It seems whenever the topic of the Goodwood Revival comes up, there’s someone who says that it is the best event of its type in the world. I feel the same way and that’s why I flew to England again this year to attend it for the fourth time. When you hear Europeans, who have opportunities to attend so many other premier vintage car events make such a remark, you have to take notice.
The premise of the Revival is just that – a revival of car races that were held at the Goodwood Circuit near the south coast of England from 1948 to 1966. It is hosted by Lord Charles March, scion of the Duke of Richmond and owner of the Goodwood estate. The race portion of the Goodwood program includes cars from that era, and all participants are expected to dress in a manner that represents the period.
Of course, an event like this is an exercise in nostalgia. The first time I went I was uncertain if I would make a connection given that I was never in England during that time. However I quickly realized that, here in Ontario, we were pretty strong anglophiles when it came to our circuit racing, running mainly English cars and following an event organization based on the old Brooklands and Goodwood pattern. And, in addition to reading American magazines like Road & Track, we also subscribed to English ones like Autocar and Motor Sport. So we were well informed about the racing over there from an English perspective. Even if I may not have actually seen some of the cars at the revival, I probably knew about them.
Indeed, the Goodwood Revival is the best of its type because no other event has the combination of quality elements it features. First and foremost, it has an excellent program of races with a balanced (by invitation only) entry. In addition to the historic cars, many of the drivers are well known faces from the past. The period look is extended to the way everyone in the paddock dresses, and right down to the support vehicles and all the ancillary bits and pieces that make up the infield. I know of no other such event which goes to such lengths to try to achieve such an authentic period look.
While that was the original concept and, in itself, makes the Revival exceptional, there is much, much more. The spectators, even those who do not have access to the members-only paddock, are also encouraged to get into the spirit and wear period dress. Most of them have embraced this idea even if their expression of “period dress” can be something that never was actually seen at a race meeting in the 1950s. In fact, this is probably Lord March’s best idea. Many people – men and women – who have little or no interest in the race cars from the ‘50s buy vintage clothing off eBay and flood the event. The strongest attendance day is Saturday which is designated as Ladies’ Day, and prizes are awarded for best costume. Instead of a historic car race, which is generally of interest only to a declining number of old fogies like me, Lord March has created an event which has thrown its arms open to a much broader audience.
On the track there is a tribute to Jim Clark, marking 50 years since he won his first F1 World Championship, with a parade of 36 cars significant to his career as a racing driver. This includes the Lotus 25 in which he won his 1963 title, the Indy-style Lotus 38 with which he won the 1965 Indy 500 (driven here by three-time Indy 500 champion Dario Franchitti) and the Lotus 43, powered by the H-16 BRM engine with which he won at Watkins Glen in 1966 (the only race win for this overly complex engine).
Also recognized is the 50th anniversary of the Ford GT40 with a parade of 13 significant examples plus a race with 27 GT40s and derivatives. A little simulation of the pit boxes at Le Mans in the day has been constructed to simulate the feel of the endurance race these cars were originally intended for.
In their smallish recreation of the old Earls Court motor shows, they honour the 100th anniversary of Aston Martin with a selection of 21 significant models representing the span of the years.
“Across the road”, amongst the overflow of vendors kiosks, Bonhams set up an auction of automobilia and real cars. The top seller was a 1935 Alfa-Romeo grand prix car reputed to be the one that Tazio Nuvolari drove to victory in the 1936 Coppa Ciano at Leghorn (Livorno), Italy. It sells for $10 million.
This is where, to my mind, the event strays a bit from the original “revival” concept. A gaggle of bike racers pedals around the track in reverse order to mark the 110th anniversary of the first Tour de France – complete with a number of unusual-looking support vehicles.
The Goodwood Circuit is built on the perimeter track of a WWII fighter aircraft airfield and it still includes a grass runway airfield to this day. March is tapping into this heritage and includes a significant component of aircraft as part of the event – static and with overhead flyovers. The flyovers feature Hurricane, Spitfire, Mustang fighters, and the Canberra bomber, the RAF’s first jet-powered bomber. There is an extensive array of historic aircraft on display on the ground behind the paddock.
The daily attendance is probably somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 and at the centre it strains the capacity of the site to accommodate the crush. Indeed, I’m beginning to wonder if perhaps this event was becoming a victim to its own remarkable success. But, as always, the general rules of getting there early and seeking out the less-crowded spaces out near the back of the circuit helps.
And, yes, there’s the racing. The revival is built around the races, this year 15 of them. As is typical in Europe, these vintage car races are pretty much real races with some amazing wheel-to-wheel dicing and some real-life crashes involving multi-million dollar cars. The list of name drivers participating in the races takes two pages and starts off with Rauno Aaltonen, Jean Alesi, Rowan Atkinson, Richard Atwood, Derek Bell, Mark Blundell and Kenny Brack and on and on.
I don’t have space to recount the results of these races, but they’re all online at the Revival’s official site (see link below). In particular I would recommend you check out the St. Mary’s Trophy race, a two-heat race over two days which features three giant Ford Galaxies, one of them which wins each day, but an Alfa-Romeo 1600 GTA wins overall on the combined result. Also, the RAC TT Celebration which is run in fairly heavy rain on Sunday with the Aston-Martin Project 212 car winning out over a Lister-Jaguar coupe in the closing laps. Also, look at the results of the Sussex Trophy, a race for “World Championship sports cars and production sports-racing cars of a type that raced 1955-1960". The white-and blue Sadler-Chevrolet Mark 2 wins the pole but starts the race from the pits. The victory goes to a D-type Jaguar over a Maserati 300S.
Each year the Goodwood management produces a video DVD of the event which is usually ready in time for the Christmas season. During the winter months, the still-available-in-Canada SPEED Channel may broadcast a show similar to the DVD’s content. They are both worth watching.
The Goodwood Revival has established itself as the crown jewel of historic car racing events around the world and it looks to continue as champion of this category for years to come. This event should be on your bucket list.