Stephen Corby has never held a passion for classic car racing, WW2 fighter planes or dressing up like an old sofa. Would sending him to England’s greatest historic race festival change all that?
YOU might think we speak the same language as the English, but to assume so is to court disaster. To us, “fancy dress” means Storm Trooper or Scooby Doo, but to them, apparently, it means to dress fancy.
When our invite to attend the legendary Goodwood Revival in the UK mentioned the fancy dress code, I decided to go as Shirty The Slightly Aggressive Bear, of the ABC’s early ’90s Late Show fame. That would have been a right royal mistake of Paul Keating-touching-the- Queen proportions.
Fortunately, my hosts, the immaculately dressed folk at Rolls-Royce, were kind enough to suggest it would be better if they arranged my ‘costume’.
So it was with some trepidation that I arrived in England, and not just because of the fancy pants.
In my mind, the Goodwood Revival, which celebrates the glory days of a storied motor racing circuit that originally existed from 1948 to 1966, a golden-tinged “Take that, Hitler” age in the UK, was all about old cars and, between you and me, I’ve never been a fan. Old cars are for old people, as far as I’m concerned, and I refuse to accept the horrific fact that I am one. Fortunately, as the ‘Advice for Gentlemen’ section of my ticket folder advised me, “The Goodwood Revival is as much about recreating the fashion and culture of the post-war years as it is about historic racing cars.”
Having sent off my measurements, including my giant head circumference, I was picturing top hat and tails, because that’s how I see Rolls-Royce in my mind, but it turned out they’d decided to dress me as a couch from the late 1950s. Or, with my stupid braces, Prince Harry of High Pants. Let’s just say I was prompted to look up what the male version of ‘camel toe’ is called; ‘moose knuckle’, apparently.
Unsure what to expect, I’d roped in one of our British correspondents, Ben Oliver, who’s a regular at Goodwood and knows the place, and its dress rules, intimately. He informed me that turning up in the right car was vital and set about securing us an immaculate E-Type Jaguar. “Immaculate”, in historic-car terms, meant it only broke down once on his way to meet me, and that the driver’s door wouldn’t open unless you used a few choice swear words and a lot of grunting.
There was no point laughing at Ben’s misfortune, or the British car industry, because he wouldn’t have heard me over his own mirth at my appearance. He’s a good fellow, though, and kindly helped adjust my accursed cravat and even pointed out that my braces were on backwards, to the great relief of my testicles.
Goodwood is an event on such a vast scale that you really can’t imagine it until you see it. Our first encounter was the Historic Car Park, which even had a special section for Jaguar/Land Rover owners. This vast grass field was set aside when the event kicked off in 1998 – 50 years after the greatly loved but dangerous
race circuit was closed – for people whose cars matched their clothes, meaning only pre-1966 were allowed in. It has become so popular, with than 2500 admittedly quite beautiful and immaculate vehicles parked here each day, that it is now the biggest classic car show on Earth.
It’s also free, because it’s across the road from circuit, which can only be accessed if you’ve got in early to buy a $100-plus ticket. There are 50,000 of these available for each of the three days and it’s always a sell-out, months in advance.
There are no flies on the current inheritor of the Goodwood Estate, the Earl of March, Charles Gordon- Lennox, who has managed to turn people looking at old cars into a big earner. Lord March also hosts the Festival of Speed in the English summer.
“We’re a weird bunch, the English; we’re very reserved and constrained, but give us a chance to dress up and we can’t get enough,” says James Warren, a Goodwood regular and possibly the man at Rolls- Royce who chose my outfit. “The great thing about the Revival is how much people get into it. Everywhere you look, there’s someone who’s made a huge, huge effort with their outfit, so they can feel a part of it.” vehicles h more aculate e m the Aside from the amazing cars, the absurdly fast track and the surprisingly brilliant historic racing, what the Goodwood Revival is about is turning this rich, green corner of southern England into a recreation of the UK’s glory years. Or the world’s largest game of dress-ups. Entering the circuit area, or at least the vast paddocks, tents, shops, historic recreations, dance halls and Spitfire-sprouting airfields that surround it, your head is constantly turned in wonder as you clock the spectacular outfits people have conjured. Not everyone gets into the spirit of the day, and some of them, like the Elvis impersonators, are clearly confused by it, but 95 percent of them do.
There are moustache-bristling fighter pilots, war-era nurses, well-dressed gents, spats, spivs, Teddy Boys, Rockers, Beatniks and ladies in ball gowns. There is music and dancing from the war era that reminds you how innocent the world of not sitting under an apple tree with anyone else used to be – it’s no Bitch Better Have My Money – and at one stage we are frontally assaulted by a whole troupe of costumed von Trapps belting out Do Re Mi.
Embarrassingly, Ben is wolf-whistling some of the more spectacularly dressed ladies, but explains that sexism is acceptable here, because we’re effectively back in the 1950s. I feel the urge to act like Barry McKenzie. Or Shane Warne.
Wander past the seemingly endless garages full of classic racers, the most jaw-dropping of which is surely the Ferrari 250 GTO someone took out on the track, despite being worth at least $38 million, and you find yourself in a field of historic war planes.
The Goodwood Circuit is basically an access road built around a World War II airfield, where Hurricanes landed and took off from grass runways to strafe the cars g, ly
EACH day of the Goodwood Revival this year they held a parade to remember the life, and untimely death, of a Kiwi.
The legendary Bruce McLaren, one of the giants of racing history and father of both the modern McLaren F1 team and, effectively, its supercars, was killed here at Goodwood in 1970 at the age of 32. The Can-Am car he was testing crashed on the high-speed Lavant Straight after his rear bodywork worked loose, causing him to spin into a concrete marshaling post.
A few years earlier, McLaren was on the same track in an F1 race against Stirling Moss when the British legend had the massive off that ended his career, and could have ended his life.
Moss was catching eventual winner Graham Hill going through the Fordwater bend at 200km/h-plus when he inexplicably ploughed straight into a bank. It was a month before he was fully conscious again, and some part of him did not recover as he never raced at the top level again.
Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain, 75 years ago.
There are regular historic fly-pasts, which the Poms treat with almost reverential sky-gazing, and during one of the biggest we are standing outside a kind of recreated war camp when someone steps up and starts winding the handle on an historic air-raid siren. The mix of the high-pitched wail of alarm with the dark, droning buzz of the planes overhead can’t help but transport you back to the terrifying days of the 1940s, when those two sounds sent people scurrying underground to hold hands and pray for their lives.
Just past the planes, and the largest collection of Willys Jeeps and old Land Rovers anyone could never want to see, is the circuit itself. These days it’s a unique experience to see nothing but a stretch of grass and some hay bales between you, the spectator, and the barking, battling cars.
You might think, as I certainly did, that historic racing would be a slow, turgid affair, with the drivers more worried about protecting their priceless vehicles than punting each other aside at the next corner, but we couldn’t be more wrong. These are not modern F1 cars – they’re much louder for a start – but the trio of Ferrari 246 F1 ‘Dinos’ we’re watching battle Aston Martin DBR4s, Maserati 250Fs and Cooper Climaxes look fast, and the racing is sensational.
Or most of it. In some races, it seems if you’re rich enough to own one of these classics you’re welcome to have a go. One guy in an immaculate Dino is so far behind that the other drivers could get out and run and still beat him, and his gearchanges sound like desperate flailings, but he still gets a cheer from the crowds in the flower-festooned grandstands, which look more like Flemington than Albert Park.
Later in the day, though, the racing comes alive with the St Mary’s Trophy. The sight of a 1964 Mini Cooper S going into a corner three-abreast with a 1964 Mercedes- Benz 300SE and a Ford Galaxie 500 from 1963 is as hilarious as it is heart-stopping. It’s like watching a bunch of junior hockey players run into the middle of an NFL match.
What makes the racing more special here is the track, which would never, ever pass muster to host modern racing, more’s the pity. Unlike the unforgiving original, the chicane just before the straight is made of reinforced foam, which is gradually destroyed by drivers trying to pinch the apex all day, sending their cars spectacularly sideways.
As a spectator there’s also something to be said for bodyroll because it gives a real sense of speed. Best of all, though, is the overtaking; as a modern F1 fan, I’d forgotten how exciting it is to watch.
Ben and I are lucky enough to do a course-clearing lap in the back of a 1954 Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn, royally waving to the huge and diverse crowd as we go; an unforgettable experience. The ride of this ancient Rolls is just as wafty and wondrous as a modern one, and it feels like taking a small antique shop for a drive, although the legroom’s not quite as impressive as in the just-launched Dawn. Judging by the roof of the pub we stayed in, which dates back to 1430, people were clearly shorter in the past.
But what’s most impressive is the track itself, which is ower-
CORBY’S Rolls-Royce hosts might be having a posh Pommie laugh at his Ocker expense. They’ve supplied him with a ‘period’ outfit alright, but it’s from the wrong period, and the wrong place. Instead of a glamorous 1950s or ’60s Goodwood race-goer, he looks like a ’30s Oklahoma dustbowl farmer, an Oliver Hardy in Technicolour.
He’s a game bloke, though, and has put it all on – or attempted to.
He hasn’t tied his cravat, instead just plastering it around his neck.
Before anyone sees us, I tie it for him. There’s no point showing him how; he’ll never wear one again.
Goodwood prefers to call the Revival dress code ‘period style’ rather than ‘fancy dress’. Either way, it’s not that difficult for us British males because our fashion sense froze in 1957. I just wear what I normally wear, with the addition of a hat and cravat. It’s a bit harder for the ladies.
But it’s important not to get too hung up on the look. Nobody really minds if you don’t look like Terry Thomas, and you shouldn’t let it get in the way of some of the best racing you’ll see anywhere, historic or otherwise.
wide, open and must be ferociously fast to drive at pace.
So fast that in the last race of the day one driver, Chris Ward, got his 1959 Lister-Jaguar stuck in fourth gear with a few laps to go and still held on to finish second.
After some young enthusiasts talked the late Freddie March, grandfather of the current Earl of March, into turning this place into a race track in 1948, it hosted some fabulous racing until 1966, when it was deemed too dangerous.
“It’s an amazing track, but modern cars would just slide off here, with all that quick, off-camber stuff,” explains posh-accented enthusiast Andrew Ball. “I’ve driven here a bit and it’s one of those tracks where the slightest lift and you’re off, but some of the racing you’ll see here today is the best you’ll see anywhere.”
In spite of my fears of boredom, I can’t tear my eyes away from the action on track late in the day and find myself watching, gripped, as two blokes I’ve never heard of in cars I have no emotional connection with – the Lister-Jaguar and another Dino – host a ding-dong battle for 20 minutes. To watch the way their arms saw at the wheel, fighting for control of their weighty, bellowing beasts, is to fall in love with motorsport anew.
At the end of the day, as we explore a retro supermarket filled with period products and stroll past the period barber where hipsters are having their moustaches waxed, I’m struck again not only by the scope of the event but its incredible depth. Every detail – from the beehived grid girls in 1960s garb to the antiquated carnival rides to the mechanics being allowed to wear period suits in the pits – is nailed. The Poms, quite simply, do this stuff better than anyone else.
What makes the Goodwood Revival magical, though, more than the machines or the venue or even the racing, is the people. When 50,000 human beings all make such a huge effort to play the same game of make-believe at the same time, it creates an atmosphere that’s impossible to match, or fully explain.
Forget the Grand Canyon and the Pyramids, the Goodwood Revival should be at the top of your bucket list. Even if you do have to dress like a prat to get in.