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I have been attending motor race meetings since 1955 but when I stopped working in the office of the ARDC at the end of 2014 and effectively retired I only had one race meeting on my bucket list. Since the Goodwood Revival was created in 1998 it appeared to me to be the ultimate historic car race carnival – a place where you could see the best historic racing cars in the world being driven as they were designed to be driven.
My appetite was whetted by watching the meeting on live streaming from 2011 or thereabouts. The quality of the cars racing and the intensity with which they were driven was amazing. We arrived at our accommodation on Thursday and drove to the Goodwood Motor Circuit on Friday morning to watch some practice/qualifying. The satnav guided us to a small roundabout near the main entrance and we were directed through a small farm gate into the parking area. Luckily we had “forward parking” passes in our package so we were directed past general parking to the members and disabled area.
We walked through the carpark towards the circuit but it had the feel of a high end classic car show. Apart from the expected sports cars and supercars there were countless examples of veterans, vintage, hot rods, old commercials and classics. We saw three examples of three litre Bentleys from the 1920’s!
After a 200 metre walk through the car park/car show we came across the Revival Fairground and some merchandise marquees before showing our paddock passes to cross a substantial footbridge over a public road. We then found ourselves in the Revival Market area which had its own high street, 1950’s Tesco supermarket, beauty parlour, etc., etc. Beyond this street were the backs of the Woodcote and Chicane Grandstands and the very special March Grandstand, reserved for guests of Lord March.
By lunchtime Friday there was a very healthy crowd in attendance and the surprising thing was that 95% of them were in period costume or fancy dress. We met two guys at lunch on Saturday who both had three outfits – one for each day of the meeting.
The circuit itself was beautifully presented. It had the look and feel of the time it closed for open competition in 1966. It is fast, narrow and quite bumpy with the only concession to modern safety practices being the neatly tethered tyre bundles covered by modern cable belting. The other major change is at the chicane. The wall the cars steer around is no longer made of bricks as it was in the 1950’s. It is made of large blocks of styrofoam. The meeting was run by officials from the British Automobile Racing Club (BARC) AND IN ADDITION there were 105 members of Lord March’s staff who were mentioned by name in the event programme. It is a big event!
Nearly every grid of race cars was full to the maximum of 30 cars. The quality was unbelievable. Cars and drivers came from all over the world on a strictly by invitation only basis. Almost all drivers had one qualifying session on Friday and then one race on Saturday or Sunday. There seemed to be no noise restrictions because many cars were running open exhausts. I had forgotten how annoying loud race cars are!
Every race started with a siting lap after which the field was gridded up with the help of grid girls in tight jump suits (very 1960’s). After a few minutes the girls left the grid and the cars were sent on a warmup lap. Back to the grid again where the one minute board and 30 second board were shown before the race was started by the dropping of the Union Jack. At the end of each race the cars had a cool down lap and the first 3 place getters received a cigar and an interview on the grid. After this the three cars and drivers did a victory lap. Consequently each 25 minute race actually took 43 minutes to run. Nobody seemed to mind.
In total there were 14 different race categories and they had races spread over Saturday and Sunday. One category had a race on both days using a pro-am format with a Saturday race for the celebrities and a Sunday race for the owners. A brief description of each category follows.
Freddie March Memorial Trophy – a ninety minute two driver race for cars of the type raced in the Goodwood Nine Hour Race which was held between 1952 and 1955. This race was held at dusk on Friday night and finished in the dark without any track lighting.
Goodwood Trophy – a 20 minute race for Grand Prix and Voiturette (pre-war formula 2) cars of the type which raced from 1930 to 1950.
Fordwater Trophy – a 20 minute race for Production Sports cars of a type raced between 1948 and 1954.
Barry Sheene Memorial Trophy – two 25 minute two-rider races for motorcycles of a type that raced between 1962 and 1966. My research revealed that there was only one motorcycle race meeting at Goodwood between 1948 and 1966.
St. Mary’s Trophy – two 25 minute races for production based saloon cars of a type that raced between 1960 and 1966.
Lavant Cup – a 20 minute race for drum-braked Ferrari sports prototypes of the 1950’s. The conservative estimate of the value of the 26 cars on the grid for this category was 100 million pounds.
Brooklands Trophy – a 20 minute race for sports cars in the spirit of the great Brooklands endurance races prior to 1939 when Brooklands closed.
Whitsun Trophy – a 25 minute race for unlimited sports prototypes of a type that raced up to 1966.
Earl of March Trophy – a 20 minute race for 500cc Formula 3 cars of a type that raced between 1948 and 1959.
Richmond and Gordon Trophies – a 20 minute race for 2.5 litre Grand Prix cars that raced between 1954 and 1960.
RAC TT Celebration – a one hour two driver race for closed GT cars in the spirit of the Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy races held between 1960 and 1964.
Glover Trophy – a 25 minute race for 1.5 litre Grand Prix cars of a type that raced between 1961 and 1965.
Sussex Trophy – a 25 minute race for World Championship sports cars and sports/racing cars of a type that raced between 1955 and 1960.
Setterington Cup – a two part race along the starting grid for children under 12 (or was it 10) in Austin J40 pedal cars. A complete waste of valuable time.
At the bottom of each page in the programme that showed what cars were entered for each race was a quaint warning – “NOTE: Where betting takes place bookmakers will pay first past the post irrespective of objections.”
A fundamental difference in the printed programme when compared to Australian programmes is the way the cars are described. In Australia we would describe a Lotus 24 powered by a Coventry Climax engine as a Lotus 24 Climax. At Goodwood this car was shown in the programme as a Lotus – Climax 24. Also the year of construction for every car was shown in the printed programme but no colours.
Because of my close connection with the Muscle Car Masters I was very interested in the two races for historic touring cars (1960 to 1966) to see how MCM and Goodwood compared. When looking at the entry list there were some obvious cars which could have come straight from Group Nb at the MCM, namely Morris Cooper S’s (7 of) and Mark 1 Lotus Cortinas (6 of). We have seen Ford Galaxies at the MCM before and there were two at Goodwood along with a couple of Alfa Romeo GTA’s and a couple of 3.8 Litre Mark 2 Jaguars. There was also a couple of Ford Anglia 105E’s with their reverse sloping rear windows. One had a 1500 motor and the other a 1650 – both much bigger engines than Australian cars.
So much for similar cars. The more unusual cars on the grid were a Mercedes Benz 300SE, an Isuzu Bellett, a Fiat 1500 Arbath and no less than five BMW 1800 TiSAs. BMW built 200 special versions of their 1800 sedan in 1964 and 1965. It featured 150 bhp, rear disc brakes and a five speed gearbox. The current race versions were very competitive. The commentators refereed to them as “Teezas”.
By far the most unusual car on the grid was a 1964 Ford Fairlane Thunderbolt. I had not heard of this model before but subsequent research has revealed that Ford made 104 Thunderbolts in 1964 for use in American drag racing. The production car featured lightweight body panels, bonnet scoop, 427 high compression engine and larger crown wheel in the diff for better acceleration. It had all the power of a Galaxie in a much smaller and lighter package. It was a bit disappointing that there were no Ford Mustangs and no Ford Falcon Sprints.
How was the racing?
In the Saturday race Gordon Shedden and Andrew Jordan in Lotus Cortinas ran away with the lead dragging Frank Stippler (Alfa GTA) with them in a three-way battle. While they swapped places at the front Tom Kristensen was scything through the field from a rear of grid start in the Thunderbolt due to problems in practice. Inevitably the Thunderbolt caught the leading group and picked them off one by one. In the end Kristensen won by a second and a half but it was all too easy. On the cool down lap he opened the driver’s door and waved to the crowd while cornering on opposite lock. In the Sunday race Henry Mann, the owner of the Thunderbolt, won easily from grid 2. There was a fantastic battle between Alex Furiani (Alfa GTA) and the appropriately named Nick Swift (Mini Cooper S) for 5th and 6th which went to the Alfa by a car length plus a smidgeon.
Anyone who follows Australian historic racing knows that over the last ten years the opportunity to see pre-1961 cars at race meetings has disappeared. As a result I was really impressed by the Goodwood trophy which was run on Saturday morning at 10am. It had a grid of unbelievable quality including ERAs (10 of), Alfa Romeo Type B (3 of ) and a 308C, Maseratis (8 of), Frazer Nash Monopostos, a couple of Bugattis and a Talbot Lago. The race turned out to be a bit of an ERA benefit. Callum Lockie had pole position on the Maserati 6CM but he made a slow start and was jumped by Nick Topliss who made a jack rabbit start from row 2. Topliss faded to be overtaken firstly by Mark Gilles (ERA) and then pole man Lockie (Maserati). Gilles went on to win at an average speed of 92.27 mph – not bad for an 80 year old car with skinny tyres and no suspension on a damp track. There was not one roll over bar or shoulder strap to be seen on any car!
On Sunday morning at 10 am the 500cc Formula 3 cars 1948 to 1959 contested the Earl of March Trophy. The race was a four car battle between three Cooper Nortons and a rarer Kieft Norton, a similar car to the one in which Stirling Moss made his racing debut. Again there was not a shoulder strap in sight but there were a few roll over hoops. I would speculate that nobody used seat belts because the front running Cooper drivers wedged their elbows on the side panels of the cockpit sides when cornering hard. On the run to the flag the second placed car, driven by George Shackelton, ran onto the grass verge. He slid back onto the track but over corrected and crashed heavily nose first into the concrete barrier opposite the pit lane wall. With no seat belts his face hit the nose cone in front of the small windshield but he immediately jumped out of the car and over the wall apparently unhurt. The winner averaged over 71mph. Not bad for only 500cc.
In addition to the racing programme there were lots of tributes and anniversary celebrations. It was just over 50 years (April 19, 1965) since Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart jointly set the last Goodwood outright lap record in the Sunday Mirror International Trophy for Formula 1 cars. Clark drove a Team Lotus Lotus 25 Climax while Stewart used a BRM P261 from the Owen Racing Organisation. Their shared time was 1 minute 20.4 seconds which was an average speed of 107.46 mph. In the re-enactment Jackie donned his old tartan helmet to drive the actual BRM from 1965 and Dario Franchiti (son in law of Lord March) used a dark blue helmet with white peak (Clark’s colours) when he drove the Lotus around the circuit with Stewart.
Each day there was a moving tribute to Bruce McLaren who was killed while testing at the then de-commissioned Goodwood circuit in 1970. He was just 32 years old. 28 significant cars in the career of McLaren took to the circuit on all three days. They ranged from the Lotus 15 he drove at Goodwood in 1958 through Cooper racing cars, Ford GT40s to McLaren Can Am and Formula 1 cars. His personal road car, the road legal McLaren M6GT, was driven in the demonstrations by his daughter Amanda.
On all three days all six Shelby Daytona Coupes were paraded on the circuit and then displayed on the starting grid in front of their very proud designer, American Peter Brock. Only six cars were built between 1964 and 1965 and this was the first time ever that they have been seen all together. Their top speed on the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans was 20 mph faster than the mechanically identical Cobra roadsters. They won the FIA World GT Championship in 1965.
To mark the end of production of the Land Rover Defender in 2015 there were parades of 45 weird and wacky Land Rover prototypes from all over the world built for every type of application between the years 1948 and 1966 – the Goodwood circuit years. There was a demonstration of drag racing “gasser” cars which became popular after the introduction of drag racing to Britain in 1964.
The aviation component of the meeting was brilliant and all in all a very fitting acknowledgement of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. I have a personal connection to these aircraft as my father worked on Spitfires and Hurricanes while he was in the Fleet Air Arm before being sent to Australia in 1943.
When we arrived at the circuit we naturally noted the grass airstrip on the infield but we soon realised that when planes were taking off or landing the spectator mounds beneath the flight path had to be cleared by officials in white overalls. Also the aerobatics were limited as a result of a 1958 Hawker Hurricane crashing onto a freeway just down the road two weeks prior.
During the war the little aerodrome which would later become the Goodwood Motor Circuit was known as RAF Westhampnett. It was the training and emergency strip for RAF Tangmire which was two miles to the east and centre of the Tangmire sector. 57 pilots from the Tangmire sector lost their lives in the Battle of Britain while 18 pilots made their last take off from RAF Westhampnett.
In a moving ceremony on Sunday local Air League cadets lowered the national flags of the 57 pilots as their names were read over the public address system. Most flags were union jacks of course but there were a couple of South African, a couple of USA, a couple of Polish, a Belgian and one Australian. The Australian flag was lowered when the name of Lieutenant Richard Renoff was announced. A lone grenadier guard stood on the top of the control tower and played the last post as four Spitfires from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight flew above the circuit.
Two Battle of Britain veteran pilots, now in their nineties, were paraded around the circuit in a restored Humber staff car followed by 15 WW2 Jeeps carrying a mixture of WW2 veterans from various services. They received a standing ovation from everyone in the crowd – and why wouldn’t they?
Later 11 Spitfires and a lone Hurricane flew over the circuit in a 3 lines of 4 formation. They were limited to large loops at low altitude but the spectacle and especially the noise was truly spectacular. The general feeling was that it will never happen again.
Without a doubt it was the best race meeting I have ever been to. They say the crowd was 150,000 over 3 days. I sincerely doubt it as it never felt crowded and there always seemed to be room for more spectators. It was quite expensive. The cost of our package was 915 pounds per person which at the time equated to $2033 per person. As I write this in October 2016 the Australian dollar equivalent is a more reasonable $1533. That is still expensive but it is hard to think of a better way to spend the money.