x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

The sky is the limit for fun at Goodwood Festival of Speed

Kevin Hackett says this motor show is how all should be - outdoors, with classic cars being driven hard.

The unmistakable shape of an E-Type made an impression at Goodwood this year. Courtesy of Jaguar
The unmistakable shape of an E-Type made an impression at Goodwood this year. Courtesy of Jaguar

If you've ever been to a motor show, you'll know what I mean when I say it's not the most exciting experience. Usually held in large halls, they're little more than glammed-up trade shows and, despite the stands being decked with large television screens and the cars being draped by leggy models, there's very little to see or do. They're a necessary evil for an industry that doesn't really want to participate.

But if you could spectate as the sexiest, most powerful new cars were thrashed up a hill while being joined by some of history's most important, rarest and most valuable cars, just metres from the action, wouldn't that be a much more palatable experience?

And what if that were to happen in the beautiful grounds of an English stately home while the Red Arrows put on a death-defying aerial display and dozens of celebrities milled around in the crowds? Welcome to the 2011 Goodwood Festival of Speed.

Founded in 1993 by Lord March, owner of the Goodwood Estate in West Sussex, the Festival of Speed (FoS) is an annual hillclimb event. Hillclimbing is the world's oldest form of motorsport, originating in the UK, where drivers are timed driving up a hill.

It's a short, exciting burst of ear-splitting noise where anything can happen and, at Goodwood, it's no exception. In the few years since its inception, FoS has become the most important date in the UK's motoring calendar, with manufacturers proudly exhibiting their newest machines, not in some dreary, static display, but tearing up the hill (which is actually the driveway to Goodwood House), often with world-famous racing drivers at the wheel.

And this year, being the 50th anniversary of Jaguar's E-Type, the celebrations are being held in the most appropriate surroundings imaginable. FoS has been on my to-do list for years but, due to a combination of my own ineptitude and local accommodation being booked up more than a year in advance of each festival, I've never made it.

Thankfully, the good people at Jaguar are a lot more organised and when they invited The National to join them, well, it wasn't something I thought about for too long.

Since 1997, chosen car manufacturers have been honoured with a specially commissioned, temporary monument on the lawn outside the main house and this year there's a quite incredible, 28-metre tall sculpture of an E-Type that looks like it was dropped, nose first, onto the grass by a passing 747. Despite being entirely formed from steel tubes, it's immediately recognisable for what it is, which goes to show the power of that car's stunning original design. Look at an early E-Type and drink in that long bonnet, the dainty doors and the sleek fastback rear.

It's never anything less than exciting to behold and Jaguar has been trying to recapture the original's spirit ever since. These days it's doing a pretty good job of it, but the world still longs for a 21st century E-Type.

It would appear Jaguar has caved in. While design chief Ian Callum shares the stage with American talk show host Jay Leno in the hospitality suite, the banter makes Callum drop his guard.

"Watch this space," he says with a grin, and every person in the room looks around in disbelief. Finally, Jaguar looks like it will be once again heading to the top of the tree with a genre-defining two-seater sports car.

I smile to myself, vindicated because, for years, I've believed that, as good as the XK range undoubtedly is, it's still no modern E-Type. That car will still be a legend in 500, never mind 50 years.

The sun is shining, the rain is holding off and there's an incredible collection of old racing motorcycles roaring past us on the makeshift racetrack. Only certain vehicles are officially timed, after a number of casualties in recent years, with especially bikes being off-limits when it comes to the stopwatch. That doesn't stop their riders giving it some, though, and the noise is so physical I have to check if my ears are bleeding. Just minutes later and an eclectic mix of racing cars, old and new, is screaming past. This is how motor shows should be held - in the open air, where people can see, hear and touch them; priceless artefacts being driven hard, which is what they were designed and built for.

While many companies use the festival to showcase their new wheels (it's surreal to see prototype electric sports cars rip past the stands in almost total silence) and there are plenty of static displays, as well as concours events to enjoy, this year the show well and truly belongs to Jaguar.

In a special, quickly moving display, a procession of Jags, so valuable that it doesn't bear thinking about, thrills the crowds as the hillclimb is despatched in a glorious few minutes of shattering noise, pace and grace.

From ex-Le Mans racers to special one-offs like the jaw-droppingly gorgeous XJ13 and the new, fearsome XK-RS, each is possessed of a beauty that's unique yet unmistakably Jaguar. It's almost enough to bring a lump to the throat.

Even if you're not a fan of the big cat, there's a great deal to see, do and enjoy at this incredible show. Apart from the Jag extravaganza, a collection of classic Indy 500 racers lays down some rubber and classic, as well as modern-day rally cars perform like acrobats in front of disbelieving visitors.

And, as I mentioned earlier, there's always something going on up above, too, whether it's the Red Arrows showing off, or a fly-past by a Vulcan bomber. As a celebration of speed and mankind's quest to turn transport into the world's quickest art form, it doesn't get any better than this.

It's now time to start making plans to attend next year. I promise you won't regret it.