I queued for an eternity to steal a brief moment in the driver's seat of an R34 Skyline, staring pensively at its metallic blue paint and wondering when I would ever have enough spare change to own one.
I'd gone with a good friend and colleague, driving up from High Wycombe, the English commuter town where I worked and lived. Ben was disabled, and although ambulatory, he required the use of a cane, and would not have been able to cover the floorspace of the NEC without difficulty and discomfort. For a few pounds, he hired a wheelchair, and I pushed him around. Unfortunately, while the organizers had at least thought to provide such a service, they hadn't considered the problems a person in a wheelchair would have viewing the cars or the accompanying displays.
Disappointingly, the visiting throng were mostly indifferent to his plight, and we spent the early part of our show locked behind walls of them. It wasn't a promising start. I felt bad for Ben especially.
The British Motor Show of 2000 definitely lacked the prominence of Tokyo, or Geneva. Nor did could it have claimed to have the fizz and energy of Detroit. No sensational debuts of major models anywhere to be seen. Indeed, there was something just a little soulless about the whole event. The most telling example could be seen at the Rolls-Royce - Bentley stand. While the Bentley tier above was buzzing with visitors, below a sad and solitary Rolls-Royce Corniche filled a somber space, like a rich man's corpse lying in state. I suppose if I had looked sufficiently moneyed myself, I could have approached the dour-looking gatekeeper, and asked t o view the body. The Crewe-based auto manufacturer had indeed fallen far since its beginnings in 1904. In soul and spirit, the scene was symbolic of the British car industry as a whole.
By the time we'd reached Porsche we'd had enough, so we wheeled around to a side door and politely communicated to staff the accessibility issues. Within minutes we were ushered onto the stand. While the crowds looked on with envy from the barriers, Ben and I took turns sitting in the latest from Stuttgart. The only exception being the Carrera GT, which remained out-of-bounds. We were given full access to all other models, including the Boxster. and I was immediately reminded of that low-slung, muscular show concept back in Tokyo, 1993. In comparison, the production version looked somewhat staid.
The folks from Porsche set the tone for the rest of the day. Cars normally out of bounds for the regular show goer were now readily made available to Ben, and by virtue of my role as wheelchair handler, me as well. Finally, it all seemed to be going our way.
It was as if the grey pall had lifted, cleft by gold beams of light from the heavens. Somewhere, I was sure I'd heard gospel music. This was petrol-head rapture. Stand after stand, we'd take the same approach. Roll up, highlight accessibility issues, then await the VIP treatment. Not once were we turned away, or left feeling anything less than satisfied.
I even managed get a driver's eye view of the car I went on own only a few years later. Though at the time, I wasn't terribly rapt in the bug-eyed mug of the Subaru Impreza WRX, so when I got around to buying one, my first instruction to the dealer was to replace the headlamps with aftermarket units from ProDrive.
Best memory of the show? I recall being ensconced in a silver TVR Tuscan R, and the thrill of having the salesman deliver specifications to me as though I were a serious potential buyer.
Isn't this the essence of what any motor show should be about? Making the unattainable, at least for a fleeting moment, seem attainable?
I'd been to bigger, brighter, more influential auto events, but I can honestly say that on a personal level, the British motor show of 2000 eclipsed them all. I'd seen how challenging it can be for disabled folks to enjoy these shows. At the same time, just a little effort on the part of staff did wonders. I'm a realist, and I understand the same personal care and attentiveness cannot be extended to all visitors.
Or can it? At my next auto show, I look forward to seeing which manufacturers can dust their stands with some of the magic we received that day.
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