(Goodwood Motor Circuit, 13-15 September 2013)
Until Saturday, I’d never been motor-racing in my life and there can’t be many more fabulous ways to experience it for the first time than to attend the Goodwood Revival. For those unfamiliar with the event, the racing circuit at Goodwood, near Chichester in Sussex, winds the clock back in time for one weekend every September and, for three wonderful days, everything takes place between 1948 and 1966. No modern vehicles are allowed inside the perimeter and visitors are encouraged to wear appropriate dress for the period. And so, on Saturday morning under a blue sky (later to cloud over), my parents and I picked our way out of the muddy car park and into the full glory of the past.
One of our shared virtues as a family is that, if we’re going to do something, we give it everything we’ve got, and so of course we dressed up. Dad was in full RAF Flight Lieutenant’s uniform, circa 1955; Mum was in a patterned dress with fur-collared jacket, bona fide 1940s shoes and a felt hat; and I was in red and white, with a pair of proper seamed stockings and a net petticoat so wide that I couldn’t pass people in doorways.
There are three areas at Goodwood: the ‘Over The Road’ section, which hosts luxury brand stalls, food and drink outlets and a vast paddock full of classic cars (several hundred of them). You can visit this section without paying a thing. By presenting your ticket at the bridge, you can cross into the Vintage High Street area, which borders the outer edge of the track and where there are stalls selling vintage clothes, motoring books, flying jackets, heritage brands and virtually everything you could want for your classic car. Then, by going through a tunnel beneath the track, you come up inside the perimeter, where there is a display of classic aircraft, an exhibition put on by the Earl’s Court Motor Show (this year focusing on 100 years of Aston Martin), a bandstand and the Veuve Cliquot tent (yes, I clocked that pretty early on). If you have extra-special tickets, there are exclusive grandstand, bar and restaurant areas for you to go into; but we just had standard tickets, as it was our first time. A chance to sit down inside – due to the uninspiring weather and the crippling pain of my shoes as the day wore on – wouldn’t have gone amiss, but we kept our stiff upper lips and had a wonderful time.
Things kicked off as we waited to go in, as a P51 Mustang circled overhead on dawn patrol. We managed to get a ringside spot for the first race: the Goodwood Trophy, which was for original racing cars from the late ’30s and ’40s. These were wonderful cigar-shaped machines which sped by in a multicoloured sheen, leaving a lingering, slightly sweet scent of Castrol oil in the air behind them. After thirteen laps, we watched David Morris, no. 9, come home to victory in his ERA B-type with a time of 21:07, closely followed by Paddins Dowling in another ERA B-type. Later on there was the Barry Sheene Memorial Trophy, a motorcycle race of sixteen laps won by Grant / Johnson on an MV Agusta 500/3 with a time of 24:58; and then a cycling celebration of the Tour de France, in which Sir Chris Hoy took part, which was rather fun.
Throughout the day there were other races, which we didn’t see, although the cars themselves were on view within the circuit perimeter; and there were also air displays, first by a formation of a Mustang, Curtiss and pair of Spitfires, and later on by a Canberra, an aircraft I’d never seen before, with its strikingly shaped wings. We’d been promised the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, but I was sad to find out that due to poor weather the Lancaster hadn’t been able to get off the ground. Still, I’m not going to be ungrateful about the two Spitfires, because the very sound of a burbling Merlin engine is enough to give me goosebumps.
It’s worth emphasising that this is a classic car event with extras, rather than a historical reenactment with a few cars tacked on, and it’s important to understand that before you go – but there’s plenty to amuse you even if you’re not a classic car nut. Neither Mum nor I are particularly knowledgeable about classic cars, even if we can appreciate them aesthetically. For example, if you showed me a gorgeous old Jaguar with a curved bonnet and a running board, then I would find it beautiful – not because of the engine and the technical specifications, but because I’d be imagining driving the said car down a country lane with a Fortnum’s hamper strapped to the back. Each to their own, I say. We had a great time looking at the displays of old scooters, browsing the stalls, admiring other people’s costumes and exploring the aisles of a lovingly recreated vintage Tesco, complete with old-fashioned packaging.
We obviously looked the part because two different spivs sidled up to us during the day and tried to sell us nylons, chocolates, cigarettes, extra ration books and even carbolic soap – and absolutely had us in stitches. Probably about three quarters of the visitors were dressed up – some had done little more than pop down the hire shop for something that didn’t really fit, but lots of people looked fabulous. There were waxed moustaches, tweed jackets, and all sorts of hats among the men, as well as a whole host of officers’ uniforms. Most of the uniforms were RAF, like Dad’s, but there were a few Naval and Army officers too. I spotted one or two women in 1960s costume, but most people were in 1950s gear. Some of the women looked completely stunning, including the two girls I spotted in the Veuve Cliquot tent who seemed to have just stepped out of a Christian Dior ‘New Look’ advertisement, and sent me wild with envy. You can see some of the best costumes from the event – and appreciate the incredibly high standard of the outfits – here.
It was a fantastic day – something really entirely different for me – and having the chance to dress up was an extra, childish thrill. I’d thoroughly recommend it if you’re interested in classic cars and, even if you’re not, there’s enough people-watching, shopping and racing to make a very pleasant day out. We actually stopped off for dinner in Chichester afterwards and walked – in full ’50s kit, RAF uniform and all – through the town centre to the restaurant. Never have so many people smiled at us so spontaneously: I was rather tickled to think that we were doing our bit to keep the traditions of English eccentricity alive.