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Goodwood Revival - a vivid reflection of that world… viewed from this one


© 2018, Classique Car Conduits

© 2018, Classique Car Conduits

© 2018, Classique Car Conduits

© 2018, Classique Car Conduits

© 2018, Classique Car Conduits

© 2018, Classique Car Conduits

© 2018, Classique Car Conduits

© 2018, Classique Car Conduits

© 2018, Classique Car Conduits

© 2018, Classique Car Conduits

© 2018, Classique Car Conduits

© 2018, Classique Car Conduits

© 2018, Classique Car Conduits

© 2018, Classique Car Conduits

 

I had a dilemma. It was a matter of best use of time. An opportunity to preview the entrants in possibly the most valuable historic car race ever staged - from watching online coverage - or to make my way down to the event itself, as quickly as possible. That, I knew, involved at least a three and a half hour journey, depending on traffic conditions.

I chose the initial option and studied all the Ferraris, Aston Martins, Jaguars, etc, as they appeared, one by one, on the circuit to practice for the Kinrara Trophy race, scheduled to take place at the end of the day. Additional to the accompanying Cobras and Austin-Healeys, there was even a Maserati Coupé, but it was primarily the squadron of Ferraris which took centre stage, given the sheer quantity of them. Almost in the shadows were a couple of variations of GTO and the ever popular ‘Breadvan’, because so many 250 GT SWBs also came out to play. Five, six? No, there were more like ten of them. It made the otherwise impressive quartet of rival Aston DB4GTs seem a little insignificant.


© 2018, Classique Car Conduits

So, after identifying as many as I could from the published list of runners, I packed up my own car for three days away, and finally departed for Goodwood. Not the randomly chosen shirts and a couple of spare pairs of jeans, casually thrown in a bag, but smart outfits; jackets, ties, brogues, in fact the full works. After all, this was the Revival, where probably 90% of those present were formally attired, most inspired from the 1940s-‘60s era, or in a military uniform of some sort. Those with a renegade or rebellious nature still looked the part. They could be dressed as Rockers or road menders, Mods or mechanics (it seemed looking after a car or motorcycle wasn’t actually mandatory).

Eventually arriving on site, in person, the first aspect of Goodwood that greets you is the fantastic array of classic and historic cars in the outlying parking fields. These all brought along by fellow spectators. And when passed successfully through the security and scanning procedures, you immediately realise other people exercise different habitual forms of early afternoon enjoyment to your own. Notwithstanding those finishing long lunches in the restaurants and corporate hospitality areas, the bars were packed, wine flowed copiously and champagne corks popped from alfresco picnic tables in every direction. Musicians were playing all around and one large marquee was fully occupied to its canvas walls with dancers. Couples and groups alike, while in another direction there was a hula-hoop class in progress to the sounds of 1950s hit parade tunes.

And I had not, as yet, even reached the racing car paddocks. However, once checked in officially with the media centre ladies, and helped to tie my press armband, I began to reconnoitre the metaphorical Aladdin’s Garage of automotive treasures surrounding me. Incidentally, it is beyond physical and any anatomical possibility to securely fasten a heavy-duty paper ‘Press identity’ high on a sleeve with only one free hand. Assistance from the kindly Goodwood staff is vital.

To my left was the smaller replica of the London Earls Court exhibition centre where national motor shows used to be held. To my right, on lush green lawns, were various propeller driven war planes and early civilian transport aircraft, all immaculately presented and shinier than when they first left the original factories.

I first selected the Earls Court building. Inside, with Maserati and Aston dealer displays, was a showcase of vehicles from Steve McQueen’s cinematic successes. Of course, in starring roles we had the principle twelve-cylinder rivals, Porsche 917 and Ferrari 512, from the epic ‘Le Mans’ film, then military motorbikes and trucks from ‘The Great Escape’ and American muscle cars from the famous chase in ‘Bullitt’. All very evocative and it seemed the only modes of transport omitted were horses and wagons from ‘Tom Horn’ and ‘The Magnificent Seven’.

By that stage of the afternoon, it was high time I watched some track action. This now being practice and qualifying for real. The weather was dry so some quick lap times were achieved, all the more impressive given the lack of run off areas on this largely unchanged circuit, still much as it was well over half a century ago. It’s an integral part in the enduring charm of the place, as you won’t find similar anywhere else in the world. Tyre adhesion was tested to the limit by the front runners, exploring the very edge of the envelope in terms of grip, not apparent from a television screen, and the crowd were appreciative of the skill and bravery displayed before them.

A selection of cars had been witnessed in France earlier during the year, on the Tour Auto or at the Le Mans Classic, and some of these entrants with overseas registrations were now also spotted in outlying spectator car parks, proving that competition cars can still be enjoyed on the public highway as tourers. A diminutive blue Deutsch-Bonnet HBR5 was a case in point, still with its racing roundels and number ’19’’ from the event at La Sarthe on the doors. Goodwood Revival is the Mecca for thousands of overseas visitors, too, and they relish the opportunity to dress in period civilian or military costume as much as the British. Some even better attired, and their often far further driven cars equal to the best examples of any given marque.

That said a good old David Brown Aston, one of the very last ever made in his era, may have lived locally and unremarkably all its life, as its non-flashy paintwork matched the grey clouds above. However, this DB6 Mk2 had just returned from Southeast Asia after completing an arduous and, no doubt in many places, torturous marathon of 5,000 miles around Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. Appearances can be deceptive as it was devoid of chunky tyres, a roof rack strapped with mandatory fuel cans, a high position air breathing snorkel or any other rugged feature found on long distance Land Rovers.

However, for me, the best of all sights originating from Newport Pagnell, was a very scruffy, both inside and out, DB5 convertible. The owner obviously enjoyed using it far more than those who only parade over-restored trailer queens 50 yards round a concours arena, once in a blue moon. If it was his, you could just imagine McQueen’s Michael Delaney character (from ‘Le Mans’) giving the blazer and Panama hat fraternity the two fingered salute as his spinning rear wheels kicked up the dirt on departure from a certain seaside golf course in California.

But, returning to the really fast getaways, as dusk approached, a vantage point just after the Woodcote chicane proved even more fortunate for watching Friday’s finale. Not only was this spitting distance from perhaps the most valuable historic car race ever staged, but the exact spot where most of the entrants took a few seconds to resume pointing in the right direction, by correcting the wild oversteer, lap after lap. The much anticipated Kinrara Trophy didn’t disappoint and, halfway through, photographers were treated to Ferrari overload in their lenses. On the nearside verge was the parked, slightly shunted, Gary Pearson piloted ‘re-body’ 250 GTO. On the far side grass was a retired 250 Short Wheelbase of Vincent Gaye, and through the middle came all the other SWBs, headed by the ‘Breadvan’ in a victorious masterclass by Emanuele Pirro.

After dark the enjoyment continued and the serious socialising really got into its stride. Not only within the boundaries the Goodwood motor circuit, but over the road in the village (almost a town) packed with bars, eateries, entertainment and high quality shopping stalls, appropriately named, “Over the Road” and constructed purely for the Revival.

A huge party atmosphere pervaded, not least at one end in the Bonhams auction marquee. It would be here, the following day, where £14 million would change hands with the majority of cars on offer then heading for new homes. The top selling Shelby Cobra accounted for almost a tenth of that total value, but the business of the day will be remembered as the final occasion where Robert Brooks would be conducting proceedings. Following the sale of the company, it was the last public demonstration of his auctioneering skills as shareholder and Chairman. Very fittingly after the gavel came down on Lot 10, a quintessentially English saloon car - being a Jaguar 3.8 litre Mark II in British Racing Green - and his modest farewell handing over immediately to colleague James Knight, genuine and appreciative applause for Robert naturally broke out all round. It was one of those “I was there” moments, in the most appropriate of automotive settings.

The whole portfolio, comprising over a hundred vehicles, contained something to interest everyone; those with mere aspirations as well as seasoned collectors. From a chocolate coloured Veyron, through ‘50s transporters for racing cars - parked outside with many other publicly visible offerings - to coach-built limousines and sports two-seaters from the ‘20s and ‘30s. Of personal note, were a 1933 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Sedanca Coupé (seriously interesting to a friend, bidding beside me) and a white Aston DB1, back from decades spent in Japan. More accurately, a ‘Two-Litre Sports’, these cars are phenomenally rare, yet ironically a second one had openly appeared only a few weeks before. That made it just three viewed in my life, so far.

Saturday comprised a full timetable of racing now that all grids and lap times were officially confirmed and calculated. The grandstands and hospitality lawns were packed, as were the trains of agricultural carriages pulled by tractors round the perimeter, where alighting spectators hoped for a gap between shoulders and heads and a better view on the far side of the circuit. Thankfully the raised banking enabled all eyes to see at least some of the high speed duelling, albeit flashing past at up to 150mph in stretches between the curves.

It was parallel to one of these, inside of the Levant Straight, that I noticed, then witnessed, a different sort of action, for the first time in 20 years spanning many attendances at Goodwood. This was the short, fixed wing aircraft runway ‘10/28’, little more than a well mown flat strip of grass, but very evocative of past times during the early 1940s when serving as frontline air station, RAF Westhampnett, especially with today’s restored Spitfires, Hurricanes and the unique twin engined Bristol Blenheim. Of course the main diagonally positioned pathway for take offs and landings (‘14/32’) is always in use and double the length, but wind direction and other air traffic considerations meant flexibility was exercised on this most busy of all possible weekends. I’m told, and can see from the Aero Club website, that the third alternative runway, ‘6/24’, is also active. A pretty impressive vicinity therefore as, in the same county of West Sussex, the vast Gatwick International Airport has to make do with a single option, and even World hub, London Heathrow, only has a choice of a pair!

My hastily arranged accommodation was over the border in Hampshire, but located due west, reached along back roads away from heavy coastal traffic to the south, or congested arterial routes heading north back towards the Capital. So, English countryside driving at its very best, and with all manner of classics parked outside every pub and B&B along the way, Goodwood’s nostalgia had indeed spread far and wide. Rose-tinted spectacles and a sweeping statement this maybe, but I can well imagine life seemed better back the 1950s and ‘60s. “You’ve never had it so good” was a famous quote by, the then Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan.

Sunday morning, and returning to the focal location, there was time to slow down a bit, take in more of the atmosphere and spend less of it staring only through a small camera lens. A mass parade of British contemporary commercial vehicles was a popular opening highlight, sign-posted at the main gate by a huge steam locomotive and its coal tender, the “Earl of Berkeley” No.9017, on its own little piece of railway line. Making up a convoy on the tarmac included London FX3 taxis, celebrating 70 years, plus earlier examples and various delivery vans, double-decker buses, police cars and larger lorries.

Back off track, and in addition to the myriad variety of immaculate costumes, adorning both ladies and gentlemen, the fine attention to detail in preparation of all aspects of the whole site were exceptional. Thousands of hours put in, hundreds of contributing temporary staff creating and blending with the ambiance, and visitors, cumulatively in six figures, made you wonder where they all go for the other 50 weekends of the year. The professionals possibly working in the design and film industries (among them carpenters, painters, models and actors), the mechanics and racing cars would be back behind their garage doors, and the public returned to addictive mobile phone screens, unnecessary stress and contributing non-vital technology.

But fear not. Survive the long winter months and then, as spring and the daffodils re-appear, come back down to Goodwood on the first weekend in April, and attend the 77th Members’ Meeting. More of the same: Masses of wonderful, seldom seen, racing cars from a bygone age, road-going classics in all shapes and sizes and happy, polite, people either driving or just enjoying them. Scroll through the pictures, accompanying these words, for a more colourful and illustrative flavour of what can be discovered.

John Godley
Classique Car Conduits