There you are, staring across the endless rows of supercars, when it suddenly hits you. Many of these cars are unique. They are multimultimultimillion dollar asset classes on their own. And yet none of them have been dropped off. You can press your nose right against the glass.
“That’s a very important aspect of the Goodwood Festival of Speed,” said Charles Gordon-Lennox, the 11th Duke of Richmond, and founder of the annual summer event in southern England that will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year. “You can see these extraordinary cars up close. And not once have we had any damage to any of them. We had five of the remaining six Bugatti Royales a year. People have a lot of respect for these types of vehicles.”
When he says “people,” it’s no small number. Some 200,000 now attend the four-day event on the sloping grounds of the historic Goodwood House. They’re cramming local hotels, coming in RVs and tents, and for good reason. The Goodwood Festival of Speed is arguably the only car show in the world that combines classic and modern cars and motorcycles, driving experiences, hill climbs and track racing – one thing you have to get used to is the constant sound of roaring engines and screeching tires, and flapping clouds of rubber smoke — along with the unveiling of new models and concepts, seminars and a preview of future cars.
Turn a corner and there’s motorsport legend Jackie Stewart. Spin another and there’s a bustle of outstretched pens following a man with a trimmed mustache – that will be CART Indy Car and Formula 1 World Champion Nigel Mansell, reuniting with his Williams racecar for the first time in three decades. Look at the track and there Grand Prix motorcycle star Wayne Rainey is racing again for the first time since he became paralyzed in 1993. In the air, almost ignored, are the Red Arrows, the RAF’s aerobatic team.
“The event has taken on a life of its own from the start,” Gordon-Lennox says. “We expected a few thousand at best in the first year and even then 25,000 people showed up. I think it works now for the reasons it did then: it’s a shared experience and everyone there loves cars and motorcycles. It has never tried to be very commercial and always focused on access. Thirty years ago there was just no way to see the kind of cars we have at the Festival of Speed unless you were lucky enough to own one. But the goodwill for an event that brings it all together – Paris-Dakar, NASCAR, Formula 1, Formula E, TT, rally, it’s all there – is great.”
It has to be, not least because, unlike most competition events, none of the owners are paid to show their incredible vehicles at Goodwood, which is also the headquarters of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. They do it because they want their vehicles — from museums or very secure storage for private collections — to be included in the conversation.
“They ship their cars from all parts of the world, simply because they love it when people can see and enjoy them here in this area – and because we really give the owners a good time,” Gordon-Lennox says. “In a way, it’s a coming together of that world. We just hate being called a ‘motorcycle show’. That is really a thing of the past. This is a celebration, whether it be the future of mobility or the last 100 years of invention and creativity.”
“It’s like no other motor show. There is certainly nothing quite like it abroad,” agrees Andrew Pilkington, the British director of Hyundai’s luxury brand Genesis, which has hosted events at Goodwood for the past three years. “Basically, I think the traditional kind of auto show isn’t that interesting to manufacturers anymore — there’s just no return on investment, and they’ve always tended to be quite static. Goodwood, on the other hand, is a celebration of all the good things in the automotive world in a very dynamic way. It is a brotherhood of enthusiasts. They are not there to buy a car, but to experience cars. It’s an immersive, visceral experience: the smells, the noise, seeing the whites of the drivers’ eyes.”
It’s certainly not just the static cars that you can get close to. Of course there is no gambling with the safety of visitors, but still there aren’t too many opportunities at car shows to be separated by a simple hay bale from a car that takes in air as it passes you, and then the next minute to enjoy the luxury lifestyle with which the high-end automotive world is increasingly associated.
“In fact, I’d say Goodwood works so well because it’s as much about lifestyle as it is performance. It has the right recipe of emotions,” said Sadry Keizer, Roger Dubuis’s chief marketing officer. Always aware of the connection between cars and watches, this super luxury Swiss brand is also present at the Festival of Speed. “Basically, Goodwood does what other auto shows don’t: you can really feel the passion behind that broad interest in cars that all visitors share. It’s not just about engine size. It’s the whole package of what cars like these represent.”
The Festival of Speed - which has a sister event in mid-September, Goodwood Revival, focusing on vintage cars – is sure to get back to the heart of what fuels many people’s love of driving, and for cars and motorcycles simply as objects of design and culture. . Gordon-Lennox grew up in the automotive world; Freddie March, his grandfather and an amateur racer, established a motorcycle circuit on the estate in 1948, becoming Britain’s first post-war motorcycle racing gathering at a permanent location. It held competitions for 18 years, but thanks to “noise and politics,” as Gordon-Lennox puts it, it was finally closed in 1966 for anything other than testing. The Duke of Richmond had always wanted to bring the track back to life. And, he admits, it would also bring in much-needed money to help maintain the massive 17th-century house, its 12,000 acres and 550 employees.
“We were extremely lucky as we had to find new ways to increase revenue for the estate and we always wondered if maybe cars would be the way, and of course it fits with the history of the place too,” says he. “Now we want to build the festival as a conspirator of all kinds of ideas around mobility and we wonder if we can make the event work elsewhere in the world. We even have a huge following outside the UK. We are closer to achieving that than ever before, although the challenges are clearly different as we have full control of the site here.”
Ultimately, what makes the Goodwood Festival of Speed so appealing is perhaps its sense of place – that contrast of mechanical commotion and tranquility in the English countryside, the grease and grime of V12s and the elegant sophistication of one of the most notable UK landmark buildings. It is, Gordon-Lennox admits, a rather special place to spend your childhood.
“From the age of five I spent a lot of time here with my grandfather, I met all the drivers of that time, I saw all the great cars, so a love for them was probably inevitable,” he recalls. “I’ve always wanted to bring that association back to Goodwood. Of course there is still the pressure to raise our game every year. That’s a terrifying experience for everyone involved, trying to host drivers that we haven’t had before, get hold of cars that we haven’t had before. But in the end it will be okay.”
For more travel news, tips and inspo, sign up for InsideHook‘s weekly travel newsletter, The Journey.