven for car enthusiasts. Not those who are obsessed with horsepower, top speeds, or price tags, of course. It is for people who understand that cars are members of our society and, as such, participate in our lives. In most cases, these cars do all that much more than supercars, big pick-ups, or fancy limousines. Do you think your car would qualify for next year’s Concours de L’ordinaire?

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Author Profile

Danillo Almeida has explored his passion for cars in two distinct ways. The first one is his graduation course in Mechanical Engineering, which will hopefully lead to a job position in the field. The other one is expressing his knowledge and opinions on the matter through writing. Almeida has already contributed to blogs, stores, and websites in general writing automotive content in many formats.

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