Goodwood Revival Circa 2013

As I tramped the field on the edge of the South Downs at sunrise, a brace of Spitfires screamed overhead. They strafed the field before me in a series of low altitude passes. Then, powered by the famous 12-cylinder Merlin aero engine, the two Spits roared skyward towards the coast to do battle with the enemy. I wished the cloud cover was higher than 100 feet so I could see them form up wing tip to wing tip, but during the Second World War, our young fighter pilots of the Dawn Patrol didn’t have the luxury of choosing their flying weather.

(Click on any image for a closer peek)

The author drooling over vintage flying machines

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Period costume – Commissars and Grannie’s Girl Guide uniform

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It was a spine-chilling moment. The grass airfield I was approaching in the center of the Goodwood race circuit in West Sussex is the same airfield patrolled by the same aircraft during the First World War. The extraordinary vision of these iconic aircraft was a fitting prelude to an exceptional three days of British nostalgia like never before.

The Goodwood Revival is race meeting for historic cars and motorcycles that celebrates the history of motor sport as some of the world’s finest cars are enthusiastically raced by expert drivers and their mechanics. More recently, the Revival has expanded to host a magnificent display of functional vintage aircraft as mouthwatering as the cars. To add an aura of aviation exotica, this year Lufthansa brought over their huge restored Junkers Ju52 Airliner circa 1936, which took off and landed from the infield airstrip, thundering low and slow over the track.

Inside the covered Paddock and the Goodwood re-enactors Guild

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 The Revival is the brainchild of the highly talented Lord March who, prior to taking over the family estate, was known as Charles Setterington, a well regarded London-based photographer in the advertising profession. Quite a number of titled Englishmen and women have elected to use “civilian” titles to make their way in private life, preferring the advantages of anonymity over the advantages of title. Over the past 16 years under Lord March’s stewardship, the Revival has secured a position as the world’s most successful historic race-event, maturing well beyond the sum of its parts. For some (I fall into this category) it remains true to its original concept of a superb historic race meeting with the world’s finest cars competing for honours. For others it is the opportunity to dress in period costume replicating the eras between the 1920s and 1960s, when these cars were new. Above all it is the chance to attend a pre-eminent period nostalgic event and enjoy an inspirational long weekend in a unique sporting and carnival atmosphere on the estate of Lord March – heir apparent to the Duke of Richmond.

Riley, period petrol pumps and a genuine Whirligig

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 The 12,000-acre Goodwood estate has been in the March family for many generations. Located on the edge of the South Downs close to historic Chichester and the seaside town of Bognor Regis, it is about a two-hour drive from London. Apart from occupying vast and productive farmland, the estate is close to several former fighter bases of World War II, which were regularly scrambled to confront Hitler’s Luftwaffe as they tried to bomb Britain back to the Stone Age. In the postwar years the family recognized the need to support the land with additional revenue, so they developed the Goodwood horse-race track, then the Goodwood motor race circuit and more recently the Goodwood speed hill climb – as their on-site medley of income-generating events.

Check out the Tour de France Caravan Publicitaire

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 The Revival is accessible by car from all points of the compass, and the event team expertly sign-posted the routes and ingeniously reversed the direction of country lanes to handle the inflow of 140,000 visitors and their cars. Parking for general admission is in the fields surrounding the track, (where I first saw the Spitfire Dawn Patrol) but to encourage enthusiasts to bring their cars out to play, parking for classic vehicles is close by the entrance. This veritable plantation of classics is a marvelous free car show with hundreds of each marque imaginable, parked in no particular order. One misty morning with the dew still on my boots, I walked past a valuable pre-war Aston Martin Ulster casually parked in a corner of the field. Nearby was a priceless vintage Bentley and a pre-war Riley and … well you get the picture. As the planners are parking visitor’s cars in farm fields with rain often in the forecast, they ingeniously constructed “lanes” of aluminum track along which cars clanked to their approximate parking place. We did get rain, the parking fields did get muddy, but the aluminum lanes worked perfectly.

Laurel and Hardy on track and an unhappy Derek Bell (punted off)

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No event of this nature would be complete without a huge cast of period vendors: vintage hair dressing salons, vintage clothing suppliers, vintage cars for sale, plus vintage Whirligigs, Walls of Death, and fairground attractions. Even a self-confessed car nut needs a respite from three days of continual racing, and this eclectic combination of vendors was an interesting diversion, well supported by well dressed nostalgia shoppers. As you might expect, nostalgic traditional English fayre such as bubble and squeak, Welsh rarebit, cheese on toast, and bangers and mash could be purchased from outlets alongside the track.

 Now in its seventeenth edition, the Revival has matured into the finest historic event of its type while staying close to its provenance of a well-run series of historic car races – with a superb display of antique flying thrown in for good measure. Many of the visitors actively become part of the Revival by dressing in wonderful period costumes. These include entire families and groups of friends dressed in military uniforms representing the RAF, the Royal Navy, and the Army. We met cadres of Russian officers with their peculiar raised-peak caps, festooned with medals from “battles in their minds.” There were scores of American Air Force generals supported by scowling GIs dressed in combat gear and helmets, M16s slung over their shoulders. As I lined up for a fresh Latte,  a Dad’s Army of 20 British Army World War I re-enactors came marching by, grinning from ear to ear, marching from nowhere to nowhere. Alongside this eclectic army of good-humored military poseurs, many visitors elected to dress in period civilian costumes, most stylish, some quite lavish, and in many cases stunning. Costume rentals are flourishing in the UK and for the huge numbers of period clad visitors from across the channel and North America (many ladies in furs), getting into spirit of the event allowed them to become part of it.

Young re enactor and his mom, Vendors alley and spectator parking

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 I suspect that Lord March’s team of event planners thought carefully about how to surround the core race activities with appropriate in-period attractions. Racing takes place non-stop on all three days, and any free track time is instantly filled by classic course-cars driven by officials inspecting the circuit. To lighten the mood, these were occasionally followed by a Laurel and Hardy look-alike in a 1920’s open two-seater, engaging the crowd as they drove by.

 Opening each day’s racing was a parade of Mods and Rockers from the 1960s. The Mods rode tarted-up Lambretta and Vespa scooters with their distinctive pop-popping exhausts, while the Rockers snarled by on their Triumphs, Nortons, and Royal Enfields. The Mods in their Zoot Suits and the Rockers in leathers were pursued by classic police cars – Ford Zephyrs and Consuls driven by bobbies with sirens blaring.

 Each year Lord March identifies a series of supporting activities to enrich the core race events, and this year’s Revival celebrated the Tour de France and commemorated the World War II Dam Busters raid on the German Mohne and Odersee dams in the Ruhr valley.

Spitfires and Hurricanes coming in for a pass and our man Stirling

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The Tour de France was celebrated by an extensive on-track peleton of past competitive riders on vintage bikes led by Sir Chris Hoy. The British Olympic cycling champion was wildly applauded as he pedaled by (this tiny island take its champions seriously). As the Revival is primarily a historic car race event, the Tour de France vignette was led by a fleet of classic French vehicles including the avant-garde designed caravane publicitaire, which originally carried the French media reporting on the race, lending an elegant touch to this interesting display of Gallic pedal pushers. 

 The anniversary of the Dam Busters raid was a real tear-jerker for us Brits, as the wonderful lady narrator  (who I have been told is Binnie, sister to Lord March) unfolded this amazing story to a totally silent and attentive crowd of visitors around the track. Some visitors were young adults at the time of the raid, some babes in arms – and some were yesterday’s enemy on the receiving end of this daring flight. The raid by Allied Lancaster bombers was a success from a destructive perspective, but the loss of young Allied air crews was a serious blow to this close-knit squadron of flyers. Lord March introduced the retrospective of this raid, still revered in the UK, paying tribute to Canadian air crew, amongst others. In an elegant nod to today’s allies, he included the casualties of German civilians caught up in the tragedy of their fanatical leadership.

The author dreaming over a Ferrari he will never get to drive

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The racetrack is surrounded by large video screens, and as Binnie narrated details of the raid, original grainy back-and-white footage from the cockpit cameras of the bombers came up on the screens, recording each aircraft’s suicidal bombing run towards the dam, anti-aircraft flack coming at them like fireworks. Somehow Lord March had secured the presence of one of the few surviving members of those bomber crews, and the entire crowd of 140,000 were on their feet, saluting with caps off as he was slowly driven around the track in a WWII Jeep. A true hero to us all.

 Race aficionados will also know the Goodwood race circuit is where Stirling Moss, now Sir Stirling, ended his career with a horrific crash in 1962. Sir Stirling was at the 2013 Revival signing autographed copies of his scrapbook memoirs.

On April 24th, 1962, Stirling Moss entered a minor Formula 1 race known as the Glover Trophy at the Goodwood track in West Sussex. He danced at a country dancehall until two the night before, then rose, apparently unaffected, and prepared his pale green Lotus. On the eighth lap he pulled into the pits with a jammed gearbox. By the time mechanics fixed it, he had dropped to 17th place.

 “What are you going to do?” a friend asked. “Have a bloody go,” Moss answered. In his determination to make up time, he flew down straights at 180 mph and hurtled into corners at 75 mph – dangerously close to the limit. “He’s pushing it,” a mechanic said. On the 35th lap Moss neared a twisty right-then-left turn called St. Mary’s Corner at 110 mph. His car veered off the road, streaked across 150 yards of lawn, and smacked into an eight foot embankment.

 It took mechanics half an hour to saw through the crumpled aluminum and remove the driver’s limp, unconscious body. A nurse held his hand much of the time. Blood smeared his face and dripped onto his white coveralls. His right cheek was torn open and his left eye socket was shattered. The crumpled steering wheel had broken two ribs. X-rays revealed severe bruising on the right side of his brain. He lay in a coma for a month, his left side partially paralyzed and his career shattered.

Style, close bike racing and lining up for a corner

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Racing at the Revival is serious, highly competitive, and occasionally damaging to the cars as well as to dismounted bruised pilots of hard-ridden vintage motor bikes. The classes were divided up into logical groupings starting with astonishingly fast pre-war ERAs, then 1960s saloon cars, with Minis chasing Cortinas chasing Alfas chasing Ford Galaxies – built by the famous US race team of Holman and Moody. A class for Ford GT 40s was utterly inspirational, as was the race for “Big Bangers,” with Ford Cobras taking on Jaguars, Astons snarling at their heels. There were a few celebrity drivers such as Jochen Mass, Tom Christenson, Brian Redman, Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean), Derek Bell, and Adrian Newy (designer for the Red Bull Formula 1 team). For a race nut, it really doesn’t get much better.

 The event team has spent a great deal of time honing each day of the Revival, incorporating English dry and often quirky humour where possible. In one corner of the site I saw a whimsical recreation of the French Résistance café from the successful TV series Allo Allo, complete with an Allied flier and his female French Résistance escort. In another corner was an original street corner blue Police Box surrounded by several English bobbies and half a dozen vintage police cars. I’d forgotten that the police used to drive MGs and Sunbeam Alpine sport cars as well as their more boring vehicles. The attention to detail of these planners was impressive. On the saloon car starting grid, as cars revved their engines, a team rushed up behind a Mini, opened the trunk, and extracted a dozen “gold” bricks before disappearing into the crowd. At the Police Box there were about a dozen or so uniformed “officers” including a couple of real ones, but while grinning from ear to ear, no one would fess up which were the fakes. The cars on the starting line were marshaled into position by the Goodwood Glamour Girls clad in 1960s miniskirts, long boots, and (this is Goodwood, after all) … bowler hats.

Mid-track airfield was busy with aircraft landing as cars raced beneath

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Planning to visit the Revival takes some forethought, and choosing the right tickets for your budget and stamina is important. The first two days are less crowded, and I recommend walking the circuit counterclockwise to face the oncoming cars. Locating fence-leaning room around the circuit is easy, and frequent visitors take folding chairs to claim their favorite pitch for the weekend’s racing. The last day is very crowded, although Lord March closed ticket sales at 140,000, which in my view is about site-maximum. On the final day of racing it is useful to have a grandstand ticket, and I enjoyed the Woodcote corner grandstand towards the end of the Levant Straight within sight of the Chicane.

 The non-stop action – racing on the track, the aircraft in the air, the witty informed commentary over the PA, the eclectic field of vendors, people in vintage costume and the many cafes and bars – was perpetual motion from opening to close. Almost a month later, memories of what happened during my three days at the Goodwood Revival remains sharp, rich and vivid in my mind. The only way I would have enjoyed it more – would be to have my own car there and to be racing myself. Quite an event!

I never got to ask if there were any responses to this ad

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This Gentleman was a bomb aimer on the Dam Busters attack

Bomb aimer on the Dam Busters raid