Imagine a gathering where a 105-year-old Fiat race car with a 28.3L aircraft engine lines up alongside a Mercedes F1 car driven by Nico Rosberg and a new Bugatti Chiron just to see which one is the fastest up a narrow driveway owned by a British Lord.
In a nutshell, that's what the Gooodwood Festival of Speed is. But then again, it's so much more than that. It's hard to describe the variety of events held over four days on the grounds of the Goodwood House located in West Sussex. Century-old race cars that you've never heard of, Dakar-winning Russian trucks, 80-year-olds driving the cars they won races in half a century ago, a cavalcade of the freshest supercars, motorcycles, fighter jets, rally cars, champagne, British lords, Ken Block, a campground the size of a music festival, fireworks, rain downpours, and a $10-million Bonhams sale! Get all of that and more in one place and that's the Festival of Speed.
It's the kind of event that could only take place in Great Britain, as only Brits are eccentric enough to make it happen. It works both ways; arguably, the Festival of Speed spirit is created as much by the organizers' efforts as by the 150,000 spectators. All of them share the same passion for cars; some express it by arriving in cars equally as special (and expensive) as those exhibited on the other side of the fence, while others prove it by staying in the rain in ankle-deep mud for hours only to see an ultra-rare Triumph TR8 Turbo flashing by (who wouldn't, right?)
In Great Britain, everything goes back to Victorian times, and so does the Festival of Speed. It was exactly 80 years ago that the 17th century Goodwood House hosted its first hillclimb race. Back then, it was a weekend pastime for the aristocracy. In 2016, it's honestly still the same. There were several years of peace and quiet at the estate, including war years. Hillclimbing returned to Goodwood thanks to the current owner of the estate, Lord March, the grandson of Freddie March. This is the 24th of Lord March's lawn parties and it's evolved into effectively the biggest motor show in Great Britain. The key players of the automotive industry showcase their world premieres, celebrity drivers sign autographs, and a price of a ticket has soared up to U.S. $200.
Fortunately, the festival hasn't lost any of its countryside easygoingness. The drivers and their cars casually mingle with crowds, while bales of hay still make for surprisingly hard landing spots for errant drivers. Like every year, the British artist Gerry Judah provided another spectacular car-themed sculpture. This year's monument may have been the most dramatic ever: a 131-foot-tall piece made from six giant spikes curved upward with three classic BMWs suspended high in the air.
The event is basically a celebration of speed that comes in all shapes, sizes, and ages, starting with the cars that were more than a century old. The grid covered all of the automotive eras, including some bright moments from the European, American, and Japanese motoring history. In fact, it was the oldest participant that created the greatest spectacle; the pre-war record breakers, huge on engine capacity and small on traction, proved to be extremely tricky to handle, but the fire-breathing beasts with big power from aircraft engines were anything but slow. Their owners didn't treat their machines like museum pieces. One of the fan favorites, a 1911 Fiat S.76, better known as the "Beast of Turin," was driven to the event.
Goodwood celebrated BMW's 100th birthday, and it couldn't have done it in a better fashion. Among an exceptional array of the best cars born in Munich were those that earned the company its greatest racing wins: the 1940 Mille Miglia, the 1982 Formula 1 World Championship, and the 1999 24 hours Le Mans. Of all the people, it was surprisingly the F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone who brought some additional splendor with a collection of BMW-engined F1 cars built by Brabham.
Every year, the festival has a universal theme celebrating speed in its own special way. This year, the focus was "Full Throttle-the Endless Pursuit of Power," and Lord March accomplished this with: an 820hp Aston Martin Vulcan, an 860hp Ferrari FXX, and a 1,341hp Koenigsegg One:1. But it was the new king-the Bugatti Chiron-that took the theme most seriously, upping the game with its 1,500 hp. The highly anticipated premiere stirred much controversy with its styling, but there was no denying that the next fastest car in the world was insanely fast, not only on the straights, but also around corners. The achievement seemed even greater if you heard the Bugatti's test driver, Andy Wallace, joking he was cautious not to scratch the $2.5-million car on the narrow roads; there was a guillotine waiting for him on the team truck. Or maybe he wasn't joking at all; Bugatti is an aristocratic French company after all ...
So Chiron easily won the "Pursuit of Power" competition but may not have been the coolest road car on the grid. McLaren did its best to upstage Chiron. Among greats like the race-homologated 570 Sprint, Woking brought a pair of P1s. The story of McLaren's most advanced car to date is far from complete. Quick history: First there was the road-going P1, just 375 were built. That evolved into the track-only P1 GTR. But the McLaren specialists Lanzante thought otherwise and converted five of the GTRs to road cars. Thanks to them, festivalgoers saw a P1 GTR with a license plate on it. Not to be overshadowed, McLaren brought its own P1 GTR for the roads, the brand-new 986hp P1 LM. McLaren engineers' efforts nearly paid off as the P1 LM came close to winning the Supercar Shootout hillclimb, until it was beaten by only 0.8 seconds by a Goodwood regular, Olly Clark in his Subaru Impreza "Gobstopper II." Even if McLaren lost, the result still showed just how capable this new car is, giving up less than a second to a machine prepared specifically for this kind of a challenge.
It wasn't just the world supercar elite that made this year's Festival of Speed so special. The grid reminded us how many great Euro cars we've been spoiled with recently. The Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S, the quickest Golf GTI in the 40-year lineage, had come here straight from setting the Nurburgring Nordscleife lap record for a front-wheel-drive road car. Jaguar went a step further, developing the new F-type SVR, the fastest Jag since the mythical XJ220. Porsche 911 fiends went crazy for the new back-to-the-roots 911 R, ironically shown just a few steps away from Singer. Just as far away from the new it 911 lurked the slightly crazy and very green (in paint color at least) Mercedes-AMG GT R, ready for a bare-knuckle duel with its twin-turbo V-8 pumped up to 585 bhp and unprecedented levels of track-derived tech.
Ford celebrated its Le Mans win by bringing one of the GTs that dominated the famous 24-hour race. Maranello responded by bringing back the 458 from the dead for one final act, with the ultimate evolution of the naturally aspirated V-8 in the one-off 458 MM Speciale.
Speaking of Italy, the Goodwood audience was treated to an abundance of the cars that made Italy great. The 510hp BMW M3-beating Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio ran up the hill and showed it's ready to kick some German Arsch. The Fiat factory-tuner Abarth electrified the audience with a pair of new little gems: the 124 Spider and the 500-based 595 Competizione. Despite their small size, both of the Italian sports cars worked hard to gain respect with their skillful and energetic drives. But France still builds some of the best small cars, and Renault wanted to point this out by bringing two fresh hot-hatches: a 110hp hot-hatch-turned-micro Renault Twingo GT, which will go into production in the foreseeable future, and the rampant Clio RS16, which (hopefully) will do as well.
For a bit of British flag-waving, there was a Brawn BGP 001, the car from the team lead by Ross Brawn, who famously took the F1 World Championship title in 2009, the only season he ever campaigned. Coming from the same country, but from the other end of the automotive world, there was a new-but-vintage-looking Bristol Bullet. It hopes to bring back the forgotten brand to its past glory with a recipe similar to the first post-war Bristols; once again, it's a muscular roadster powered by a BMW engine, a 4.8L naturally aspirated V-8 in this case.
As the weekend came to an end, Lord March should be congratulated for another terrific show. Growing stronger and stronger each year, there isn't much that could be improved in the Festival of Speed's formula. This time, even the bad weather didn't deter the crowds; nothing can spoil the fun at Goodwood. It's definitely the place to be in 2017.