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Attending an retro auto racing party in England

By on November 27, 2018 in Travel with 0 Comments

This set the mood…. just inside the arrival gate at Goodwood, a double decker bus complete with a guy hawking nylon stockings from the rear platform.

By Phil Rasmussen

It is probably fair to say that I am an Anglophile.

I’ve read British history for years, and my wife Lovelyn and I have watched Downton Abbey and every British murder mystery on PBS… thoroughly amazed that there could be at least one murder in every little village in England each week.

I am also an automotive enthusiast.

When I read an article about an event called the Goodwood Revival several years ago, I was hooked. I have really never made a bucket list, but if I had, this would be on it.

The Goodwood Revival is about vintage cars and historic auto racing at a famous old racetrack, which also happened to serve as a World War II aerodrome. It is about eccentric British motorheads and a huge costume party all wrapped up into one. I simply HAD to go.

With enticements such as a proposed stop at Highclere (Downton Abbey), Doc Martin’s house in “Portwenn” (actually Port Isaac), and Hay-on-Wye, Wales, to visit a lovely woman we had met on a cruise two years ago, Lovelyn was all in.

Goodwood House is in the south of England just north of Portsmouth. We flew in to Heathrow and picked up our rental car.

As it turned out, the closest hotel reservation I could make months in advance of the event was in Southsea, a suburb of Portsmouth, and about a one-hour drive from Goodwood House.

“Barn finds” are the holy grail for car collectors. Here was a barn complete with the “finds.” The three belles in polka dots are a singing trio who could do a great imitation of the Andrews Sisters.

Goodwood House is one of the remaining grand estates of England. On its grounds are a golf course, the old auto racing track, a horse racing course, an exclusive inn and restaurants… all of which provide income that allows the estate to continue to exist under the oversight of its owner, the 11th Duke of Richmond.

Goodwood was an auto racing venue operated from 1932 to the mid-1960s, except for the war years when it served as a British Spitfire base.

The current Duke’s father — also an auto racing enthusiast — came up with the idea of an annual historic racing event at the estate, the Goodwood Revival. This year marked its 20th anniversary.

The event takes place over a three-day weekend each year. What makes it special is that attendees are asked to come dressed in period clothing — the “period” being any time between 1932 and the mid-’60s, and almost everyone complies.

Mechanics’ coveralls, driving caps, tweed jackets and military uniforms are popular for men. Women come in vintage dresses, hats and furs as well as a bit of 1960’s mod.

The over-riding atmosphere of the event is heavily biased toward the mid-1940s and the Battle of Britain, which is vigorously celebrated at this event, not only in costume and theme, but with early morning Spitfire formation flyovers as well as military aircraft and vehicle displays.

Red Lotus open-wheel racer. Old cars, serious racing.

Lovelyn and I dressed as a couple taking a “weekend at the races” approach to apparel. Lovelyn was fortunate to be given some late 1940’s dresses and hats. As for myself, it was suspenders, vest, tweed sport jacket and English driving cap.

In addition to cars driven not only by amateurs, but a few professional Indy and Le Mans past winners as well, there are manufacturers’ displays, a Bonhams auction, shops selling automotive and aircraft restoration parts and artwork, a vintage paddock of former race cars, and numerous grandstands from which to watch the race. There is even a hair salon ready to give women that special vintage look.

With the right ticket, attendees can walk into the pits, talk to the mechanics and drivers and check out the beautiful automotive hardware.

One of the crowd pleasers was a kids’ pedal car race. The pedal cars are antique Austin pedal toys that were manufactured in the ’50s as a joint venture of the British government and the Austin Motor Company to provide employment for out-of-work coal miners, and are now collectibles.

We attended on a general admission ticket on Friday to get a feel for the event and the grounds.

On Saturday, our base for the day was the Goodwood Officers’ Mess, a temporary dining hall that could have been a movie set for a WWII flick.

A highlight of Goodwood: the Austin pedal car races. The cars were manufactured in the ’60s by a joint venture of British Motor Company and the British government to provide employment for out of work coal miners. The young boy who won, when asked about his secret, replied, “ I practiced going uphill.” It worked.

We were welcomed by a very proper British Army Major who pointed the way through the sand-bagged entryway lined with stacked ammo and “jerry” fuel cans into the hall which was highly staged complete with pilots quarters and a radio room.

A “WAC” — or the British equivalent thereof — helped us find our table. Food was served buffet style, and we were never far from a source of British “bitter.”

Our tablemates were an English couple from the London area who arrived later than we did (it was an annual thing for them). Though we had limited time together, they were interesting and friendly to the point of inviting us to visit them at their home when we returned to London.

The racing at Goodwood is real, and the risk and expense of participating in the historic racing hobby blows my mind.

Jaguar E-Types, Ferraris, Maseratis, Allards, original Mini Coopers, Porsche 356s, Ford Cobras, and even three Corvettes from the ’50s and ’60s slugged it out in their respective classes.

There were a couple of crashes and a smoking engine or two, but no injuries while we were there… surprising given the lack of modern safety equipment in the cars.

I later learned from a British engineer we met at one of the Inns where we stayed there is a serious industry in Britain keeping the vintage Jags and Minis running. His company’s sole business was remanufacturing Mini Cooper transmissions.

Phil Rasmussen is dressed in high style for a weekend at the races.

As our Saturday there wore on, the crowds became huge to the point that moving around was difficult. By mid-afternoon we had reached “automotive overload” and set out to find our car in what seemed by that time to be a 100-acre hay field.

But what a pleasant feeling. It was a completely unique experience that we will never forget.

Two “officers’ debate over a beer whose contribution counted more during World Wor II.

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