A few weeks before I departed for the 2017 Goodwood Revival, held annually in early September, I reached out to friends and contacts in the UK. “Marvelous!” they all said. “Do you have your outfits picked out?” Because you can’t just go to the Revival in jeans or whatever crap it is we wear in 2017—you’d stick out like a tacky sore thumb.
(Full disclosure: I attended the 2017 Goodwood Revival as a guest of Subaru, which paid for my flight, put me up in a very nice hotel, fed me and helicoptered me to and from the event. There were no Subarus at the Goodwood Revival.)
Authentic period clothing, spanning fashions between the 1940s and the 1960s, is strongly encouraged of visitors. This means a lot of tweed, leather bomber jackets, blazers, rockabilly dresses and pillbox hats. And if that isn’t your cup of tea, then World War II military uniforms are popular as well.
And man, does everyone get really into it.
WWII-era Jeeps and Land Rovers dotted the grounds. Groups of 1950s-style pinup girls posed before old warbirds and motorcycles.
Morale boosting war posters lined the walls leading to the bathrooms, or the “latrines.” Men strolled about in captain’s uniforms and knee-high boots, while women wore scarlet lips, pearl necklaces and hair set in elaborate curls.
Tartan of every color flashed beneath the English sun. Between races, you had an opportunity to walk to the track, but only if you were wearing tartan. If you weren’t, you were turned away. Merchants selling tweed and vintage leather goods, on-site hair salons offering up dos and a dance floor where twirling skirts and petticoats flew wide dotted the sides of the track. Pipes were a common sight.
And mud was a constant threat throughout the entire grounds. Ladies’ high heels sank right into the stuff. Many traded their fancy shoes for pairs of Wellies later on in the day. The rich smell of frying fish and chips permeated the air.
Traditional full English breakfast was served: scrambled eggs, sausage, baked beans, bacon, grilled tomatoes, fried mushrooms, black pudding and piping hot mugs of tea. After a lunch of pot roast, smoked salmon salad and harvest squash, tea sandwiches were served, along with fluffy English scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam.
Putting cream and jam on the scone was an event on its own, I discovered. There were people who thought applying the cream first and then the jam was the correct way. And an equal amount of people believed that spreading the jam first and then the cream on top of that was right. “Wars have been fought over this!” a woman sitting at my table said merrily.
(Cream first is totally the right way—how does one spread cream on top of something slippery like jam?)
I made a comment to one Revival-goer, who has attended each one since the event’s inception in 1998, that it seemed odd to me that an event would span nearly 30 years of British ups and downs. An event that people would leap into with such gusto.
Certainly, the war was Very Not Good for England, at least until the Allies won it—it left London bombed to hell and the country itself financially crippled.
As an American—especially a relatively young American whose parents spent the ’60s and ’70s emigrating to the United States from Taiwan and Hong Kong—I had to wonder. Why would such hard times be worth celebrating?
On top of that, the whole thing seemed to be awfully confusing. Are we touting wartime or peacetime? How can wartime and peacetime both exist simultaneously?
Yet the gentleman I spoke with explained that the war was when everyone banded together. There was a enemy to defeat, and goddammit, they were going to win. After the war, yes, the country was economically ruined and everyone was poor, but at least they won. It was England at her best.
That was pretty much the last great moment of true British glory. “It’s kind of a ‘Make Britain Great Again’ attitude,” he said. “And you can still feel it, especially with Brexit.”
And what about the racing, or “motoring,” aspect of it?
Well, an attractive pamphlet for this year’s Revival, artfully decorated to look aged, read,
Recreating the glamour of motor racing as it used to be, the Motor Circuit comes alive for Revival, both on and off the track. The only historic race meeting to be staged entirely in period dress, the Revival sees a return to the halcyon days of Goodwood as the spiritual home of British motor racing. It’s a celebration of bygone days and wheel-to-wheel racing around this classic circuit, which remains unchanged since its heyday.
The circuit itself actually has pretty deep ties with WWII. In the days leading up to and during the war, part of the Goodwood Estate, which belonged to the Dukes of Richmond for 300 years, was donated to the British Air Ministry to create emergency landing ground near RAF Tangmere, which was a Royal Air Force station located nearby, in an effort to help with the war. It was a strategic move, since the Goodwood Estate is located in the south of England and closer to Germany.
Bad drainage in the area caused a concrete perimeter track to be built around the aerodrome in the winter between 1940 and 1941. Later on, a tarmac surface was added.
After the war ended, the land was returned to the Ninth Duke of Richmond, Frederick Charles Gordon-Lennox (aka Freddie March), who was the current Duke of Richmond and Earl of March, Charles Henry Gordon-Lennox’s grandfather. Freddie March loved cars and racing and decided to make a circuit out of the whole thing. Something more permanent. Something grander.
And so, the very first race happened on Sept. 18, 1948. Fifteen thousand people showed up to see “Britain’s first professionally organized post-war racing event,” according to the Revival brochure.
The following 18 years saw wondrous races with even greater racing legends like Jim Clark, Roger Penske, Graham Hill and Stirling Moss. Unfortunately, because the cars got fast and faster and the track owners refused to add chicanes to address the increased speed, Goodwood Circuit shut down in 1966, reports this very excellent and detailed story.
It was only used for testing purposes over the next few decades. It was where Bruce McLaren fatally crashed in 1970 at just 32 years of age. Other than that, not many more notable things happened at the track and it slowly fell into disrepair.
Nearly 30 years later, Charles Henry Gordon-Lennox, Freddie’s grandson the 11th and current Duke of Richmond and Earl of March, took on a herculean effort to restore the circuit. It wasn’t easy. There were people to convince. Permits to get approved. The entire city of Chichester to persuade.
To raise money and garner interest, the Earl of March held the very first Festival of Speed on his own property in 1993. Andrew English, a writer for The Telegraph, was there for that inaugural event and expressed skepticism. He was wrong to do so.
Thirty-thousand people showed up to the first two-day Festival of Speed. It was an instant hit. People came to meet famous race car drivers, see race cars up close and in action. Carmakers saw it as an incredible marketing opportunity.
The Earl of March pitched the Revival, which at that point was still a pipe dream, as a historic event in order to be more appealing to the locals, a Goodwood tour guide explained to me. Eventually, the earl was able to get enough applications approved and construction done that when the Goodwood Circuit was finally reopened in 1998 for the first Goodwood Revival, “the transformation was breathtaking,” English wrote.
Period dress was requested and 68,000 spectators complied. Cigarette girls stood alongside Land Army girls and Air Vice-Marshals. Spitfires were fuelled on the aerodrome, while pilots lounged on deck chairs reading The Daily Sketch. Mechanics sported white overalls and the men wore trilbies, jackets and ties. It was a fancy-dress panto, with some thrilling motor racing.
The Revival is keenly different from the Festival of Speed. Whereas much of the ground space of the Festival is taken up by manufacturer booths and the cars all have sponsorship stickers on them, you’ll hardly see anything of the sort at the Revival.
These cars are clean and free of advertisements. There are barely any manufacturer booths, blasting loud music and handing out USB sticks full of press material, to avoid. The few that are present bring historically significant cars to showcase as well and are shuttered to a small hall behind some restaurants and the paddock.
I’ve thought about this extensively and I’ve concluded that we simply don’t have something like the Goodwood Revival here in the U.S. It’d have to be an event with the same amount of turnout as the Revival (well over 100,000 visitors). It’d have to have the same amount of pomp and flair and wide reach of American culture, automotive and otherwise. And you’d need the motorsports angle too. Perhaps the closest we come is the Monterey Motorsports Reunion, but that doesn’t have wild period costumes, or the Kentucky Derby, but that doesn’t have cars.
Britain is so much smaller than the United States. It wouldn’t be terribly hard for people from all over the country to drive over to attend. Europe is just a stone’s throw away, if people from there wish to come.
So, as an American attending the Goodwood Revival for the first time, I was both blown away at the sheer enthusiasm and absurdly jealous at what you guys have. They do say that the grass is always greener on the other side.
The best part is you don’t even have to like cars to have fun. But if you do, it’s like heaven on earth.