If I were to sit down and plan my perfect Event, I really don’t think I could come up with something better than the Goodwood Revival. It has everything- a huge variety of old cars, a chance to get up close with said cars when they’re being tinkered with by men in white overalls, an array of classic aircraft, plenty of live music to listen to and a chance to wear tweed and a proper hat . Count me in!
I’ll briefly summarise the event just in case anyone reading this isn’t aware of what the Revival is. It takes place at the Goodwood Circuit in West Sussex, which ranked alongside Silverstone and Brands Hatch as one of the UK’s premier international motorsports venues in the post-war years. In the late 1960s the owner of the circuit, Lord March, declined to provide the famously fast circuit with the chicanes that the FIA required and so the track fell into disuse. The current Lord March carried out a restoration of the circuit in the mid-1990s and since 1998 Goodwood as relived its glory years at the Revival. With the track and its associated structures perfectly restored to their 1960s appearance dozens of period racing and sports cars are gathered there to re-enact a vanished era of motorsport when it was glamorous rather than rampantly commercial. The majority of the public visitors enter into the spirit of the event by turning out in some sort of period dress and Goodwood enforces its standards vigorously. Only pre-1973 cars are allowed in the car park closest to the circuit (which is worthy of being an event in itself), mechanics and support crew must wear white boiler suits and, whilst the paying public are free to roam around the paddock they must be suitably attired (jacket and tie as a minimum for the men) to do so. Since its inception the Revival has grown in scope and popularity and now includes aircraft (including an ever-growing lineup of Spitfires in recognition of the airfield’s origins in the Battle of Britain), WWII military vehicles and almost every aspect of 1960s Britain, from a scaled-down replica of the Earls Court Motor Show (advertising the 2012 Morgan Aero Coupe, with a huge dose of irony, as ‘The Car of Tomorrow’) to a fully-functional 1960s Tescos.
Of course the real draw is the cars. You don’t have to be a car geek to thrill to the sight of a dozen classic Ferraris hooning around a circuit. In fact it’s the noise that predominates at Goodwood. As I sat in the traffic queue to get in a motorbike race was in progress and you could here them from, literally, miles away. Up close the continual assault on the eardrums from a symphony of snarling straight-4s, throbbing big-block V8s, screaming V12s and the odd Merlin overhead is both wonderful and slightly painful by the end of the second day. It’s not all ear-rending torture though. There was a brief silent interlude when the J40 pedal car races were held (these genuinely happened back in the sixties at Goodwood so they’re accurate). The kids driving them had their own half-sized paddock and garages complete with Scrutineering, presumably to ensure no one was putting PTFE spray on the pedal linkages for that little extra go.
Ferraris and Astons are slightly out of my comfort zone car-wise but it’s still a remarkable experience to see 40+ year-old GT cars being raced to the full. The Revival attracts some top-rank professional drivers (this year included former F1 drivers Martin Brundle and Jean Alesi as well as touring car pilots such as Matt Neal – in a Morris Minor of all things) and some well-known ‘amateurs’. Where else can you watch Rowan Atkinson wrestling a Jaguar MkVII around a track?
One of the genuine highlights of the weekend (and my long-time favourite given my passion for mediocre British tin) is the St Mary’s Trophy where a field of classic saloons battle it out over two seperate races. The field is a gloriously mixed one with everything from Austin A40s and a BMW 700 (700 being the engine ccs…) to big Jags, a Ford Zephyr Mk2, a Borgward Isabella and a glorious orange Tatra 603. This is like Alien v. Predator for car nerds, as we get to see wildly different cars from all sorts of makers and companies slog it out over an hour and a half to see which is fastest. The range and mix of cars makes for great racing- predictably the Jag VIIs can’t corner for toffee but can bowl along the straights at what looks like a terrifying rate. The A40s and the Renault 4CV don’t have the top end power but can dance through the corners, often on only three wheels. Each race generally became a battle at the front of the field between two small cars and two massive ones. On Goodwood’s fast but narrow course this leads to the inevitable body contact as two Austins and a Jag try to squeeze through the chicane at once.
It’s worth pointing out that all the races are very genuinely competitive. There are a few ‘demonstrations’ over the weekend with very expensive and rare (or unique) cars which really can’t be raced, such as the fleet of German ‘Silver Arrow’ pre-war racing cars but the cars taking part in the real races don’t get treated with kid gloves. They’re worked hard, panels are bent, chicane barriers are clipped, and engines are broken (which just gives one the excuse to lurk in the paddock a bit more).
All this- the racing, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the complete imerssion in the Sixties recreation – creates a unique and wonderful atmosphere. And that’s why I’d recommend the Revival to anyone, whether you’re into cars or not.