THE organiser of the Bradford Classic was in philosophical mood when I spoke to him in the final run-up to this year’s big event: “The passenger window on my Lotus Elan jammed in the open position so I’ve spent all morning sorting that out – and it’s just started to rain….”

That, in a single sentence, is the joy of owning and running a classic car. They are enormous fun to drive, to show off, to renovate, to upgrade, even to polish – but only if you’re prepared for something else to go wrong almost every time you take them out of the garage.

It’s a love-endure (more than a love-hate) relationship which Mike Cowlam owes, of all things, to the Boy Scouts.

The man behind tomorrow’s Bradford Classic – when a record-breaking 140 cars will be on parade in City Park and Centenary Square between 10am and 4pm – was taking his Mechanic’s Badge when he was offered the chance to attend the RAC Rally, in Scarborough, in 1974.

“We didn’t have a car – my dad didn’t have a driving licence,” he recalls. “The Scouts took us out to watch the rally. I was 14 and it was the first time the Lancia Stratos had appeared in this country and it was like something I’d never seen before and I just got hooked on rallying.

“I bought my first classic car – the Lotus Elan – in 1981. It was either that or a Triumph TR6 but I chose it because the Lotus was made of glass fibre and there wasn’t as much to rot in it!”

He has kept it since, doing partial restorations, until last year he had it completely stripped and rebuilt. In between, he has had several other classics: including an Austin Mini rally car, a Fiat 126, a Subaru Impreza and a Mazda MX5.

Given the emotional rollercoaster that is owning a classic car, what’s the appeal?

“I like the 1960s period, I like the fashions and I think a lot of the cars were very stylish,” he says. “I also like the fact these cars are quite mechanical, so you can pull them apart in your garage where modern cars are all about computer diagnostics mostly.

“I also enjoy the challenge of driving them – they’re harder than modern cars, no power steering, no servo-assisted brakes, they’re a lot more physical.”

Mike has been involved with the Bradford Classic from the first event in 2005. As Bradford Council’s then head of regeneration services, he was asked to help find ways to promote Bradford on a more national scale and one of the ideas was a classic car show.

“There were two or three of us who were keen on cars and we put it all together in our lunchbreaks,” says Mike.

The first event consisted of 40 cars displayed in Centenary Square by local enthusiasts although it eventually grew to about 100 vehicles, the size it remained until Mike took it over as a not-for-profit business this year. He originally ran the event for three years until it was taken over by the city centre management team but he couldn’t help getting his hands dirty even when he was not in direct charge, marshalling at every event for the last 12 years.

After retiring from the Council 18 months ago, Mike was approached to see if he’d be willing to take on the running of the event.

“I rather foolishly said ‘Yes’!” he says, half-jokingly, though it’s easy to tell what he really means is he jumped at the chance.

To get it going quickly he set up a limited company, Classic Events (Bradford), but he decided right from the start any profits would be ploughed straight back into it.

New ideas to develop the event this year include an associated classic car film festival, an exhibition of photography featuring Bradford-made Jowetts and a children’s pedal car race. For the first time, there will also be a craft auto and vintage market, around City Park.

“We’re trying a different layout, so half of the Mirror Pool will be drained, which will give us about 40 extra spaces,” says Mike. “But there will also be cars both inside, and on the pedestrian precinct at, The Broadway shopping centre, which is the headline sponsor.”

For most, the highlight will be the cars themselves and heading the list are two “stars” from private collections almost never on public view, Barry “Whizzo” Williams’s 1964 Welsh International-winning rally mini, and the BMC 1800 which took part in the London to Sydney Marathon.

“The beauty of a show like this is everybody has their favourites,” says Mike. “I know many women and children will love the original Fiat 500 and younger guys will probably go for the Ferrari California. My favourites are the competition cars and there’s a really nice Saab 900 coming, which was driven by World Rally Champion Stiq Blomqvist.”

He is already planning the show’s next era and is hoping to grow it to a three-day event as soon as possible, with a host of ideas for Sunday events in the pipeline. With its new lease of life, it seems the Bradford Classic is destined to become exactly that.