Words by Dion Price
Any attempt to explain what the Goodwood Revival event is, without making it sound like a motoring garden party for the slightly unhinged is almost impossible. Picture this; 150,000 people dressed head to toe in authentic outfits from the 1940s to the 1960s watching, quite literally, the most expensive cars on the planet aggressively racing each other wheel to wheel whilst piloted by some of the most famous names in motorsport. Throwing the majority of the only airworthy WWII fighter aircraft buzzing the stands and their veteran pilots receiving rapturous applause down on the ground. Every corner turned reveals yet another intricate recreation of an iconic scene that propels you instantly back in time to the golden age of motor racing. There is so much to see and do at Goodwood that I would literally be able to fill a book if I were to cover it all in sufficient detail, so I will try and cherry pick some of my favorite elements from this year’s event.
The racing is obviously the main draw for many at the Revival with both bikes and cars taking to the track over the weekend.
The line up of vehicles is literally a who’s who of
the greatest classic cars on the planet.
Most will never see these cars in the flesh on static display, let alone to witness them being raced at ten tenths. The highlight of the racing for me, and many others at this year’s event, was the RAC TT Trophy. The grid featured over £150m worth of cars, several of which were one off specials that are truly irreplaceable. How about one of these: Aston Martin DB4 GT, Ferrari 250 GTO, 250 LM, 330 GTO, Low Drag E Type, Cobra – the list goes on. Anyone thinking that the brace of ex-Le Mans racing drivers were going to take it easy piloting these rolling works of art would be in for a bit of a shock.
With “Mr Le Mans” himself, Tom Kristensen, Jochen Mass, Mark Blundell, Derek Bell and many other A list stars all taking part in the hour long two driver event there was a lot of personal pride at stake and that certainly drew out the ever present competitive racer’s venom. Interestingly Jochen Mass already had a huge shunt under his belt from a previous practice session as the £4m Mercedes-Benz 300 SLS ‘Porter Special’ he was driving was cut up by a £1.5m Lister-Jaguar entering the pit lane at the last minute. The owner of the 300 SLS was clearly unimpressed with the prospect of a complete rebuild of his prized possession but none of that seemed to phase Jochen as he battled with the likes of Darren Turner and Matt Neal in the TT Trophy.
Watching the these iconic cars slither around the track with their drivers aggressively sawing at the wheel I was immediately struck by the contrast to modern F1 racing. The beautiful symphony of noises coming from these cars, the variety of body types, engine configurations and the chassis layouts all made for thrilling viewing as it was barely possible to keep up with the position changes throughout the race. Goodwood is a tight, undulating circuit with little run off in some areas but this seems to generate ever more daring overtake maneuvers from the drivers rather than restraint. No “push to pass”, KERS, ERS, DRS or tyre lifespans that would lead you to believe that they may well be made of chocolate, are needed here. Simplicity and variety are the key to delivering some of the best racing I have ever seen.
Wandering away from the track and into the paddock I overheard some of the drivers discussing the importance of period tyres on classic cars at Goodwood. Curious as to why less grippy rubber was preferable, I went to have a chat with the guys at Michelin who had recreated an authentic garage from the 1940’s complete with a life sized Bibendum (Michelin Man) from the period. The importance of period rubber it seems comes down to just how far tyres have come in the last half a century. If you were to place modern Michelin tyres that you or I can buy on a period car, it would result in a massive 20-30% higher cornering speeds. This amazing jump in performance from the tyres alone would place a huge additional load on the car’s suspension and braking components that it is simply not designed to handle.
It seems that this tyre technology transfer is speeding up with Michelin continuing to learn a massive amount from its involvement in current cutting edge motorsport such as LeMans and the Formula E series. Amazingly, the tyres that come as standard equipment on a road going Porsche 911 today are made of a compound that you would have found pounding around the Le Mans 24 hour race just four years ago! Stepping out of the Michelin garage, past a fully stocked Tesco’s store from the 1950s and a row of immaculate classic Vespas outside a 50’s coffee shop (sadly without the 50’s prices) visitors are able to head under the track and back into the paddock, where my final highlight resides.
Being one of the Le Mans 24hr faithful, I enjoy learning a bit about the history of the event through the various legendary stories the event seems to produce over the years. One of the greatest of these of course was how a chicken farmer from Texas took Enzo Ferrari down a peg or two. Arguably Carroll Shelby’s most famous vehicle was the AC Cobra, a formidable open top race car that had followed a very simple American formula. Find the biggest engine and put it in the smallest car. The engine came from Ford, the car came from a small British firm at the time, AC. An icon was born. Shelby enjoyed some impressive success with the Cobra on the generally shorter American tracks where aerodynamics were less important but he was still unable to take down his arch rival Enzo Ferrari on his home turf in Europe. European tracks, often typified by longer flat out straight sections, allowed Ferrari’s GTOs to cruise past the Cobra’s with ease.
Ironically it was Enzo Ferrari’s pressuring of the FIA for a rule change that finally allowed Shelby to produce a car that could topple the Italian giant’s finest. Enzo was concerned about growing competition from Aston Martin and had lobbied for the rebodying of his open top sports cars into hard top coupes. FIA granted Enzo his wish and the 250 GTO was the direct result. Shelby, leapt upon the rule change and set about creating a hard top version of the Cobra, the Daytona Coupe. With the car unveiled, Enzo was livid that his rule change had been used against him and that fury only grew as the Daytona Coupe stomped home to an emphatic victory at the Le Mans 24hr in 1964 setting the GT class lap record in the process. The Daytona Coupe went on to dominate the season which many sight as the cause of Ferrari pulling out of GT racing completely the very next year.
Only six Daytona Coupe’s were ever made as the potential of the Shelby/Ford racing programme quickly morphed into the iconic GT40 era. Politically, Ford wanted the GT40 to be the public focus, as the new vehicle did not leverage a chassis or body from another manufacturer. Quietly the Daytona was dropped and all six models eventually found their way to new owners in various corners of the world never to be reunited…. Until today of course. In what has to be one of the most dedicated logistical and arm twisting exercises of its kind, the Revival team have brought all six original Daytona Coupes back together for the first time ever since their creation over fifty years ago.
As the day draws to a close and we head back to our slightly more modern conveyance home, the Revival has one last surprise in store. Wandering through the general car park I stumble upon no less than an original Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing Coupe casually lined up in a field, its owner clearly still enjoying the event. The discovery typifies the nature of the Revival; despite the iconic nature of the cars (not to mention their value) they are enjoyed with none of the pomp and circumstance that you might find around similarly priced yachts, homes or other such trinkets of the wealthy. A passion for cars is a great leveler of people and there is no better display of that than the Goodwood Revival.