27 September 2007

The Best Event in the World

You know when something’s really good, you have to tell everyone about it at least twice? Well… I’m afraid I’m going to do that right now, to you.

In last month’s column I explained how much I was looking forward to the Goodwood Revival Event, and now I just have to tell you how much I enjoyed it. Bear with me please!

From a visitor point-of-view the Goodwood Revival is the best historic car event in the UK. Actually, no, let’s be controversial. It’s the best historic car event in the world. It’s better than the Monterey Historics, the Amelia Island Concours or the Rolex Vintage Festival at Lime Rock. Complaints to the usual address please…

In case you’re not aware of the details, the Goodwood estate in West Sussex consists of a stately home, with a long, steep, twisty drive, around which the Goodwood Festival of Speed hillclimb takes place every June/July. There’s also a horse racing track, where the equally famous Glorious Goodwood is held for those who enjoy seeing small fellows clinging onto the backs of large, sweaty mammals. Then there’s a golf course for those with too much time on their hands, a few posh boutique shops, a private members’ club and a sculpture park.

But the jewel in the Goodwood crown is the old Motor Circuit, which was closed in 1966 due to safety concerns (it was a crash at Goodwood that finished Stirling Moss’s career) and complaints from nearby residents who’d bought a house next to a race track and were then surprised to find that their Sunday lunches were disturbed by noisy racing cars.

But with a revamp and stringent noise and safety limitations, the track reopened for serious business a few years ago to host the annual Goodwood Revival every September. Only vehicles appropriate to the circuit’s original 1948-’66 heyday are allowed, and that extends to the service vehicles, transporters and even the pace car, while drivers, mechanics and visitors are encouraged to dress in period clothing.

It’s pure theatre, and over the last few years the theatrics have increased so that now you can have your hair cut in a period-style barbershop, be accosted by a post-war ‘spiv’ selling dodgy watches from under a Macintosh, eat chips from 1950s style newspaper wrapping and visit period-style garages and showrooms on site.

What this means is that the visitors to the Revival become part of the event. They’re no longer spectators, but exhibits. We had a competition running on the Octane magazine stand (hosted by girls in polka dot rock ‘n’ roll dresses) to find the best outfits, and some couples were appearing on each of the three days in different get-ups, from servicemen and women, to mods and rockers to country gents and ladies.

Me, I tired of my usual mechanic’s overalls this year (very easy – white overalls with collars, broad leather belt, shirt and tie, brogues and flat cap) and went for a bit of charity shop ‘chic’ instead – tweed jacket (£4), checked shirt (£0.75), woollen tie, flat cap (more on that lately), brown trousers (£5) and brogues (bought new years ago). Bear in mind £1 is roughly $2. Not an expensive outfit!

I spent a happy Sunday wandering around like that, watching the racing, visiting the stalls, lusting over the vintage planes and generally trying to be a cheeky chappy with the ladies dressed in gorgeous 1950s outfits and a downright annoyance to those in 1960s mini-dresses. All great fun.

It was only at the end of the day that I happened to glance in a mirror to realise that – horror! – I was wearing my turn-of-the-century style London-to-Brighton veteran car run flat cap and not the 1950s-style cap I’d bought from the Help the Aged shop for £1 a couple of years ago. Sartortial faux pas!

Fortunately for me, or unfortunately for the cars and people involved, there were much greater faux pas to be witnessed on track, where the difficult combination of retired legends, professional drivers and enthusiastic amateurs were sometimes found to be lacking in the required gentlemanly behaviour, despite warnings from none other than Goodwood’s Lord March.

Now, I might have said that Goodwood is even better for the general public than the Monterey Historics, but this is perhaps where we need Monterey’s great disciplinarian Steve Earle to teach our boys how to behave like proper English gents. I wonder if he’s available for advice on flat caps as well.

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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