It’s no secret that the Essen Motor Show contains a massive variety of classics on display each year. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s one of the main factors for many visitors.
Yes, in more recent years we’ve seen an increase in those wide-arched, slammed and stanced builds, but Essen caters for all enthusiasts – from motorsport and racing through to the latest OEM models and everything modified. It’s a format that works very well, and that was certainly true of the recent 2021 event.
Spread across multiple halls at Messe Essen, there is a dedicated space for the bulk of the classics, but I’ll talk more about that shortly. Because in reality, these classics spill into the other halls as well – especially the motorsport displays. Classic racing is popular and it’s only getting bigger in Germany.
I found myself drawn to the ‘Kampf der Zwerge’ (or ‘Battle of the Dwarfs’ in English) booth. The name is a bit of a handful, and I don’t think it’s very well known on an international stage, but it absolutely should be. What it boils down to is a racing series for sub-1,300cc cars from the ’60s and ’70s. When they hit the track, you will see a whole bunch of Mini Coopers, NSU TTs, Fiat 128s and other tiny classic cars fighting it out.
Two of the standout cars for me were this blue Renault R8 Gordini and red NSU TT, the latter with a propped-open hood to cool its air-cooled engine out back. Both these cars look like a whole load of fun even when stationary.
But if you prefer your classic racing a little more serious, this is where we meet the ‘Tourenwagen Legenden’ – touring car legends, unsurprisingly. That means old DTM and STW cars aplenty, and some of the most iconic models in European motorsport history.
Various displays were scattered all over the show, but the main stand was situated in the classic hall comprising of a grid with all the cars set to compete in the series. This ranged from genuine STW and DTM cars to various replicas and cars built in the spirit of the touring cars of bygone eras.
My personal favourite? Ironically, a car that isn’t really a touring car at all, but I’ll put that down to the fact I drive a transaxle Porsche myself. To see a track-prepped 924 in the Tourenwagen Legenden display was a proper treat.
There’s just something oh so right about a 924 with a purposeful drop and sitting on wide, sticky slick tyres. Perfect.
Continuing with the classic racers, it seemed this year shifted the spotlight onto several classic Fords. Two immaculate racing Capris to be precise – one of them a more rounded, early version from 1971, and the other a bonkers box-flared beast in 1974 spec.
These are both absolute monsters that dominated race tracks all over Europe in the ’70s. Accompanying them was an equally immaculate Group 2 Escort.
Racing classics aside, the main display of classics at Essen came in the form of road-going versions. Once you entered the classic hall, you were immediately greeted by shining chrome and gleaming paint.
Most of these classics were for sale as well. This being Germany, the number of Porsches and Mercedes on display was insane – not that you could ever call that a bad thing.
Here’s where my obsession with transaxle Porsches struck again, because on one of the dealer booths I found a genuine 944 Turbo Cup car for sale. I spent a significant amount of time here, just looking at the car and imagining what it must feel like to beat it around a racetrack.
Another highlight for me was a dirty GC8 Subaru Impreza WRX which really stood out next to all the shiny, detailed cars. And the dirt is of course quite fitting for a car with such a rally heritage.
Muscle cars are always present at any given event in Germany thanks to the huge Americana scene in this country.
The two that stood out the most to me were a pair of C3 Corvettes – in red and green, respectively. I’m just a sucker for flip-up lights. I think I’d choose the green one.
More exotic classics were not far away either. Obviously you’ll find some sports cars like Ferraris and Jaguar E-Types, but how about a Bizzarrini GT 5300 Strada? It’s offered for a cool 1.5m Euros (approximately US1.7m), if you’re wondering.
Even some classic movie cars were on display – and for sale, for that matter. I had my fanboy moments first when I spotted the colourful Opel Manta from the German cult film Manta Manta. It’s one of the genuine cars from the movie, wearing a Mattig wide-body and Mattig Sportstahl wheels, and is even signed by the actors. The movie is a bit silly and a bit trashy, but it’s got a real following here in Germany and I grew up watching it probably a million times.
Another movie car that hit me right in the fanboy zone was the Mad Max Interceptor. I think this was the first time that I’ve seen one of these in person, as the Ford Falcon was never sold in Europe.
Outside their dedicated hall, I stumbled upon some more classics spread throughout the show.
Three more gems could be found at the Mercedes-Benz booth – a replica of the Mercedes 300 SEL AMG 6.8 ‘Rote Sau’, and a very well preserved W202 C43 AMG – as a wagon, which just cements its understatement factor.
How about those two in your garage – the C43 as your daily and the ‘Rote Sau’ for weekend fun, eh? The last of these three gems was the C140 S600 AMG Coupe fitted with a 7.2-liter V12. Only 10 of these were built.
The Essen Motor Show is much more than just modified cars and racing – it manages to be inclusive for all kinds of petrol heads. And even if you favour a particular style or genre, you’re almost guaranteed to see something new and exciting here.
Numbers may have been down this year due to Covid restrictions, but the spirit of Essen is still very much alive and well.