"You Are Now Leaving The American Sector," the sign at the entrance read. That's for sure, I thought, as a guy wearing a World War II-vintage East German policeman's uniform shouted, "please have your papers ready for inspection. Anybody who does not will be shot!" Shoeshine boys wearing plaid knickers were buffing spats. A fat Cockney-accented washerwoman walked alongside all manner of mods, rockers, and dandies, not to mention countless beautiful women wearing polka-dotted dresses and bright-red lipstick. Sock-hop standards and the roar of vintage motorcycles assaulted the ears and the smell of fish and chips and hard cider attacked the nose. This was Saturday morning in an England of a different vintage. The Goodwood Revival had begun.
Just down the street from the Rolls-Royce Factory on the personal grounds of Lord March, The Earl Of Richmond, Goodwood has been held every year since 1998. It celebrates the golden age of British motoring, which began after World War II and went into the late 1960s, a glorious time before big technology and big media transformed race car driving from a gentleman's sport into another corporate business. Goodwood is kind of a car-themed Renaissance Faire, except that, despite all the costuming, artifice, and cheeky good fun, it's actually real. There's a track on site, and it's of the highest quality. At Goodwood, the cars race, and they race fast.
The first thing I saw upon entering: A row of spotless 1956 Jaguar D-Types, the first race cars ever to run with disc brakes. You can buy quality replicas of such cars for $100,000, but these were genuine articles, the ones that actually won at LeMans and went 170 mph in the early '60s. Alongside those sat a majestic collection of Shelby AC Cobras; guys wearing grease-stained vintage mechanics' overalls were pounding on all of the Cobras, banging their knockoff wheels with mallets. These Cobras were going to go hard today.
I wandered the racing pits, nearly drooling, like a drunkard cut loose in the world's greatest winery. It was the car equivalent of stumbling into Jurassic Park, seeing beasts once lost to time, some of which had the potential to lop off human limbs. There was the 1960 Dolphin-Ford, a one-off recently restored, racing this weekend at Goodwood for the first time in 52 years; a 1936 Jaguar SS100, dubbed "The Grey Ghost"; an Aston Martin Ulster which had finished eighth at LeMans in 1935; several groovy-looking 1959 Stanguellini Fiats; a 1964 McLaren Chevrolet M1A; a Lola T70 Spyder; a 1960 Ferrari 246 F1 Dino; and a beautiful 1959 Maserati Tipo 61 Birdcage. All of that took up maybe a third of one staging. I had many more paddocks to inspect.
Two ruddy-faced guys wearing tweed and driving caps walked past me.
"It's only got a certain number of gears on the bottom drive," one of them said. "It hits a different tooth on 27 turns."
I was tempted to follow them to find out what they were talking about, but the sight of Sir Jackie Stewart, surrounded by a phalanx of mustachioed men wearing vintage RAF uniforms, distracted me. They were admiring a row of gleaming red '60s Ferrari GTOs, each one worth more than $20 million. Madness!
Now I must practice full disclosure. Subaru had a good year in 2012, or so it claims. To celebrate, Subaru's PR staff took a select number of press favorites to England for a week. We drove manual Subaru BRZs around the Lakes region and spent a rare afternoon at a private hill-climb racecourse in Yorkshire. Then we traversed the whole of England and landed in Brighton, on the south coast. The next morning, we drove our excellent BRZs to Goodwood, and parked them there forever. This will in no way influence our opinions on future Subaru vehicles.
Subaru had booked us a private table in "the Mess," a cavernous private hall far from the madding crowd, which, festival organizers estimated, numbered 150,000. To get to The Mess, we had to walk across a plastic runway through a desert landscape dotted with vintage Jeeps, guys dressed as British Army officers, and other guys dressed as T.E. Lawrence-vintage Arab sheiks. There were also, inexplicably, two pretty young women dressed in 1950s flight-attendant uniforms, posing for photos with two healthy-looking Bactrians. "I can't believe we managed to get real camels this year," one of them said.
Then we walked through a recreation of a Battle Of Britain war room, complete with people clacking away on teletype machines and women moving model ships and planes around a strategy board. We went into a cavernous dining hall, where I immediately passed Rowan Atkinson, the famous Mr. Bean, who was walking by wearing tweed knickers and carrying a plate of smoked salmon and paté. The hall was festooned with enormous Union Jack flags and "Keep Calm And Carry On" posters, and it opened onto a fabulous view of the racetrack. I was immediately treated to a view of Ewan McGregor, Obi-Wan Kenobi himself, wearing black leather and leading a demonstration lap of 1950s motorcycles. Meanwhile, overhead, a squadron of Spitfires amazed the crowd with a series of nostalgic aerial loops.