x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Goodwood Revival brings out classic cars and retro fashion

If you want to know what motor racing was really like in the 1960s, 50s or even the 40s, Goodwood is total immersion, a sensory overload.

Freddie March Memorial Trophy race held at the Goodwood Revival festival.
Freddie March Memorial Trophy race held at the Goodwood Revival festival.

I'm standing at the edge of a racetrack, on the pit lane wall, and a group of Ferraris is tearing past me. Hard. The high-pitched vibrato of 15 V12 engines is hitting me in the chest and I know my ears will still be ringing this time tomorrow as a result. As the cars hammer down the straight, one or two drivers are attempting overtaking manoeuvres and it all looks incredibly close.

It's true to say that I have never seen or heard such a magnificent spectacle and if, at this moment, my eardrums have sustained irreversible damage, it will have been worth it.

The Ferraris in question - all 15 of them - are worth a cumulative total of almost Dh2 billion, causing me to wonder if this is the world's most valuable race. They were supposed to be carrying out nothing more than a few parade laps, but the 250 GTO is a car that was born to race. The model, which Enzo Ferrari commissioned to beat Jaguar's then all-conquering E-Type, is 50 years old this year and, with only 39 of the things ever in existence, this collection forms a sizeable chunk of the entire production run. And where better to celebrate this irrefutable icon of beauty and power than Goodwood in the UK? This is the Goodwood Revival. This is, quite possibly, as good as it gets.

If you want to know what motor racing was really like in the 1960s, 50s or even the 40s, this is a total immersion, a sensory overload. Without resorting to preposterous hyperbole, the Goodwood Revival is truly emotional.

It's a step back in time, this event. To a time when men were gentlemen and women were ladies. Everyone here is dressed for the occasion in period costume. There are people dressed as soldiers, pilots, mods, rockers, mechanics, dance hall babes and the occasional Elvis. I even spotted a mad-looking monk earlier on. Most of the women's legs are clad in seamed nylon stockings, their heads covered by hats or fascinators. Some of the young mothers have even dressed up their infants and they're pushing antique prams. The men have perfectly coiffured hair, many have neatly trimmed moustaches and are similarly clad in hats that match their chosen outfits. If a time traveller landed here from 1948, this would all look totally normal.

More than some vintage re-enactment society, the tens of thousands of visitors here are simply getting into the spirit of things, reliving the glory years of motor racing, and there isn't another venue in the world more appropriate for such a celebration of the past. Goodwood looks like it's been perfectly preserved since the day it opened for business in 1948. The grandstands, the race control tower, the advertisements that line the track, everything is exactly as it would have been six decades ago.

I have been itching to attend the Revival for years but never managed to make it happen, so when the good people at Rolls-Royce asked me if I'd like to go this year as their guest, I jumped at the chance. Not to be confused with the annual Festival of Speed, the Revival is a completely different affair. It came to life in the autumn of 1998 - a dream come true for the then Earl of (now Lord) March, whose grandfather - Freddie March, the 9th Duke of Richmond - had first opened the motor circuit at Goodwood in 1948.

The aim of the event is to relive the glory days of Goodwood Motor Circuit, which, along with Silverstone, was Britain's leading racing venue during its active years between 1948 and 1966. During this time it hosted contemporary racing of all kinds, including Formula One, the famous Goodwood Nine Hours and the celebrated Tourist Trophy sports car race.

Now, for three days every year, the circuit echoes to the spine-tingling bark of golden-age grand prix cars from the 1950s and 1960s, thundering sports and GT cars, as well as historic saloon cars and little-seen Formula Juniors. Many of these important historic racing cars are driven by famous faces from motor sport past and present. Sir Stirling Moss, John Surtees, Sir Jack Brabham, Derek Bell, David Coulthard, Damon Hill, Gerhard Berger, Johnny Herbert, Wayne Gardner, Giacomo Agostini and the late, great Barry Sheene have all raced at the Revival.

Seemingly out of nowhere, it has become the world's most popular historic motor race meeting, and the only event of its kind to be staged entirely in a nostalgic time capsule. Not only do the spectators dress in appropriate period clothing, all the staff, marshals and competitors do, too. The result is an atmosphere unlike any other sporting event and, even if you or your other half have little or no interest in motorsport, the enjoyment factor is still sky high.

The Goodwood Estate is situated just north of the south-east coast of England, set in what's known as the South Downs. It's a spectacularly beautiful area, all rolling green fields, quaint and historic villages and towns - a perfect environment for an event as glamorous as this.

Each year there is a celebration of past glories and 2012 is no different. As well as the aforementioned gathering (and sound thrashing) of those incredible and priceless Ferraris, this year pays tribute to the AC Cobra, the Silver Arrows of Auto Union (now Audi) and Mercedes-Benz and American racing legend Dan Gurney, who was a driver, team owner and constructor, on the 50th anniversary of his first grand prix win. Everywhere I look there are "Dan Gurney for President" stickers and flags, all as they might have looked in the 1960s, naturally.

Once the Ferraris have returned to the teeming paddock - thankfully without any apparent damage - it's the turn of the kids. Using vintage pedal cars, 30 or so toddlers compete for the chequered flag, urged (and in some cases actually pushed) by excited parents. It's a lighthearted moment that would make even the most hardened cynic crack a huge smile. Once they've been cleared off the short-track course, it's time for Lord March to pay tribute to 81-year-old Gurney, who's stood beside him on the podium in front of a fantastic collection of cars he'd raced in over the years.

March is getting a bit choked up - he's genuinely star-struck by this incredible driver - and I'm standing just a few metres away from Sir Jackie Stewart, who is standing inside the tiny cockpit of a Porsche race car. It's a wonderful sight, this unforgettable racing hero standing out of respect for the aged American, who he no doubt views as some sort of comrade from an age when motor sport was incredibly dangerous and drivers' fatality rates were quite horrific.

As March nears the end of his impassioned speech, the crowd erupts into spontaneous applause. Three Spitfires fly in close formation above, and fireworks shoot into the leaden sky - I have never experienced anything like this, it's an incredibly moving few moments.

Once the podium has been cleared, these Gurney cars, ranging from Maserati and Porsche F1 racers to AC Cobras and many more besides, set off for three parade laps while a brass band fights to be heard over the deafening racket.

Deciding to see what else the Revival has to offer, I leave the trackside and head into the shopping areas for a browse of beautiful things I can't afford. Vintage apparel, auto art, old car spares, big band music suppliers, bookstores, even a supermarket where the shelves are stacked with products the likes of which I've only ever seen on Mad Men. The ATMs are housed within vintage telephone boxes, the music being played is period-perfect and I spy a few police officers wandering around, in uniforms that must be 50 years old.

Goodwood always attracts flying enthusiasts and these are well catered for, too. Planes take off and land along an enormous stretch of lush, green grass, and there are several on display, many of which are decorated with the saucy artwork that American planes were graced with back in the day.

I saunter back (incidentally, wearing a striped blazer, Panama hat and silk cravat) to the pit area, knowing full well that I'd need at least two full days here to see and experience everything this event has to offer, weaving my way through thousands of people who are all here for the same reason. There's no hint of trouble or aggression, the police appear to have nothing to do, and there's a pervading sense of calm that you're unlikely to experience when Eminem is performing at Yas Marina in a couple of months' time.

That sense of calm is suddenly shattered, however, by the 50-or so AC Cobras that have just fired up their epic V8s. As they set off to celebrate that zeitgeist-defining model's birth, the ground beneath my feet shakes. It's like thunder and the air is filled with the unmistakable aromas of fuel, burning rubber and oils stretched to the max. I cannot describe how amazing it is to see and hear these incredibly valuable cars being driven as their makers intended, rather than being buffed and polished on some static museum display stand.

As the day draws to an end, I know I'll be back. I'll bring Mrs H with me, too, because she'll love the dressing up and the easy-going atmosphere. I know, too, that everyone who's calmly exiting through the estate gates is thinking the same thing. Dates haven't been announced for 2013 yet but I can't recommend the Revival enough and if you're able to attend, you really must make it happen. It's been an incomparable privilege.

khackett@thenational.ae