The English countryside. An idyllic place to farm sheep and go on jolly picnics. It’s every bit as scenic and tranquil as the Jane Austen novels would have you believe. Except for the four days every year the Goodwood Festival of Speed happens.
Welcome to a special edition of A Car Nerd’s Guide To Japan, one where we’re not touring Japan at all. Instead, I went to England to scratch off something that has been on my bucket list for years. I’d seen countless photos and videos from previous years of the ridiculousness of this event, but even that didn’t fully prepare me for the bombardment on the senses that was the Festival of Speed.
It’s hard to think of a motoring event similar to the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Monterey Car Week comes to mind but even then you don’t get the same mix of cars doing very silly things. No set of tires were safe throughout this weekend.
This year the Festival of Speed celebrated Bernie Ecclestone’s career in Formula One, with the centre sculpture representing this. It also coincided with several other more pleasant anniversaries, such as Ferrari’s 70th and AMG’s 50th.
But the main attraction for Goodwood is the famous hill climb. This is what differentiates the Festival of Speed from other motor shows, and yes, this is very much a motor show. But at Detroit or Geneva, when a new car is unveiled all there’s left to do is wander around a convention hall.
At Goodwood, you can see and hear most of the cars on display going up what’s basically this one guy’s driveway.
This year’s Festival Of Speed saw the unveiling of several exciting new cars such as the Porsche 911 GT2 RS, Jaguar Project 8, and the Aston Martin Vulcan AMR Pro. It was also the first time cars were seen moving by the public such as the Rolls Royce Sweptail (supposedly the most expensive new car ever made at $12 million), the odd looking ItalDesign ZeroUno as well as a lineup of “normal” new cars.
It’s not all about the new cars though. There were over 50 different classes of cars at Goodwood representing literally every aspect of motoring since the 1900s. There pre-war F1 cars, concept cars, touring cars, Le Mans winning cars, motorcycles, Dakar trucks, drift cars, and by my count at least 50 Ferraris.
There were two I cared most about seeing go up the hill though; the McLaren F1 GTR and the Ferrari 250 GTO. There are very few opportunities in life where you’re able to see one on the move, let alone both on the same day. It was a shame then the F1 GTR Longtail broke down before it reached me on the halfway point.
I can’t really complain as rest of the historic cars were just as legendary. Some of the highlights for me were the Ford GT40, Jaguar D-Type, Porsche 935, Mercedes Benz W125, and the countless Ferrari sports cars and single seaters that went up as part of the celebration.
If it’s your first time at Goodwood there are several ways to get the most of your time there. There’s quite a lot to see, certainly far too much for one day. There’s a reason they spread it over four days. But I wouldn’t recommend going on all four days as you’ll probably die of exhaustion by the end of it. Two is probably the right number of days to go; Friday and Sunday were the best for me.
I went on Thursday hoping to get photos with less crowds around the cars on display, but even on the least busy day that proved difficult. Thursday also had less activities going on with only only two supercar runs up the hill and the Moving Motor Show.
On the weekend you get around 100,000 people attending the event. If you’re like me and you don’t like having to force your way through a crowd of sweaty and sunburnt Englishmen on a Sunday afternoon to look at a Porsche parked inside a tent, then watching the cars by the sideline of the hill climb is where I’d suggest you spend most of your time.
There’s no “wrong” place to stand by the hill climb. However, I did find myself hanging around the start line, first corner, and midway point several times. The start line is great to see the cars launch off but also there’s a little roundabout where the cars “warm up” their tires by doing a burnout or two. It’s possibly one of the most entertaining points of the hill climb. It’s always fun to see a Lamborghini doing a four-wheel burnout, a BMW M4 relentlessly destroying its Michelins, and even a Ford GT attempting and failing miserably at a donut.
The first corner and midway point are great for panning photos, as well as hearing the cars accelerate out of a corner. I only got as far as the midway point because the hill climb was steeper than I thought and despite coming from New Zealand I don’t have the same climbing ability as Sir Edmund Hillary. It was also incredibly warm, certainly warmer than typical English weather right now.
Have a look at the schedule and prioritize the cars or events you want to see. For me it was the supercar run, the Ferraris, and the sports cars & GTs (Le Mans cars) that I had to see. It’s not impossible to see everything but give your time to go around and see the static displays as well. The Supercar Paddock, First Glance Paddock, and Main Paddock were where the cars that’d go up the hill were parked up so it’s a great opportunity to have a closer look at them.
The Cartier “Style Et Luxe” lawn was a sort of concours display with some of the most beautiful, rare, and expensive historic cars. Unsurprisingly, these cars didn’t go up the hill. But where else would you be able to see an extensive line up of the Ferrari 250, an Aston Martin DB4 Zagato, and a McLaren F1 all on the same lawn?
There’s also the Moving Motor Show, where manufacturers allow limited customer test drives and rides up the hill on the first day of the festival. Oddly enough, for the rest of the weekend the cars were static displays inside a tent.
There were several other activities to go see and do. Throughout the day there’s also an air display with the Red Arrows and the Eurofighter Typhoon. Come to think of it, that was probably the fastest thing there.
Once the day is wrapped up, you go back to the car park and wander around to see what’s hidden there. Everyone who goes to Goodwood is a gearhead, so there’s a high chance of seeing their interesting machines too. If not, then the traffic jam leaving Goodwood should give you plenty of time to appreciate the cars around you. Funny that a festival celebrating speed ends with a traffic jam as people go back to reality.
I’m glad an event like this exists for cars and lovers of cars to let loose. There’s something very British about the way Goodwood is organized, certainly I can’t imagine something of this scale being done in Japan, though the Suzuka Sound of Engine or the Asama Hill Climb are the closest things to it.
Hopefully it goes on forever. The presence of a few hybrids and electric cars at Goodwood this year wasn’t something to fear, but it does show the sign of the times. Definitely tick this one off your bucket list soon.