Techno Classica Essen is Europe’s biggest, most awesome indoor classic festival

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Aaron Robinson

According to our iPhones, you’ll rack up more than 13,000 steps walking Europe’s biggest indoor classic car event, Techno Classica Essen, held every March in Germany’s northwestern city of Essen. That’s with no backtracking, no returning to that one particular vintage headlight vendor in Hall 8.2, no going back to make a deal on a $2 million vintage Ferrari. No, you’re in for more than six miles of walking if you simply beeline it, through all 20 display halls, past some 1250 vendors, around the more than 2700 cars for sale—most of them carrying what looks like pretty hefty show markups—and dodging a crowd that flooded the place during the show’s five-day run and which organizers pegged at 188,000.

March in northern Germany is not exactly driving season, but as the rain and fog created typical Teutonic winter gloom outside, inside at this, the 30th anniversary of Techno Classica Essen, it was all about living the dream. Well-waxed “old timers,” as the Germans call classic cars, were parked cheek by jowl into every corner of Essen’s enormous expo center and spilled out into the damp courtyards, almost all wearing price tags denoted in euros or, on the nicer cars, with “Auf Anfrage” written on them, which means “upon request.” Or, in other words, “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

Aaron Robinson
Aaron Robinson

The turbocharged and supercharged Lancia Delta S4 represents the height of mid-1980s Group B rally craziness before such high horsepower mid-engine specials were banned. Per the rules, Lancia built 200 road-going “Stradales” or street versions such as this one, with power steering, air-conditioning, and some much-needed sound insulation.
The turbocharged and supercharged Lancia Delta S4 represents the height of mid-1980s Group B rally craziness before such high horsepower mid-engine specials were banned. Per the rules, Lancia built 200 road-going “Stradales” or street versions such as this one, with power steering, air-conditioning, and some much-needed sound insulation. Aaron Robinson
Aaron Robinson

Techno Classica Essen naturally puts a heavy emphasis on European and especially German cars, but there are also a few Thunderbirds and Corvettes and Cadillacs mixed in. If any one brand seemed particularly ascendant this year, it was Aston Martin. Prime examples of the British breed were everywhere, from the earliest DBs to the bizarre Zagato specials of the 1990s, all thought to be appreciating faster than calculators can be keyed.

More than 220 clubs take space at the show, from the Allard Owners Club to the Heinkel-Club Deutschland to the Tatra Registry to the Wartburg Club to the Kollektive Rheinland, a club for fanatics of the plastic East-German soot-mobiles from Trabant. Essen’s army of show vendors ranged from the many small-fry sellers of car parts, restoration tools, models, books, luggage, and other motoring lifestyle gear, to gleaming corporate auto show stands (mainly from German and German-owned brands) stocked with pristine examples of the corporate heritage collection and flogging factory parts and restoration programs.

A ticket at the door costs about $31, not much for seven hours of entertainment and exercise. Especially if you consider that Pebble Beach charges $375 at the door and it’s less than one-sixth the size.

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