Coventry Roots and Culture: Coventry Motofest


Motofest Coventry is a deep-rooted celebration of the area’s automotive culture. Festival director James Noble sketches out the light and shade of a century old story.

James Noble smiling

Motofest director James Noble is passionate about the Coventry story. Picture: JM Drake

Motofest is a free festival of cars, motorbike and car culture that happens in Coventry city centre. It’s a simple idea, really. We fill the city centre with thousands of classic cars, modern modified cars and motorbikes, and then we shut the ring road to host a series of races in association with British Automobile Racing Club and Motorsport UK. Over the period of the festival we attract over 200,000 visitors. It is kind of a big deal!

We’re all about the past, present and the future of car culture – and Coventry’s particular place in the story. It comes from a passionate sense of place and of course a love of machines. Coventry has been at the heart of Britain’s car culture from the very beginning. What better place could there be to host a festival like this? 

A shot of a Jaguar under a garage door

There are hidden gems all over Coventry – Motofest unearths the local treasure. Picture: JM DRAKE

I initially came to the area to do a masters degree in automotive design at Coventry University, and ended up staying after I finished. I worked in the automotive design sector all over the country until 10 years ago, when I left the industry and moved back to Coventry to take up a community role in the city. By then, I had fallen in love with Coventry and its story.

We were asked by the city council to help them solve a problem. They could see that the city was going places, that it was becoming a worldwide centre for R&D for the automotive industry. But the population we were talking about, — the men and women that had moved here to manufacture and build the cars — were disconnected from that. The question was: how do you bring hope to a generation and reconnect them to an industry that underpinned their city? Motofest was one of the answers to that question. 

Coventry is the spiritual home of the British motor industry. We’re smack in the middle of the country, we have visitors from all over these islands. I think that is why the event connects with the people. We don’t advertise, yet we pull in a huge audience. The city was built on the motor industry and it continues to play a major part in the city’s identity. Coventry is full of automotive design consultancies and engineering centres – and the two universities both have major input in the industry through design and engineering. 

An E-type bonnet

The E-type’s unique lines are the highpoint of an aesthetic created in Coventry. Picture: JM Drake

Many of the cars that feature in our event were designed or built in the city. One of the nice things about the event is that the people that built them are always coming up and interacting with the owners, the people that are nurturing and restoring them and loving them. You get these amazing stories along the way about how the car industry changed their lives. Whole generations of people moved here on low wages, and became skilled crafts people, artisans and foremen. They were able to build lives, to raise families and create community, all through making these beautiful cars. By the 1960s, because of the auto industry, Coventry had the highest average wage of any city in the UK.

That heritage is vital to the success of Motofest, but we are not just a heritage event. Coventry’s story is still moving forward and is still alive and developing quickly. What we are seeing are great new products, like the I-PACE, coming through, and though it isn’t made here, the creative energy that brought it to the market is fundamentally rooted in Jaguar, which in turn is rooted in Coventry. Jaguar are making a commitment to be fully electric as quickly as anyone.

We are currently working with the city council as an organisation on how people move around cities in a way that both is sustainable going forward, but also preserves our interest in historic vehicles. One of the really cool things that has happened here is we have managed to avoid having clean air zones by using other methods, and that is because the city council are both embracing future transportation technology, but also saying the heritage is still important. They don’t want to create a city where you can’t bring old cars into the city centre anymore.

A front headlight of a Jaguar E-type

A front headlight of a Jaguar E-type looking wonderfully sleek. Picture: JM DRAKE

Ultimately the passion about cars is about a passion for history, for culture and for people. And in Coventry, these things are completely intertwined. The references are everywhere. My Aston Martin DB7 is a case in point. It is not a Coventry built product, but it started its life as the Jaguar F-TYPE. What’s underneath the exterior of the car is a whole load of Jaguar engineering, which was designed right here in the city.

The axle is basically a modified XJS axle. And it was designed by Ian Callum who was a Coventry University design graduate as well. It is vitally important that we recognise and celebrate all this deep-rooted car culture, and what it brought to the people of the area. And as we move quickly toward a new electric era – it’s just as important to keep our eyes firmly fixed on the future.