There are car shows, and then there’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, held each year in West Sussex, England. Everything from rare, vintage and outright odd vehicles are put on display. Then there are the high-performance supercars and Formula One racers from a variety of eras. Regardless, these machines aren’t just there to look nice, they’re barreling up the site’s 1.16-mile hill climb course.
Even though the hill climb is all in good fun, when the stopwatch is ticking it’s hard to deny a racer’s instinct. We had the chance to drive the new Mercedes-Benz CLS to the festivities, where the English summer thankfully failed to live up to its reputation for high wind and rain storms. Instead, we were treated to a sun-filled day with all manner of two, four and in a few cases six-wheeled speed machines in action.
Arguably the most eye-catching of all designs was British sculptor Gerry Judah‘s spectacular centerpiece featuring a literal arc of past and present: a soaring 1934 Mercedes-Benz W 25 heading in the opposite direction from the German automaker’s 2013 Formula One car. Stunning, no question, but also telling of the festivities on-hand. The most advanced contemporary racecars mingle alongside some true classics, with emphasis from the crowd spread evenly throughout. Of particular interest was a row of vintage racers from Benz, who was celebrating their 120th anniversary in motorsports.
Alongside the classics were racecars from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Those were the days when the sponsors were questionable and the drivers lived more like rockstars than professional athletes. It was an era of true experimentation with as many follies as successes. Catering to true gearheads, explanations of each design are given as well as the benefits and drawbacks of the more extreme designs (1971 McLaren M8F anyone?). Still, at Goodwood, it’s not just about ogling these feats of design and engineering at rest. It’s about seeing—not to mention hearing—all manner of machines redlining up the hill.
Several classes of vehicles fire off the start line, and it’s remarkably entertaining seeing how the latest Bugatti takes a corner minutes after a highway spec Bentley. One of the odder contraptions that took to the course was none other than the Brabus Super G700—a six-wheel, three-axel hulk of a truck with a whopping 690 horsepower. While nowhere near the record setting time of 41.6 seconds set in 1999 by Nick Heidfeld in his trusty McLaren, it made for a crowd favorite.
Though they don’t draw as much attention as the cars, Goodwood is also a vintage motorcycle-lover’s dream. With mostly MotoGP racers and legends behind the bars, the more rare and weird, the better—but you’re still going to push it. Which ultimately reflects the spirit of the event, as was wholly embodied in the most publicized crash from the weekend. Just before Olympic gold medal-winning cyclist Sir Chris Hoy kicked the Nissan GT-R Nismo into first gear, the announcers remarked on its rarity. “One of two in the UK,” they said. A few seconds later, that number had been cut in half—with Hoy missing a turn and sending the £125,000 car through five rows of hay bales. Thankfully, Hoy walked away unscathed, shades and hat firmly in place. The upbeat air of the festival remained: a deep love for incredible design and engineering with a reverence for the power of these great machines.
Held each year at the end of June or beginning of July (depending on Formula One’s race schedule), the Goodwood Festival of Speed is just two hours from central London. In addition to all the excitement at Goodwood, you’ll get a nice dose of the quaint, laid-back English countryside.
Photos by Hans Aschim