14 August 2007

Bridging the Pond - Goodwood Revival

Now it’s a well-known fact that the British hate dressing up. Announce a fancy dress party, and you immediately halve the guest list; advertise a job that requires an attention-grabbing outfit and you can guarantee that the only applicants you’ll get will have serious personality disorders.

But what’s the most successful phenomenon in the UK classic car scene? Goodwood Revival, for which drivers, mechanics and visitors – yes, your typical Joe Public – are required to dress in a style roughly appropriate to the period in which the Goodwood circuit was open for business, 1948 to 1966. It’s a roaring success.

So never let it be said that the Brits are easy to predict. Wandering around Goodwood really is like stepping back in time. I remember the first time the magic struck me: I was shuffling through the tunnel under the circuit, embarrassed (obviously) to be wearing white 1950s-style mechanics overalls, topped off with tweed cap, stiff shirt and woollen tie, wide brown leather belt and brogues.

The glamorous 1940s-style lady in front was fiddling with her hair pins. The short-trousered 1960s schoolboy was rummaging through an old leather satchel. And a period policeman, a ‘bobby’ no less, gave me a sharp glance from under his traditional helmet, which no doubt would have been swiftly followed by a clip round the ear had I spoken out of turn. As a mechanic I was clearly not of the right class to be deferential to. A shiver ran down my spine – I’d been transported back a whole generation, with nothing more than a three-hour car journey to the south coast of England . Astonishing.

Goodwood now attracts 100,000 visitors to the Revival, and almost all make an effort to dress up. But now that’s not enough: to really top the experience you should turn up in a pre-1966 car, and of course you want to take your friends, which means that suddenly those old Wolseley, Standards and Morris saloons that no-one had previously wanted (except those with serious personality orders, who were anyway too busy applying for jobs that no-one else wants to get round to restoring their old BMC saloons) have been given a new lease of life.

This is great news, and it goes further. To race at the Goodwood Revival is a prize that grown men fight for like schoolboys (hopefully with conkers and satchels, rather than Nike kit bags and Nintendos). But there’s no point trying to get an entry with a car that everyone else has got. Goodwood is all about spectacle, not out-and-out competition, so unusual machinery often gets the nod from Lord March (creator of the event) in preference to the obvious choices. Why else would anyone want to waste time race-preparing a Wartburg!

There are fiscal benefits to be reaped from a clever car choice. Goodwood is always late August/early September, and by the end of September they’ll invariably be a few adverts in the classic car press for ‘the Goodwood Jaguar MkX’ or the Goodwood Wartburg’. If it looks likely to guarantee an entry for the following year’s event, then the shrewd owner-driver could have doubled his money.

If a celebrity driver can be persuaded into the car, then the ‘ Stirling Moss Goodwood Lotus’ or ‘the Jochen Mass Goodwood Chevrolet’ (yes, large American machinery is welcome, for the sheer drama of the cornering) will appear for still higher prices. Am I being cynical about this? No, not at all, for it’s this phenomenon that has produced far more interesting grids across the historic racing world. In 2005, an epic battle between a Jaguar Mk2 (predictable) and an Austin A35 (ridiculous) had the Goodwood crowd on its feet, cheering wildly, for the entire race.

Imagine that! Tens of thousands of Brits, who you know as I well as I are not known for making a show of themselves, jumping up and down in public, dressed as World War Two servicemen and nurses, Stirling Moss’s mechanics, mods and rockers and country gents and ladies. It’s the most enjoyable social contradiction I’ve ever known, and the fact that it’s mixed in with the greatest cars you’ll ever see just ads to the appeal.

If I were you, I’d plan any trips across the Atlantic to coincide with the Goodwood Revival. Me? I’m currently searching eBay for a tweed suit and trilby.

David Lillywhite is managing editor of UK-based Octane magazine, and has been writing for classic car and bike publications for over 15 years.

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