Why the Goodwood Festival of Speed is the world's greatest car show

By Paul Gover, July 15 2019

Stepping through the gate at the Goodwood Festival of Speed is like following Alice into Wonderland.

A three-day celebration of sports and high-performance autos held in parkland near England’s south coast, Goodwood is an automotive overload which floods the senses with the sights, sounds and smells from the glory days of motorsport and introduces the future, in the form of Britain’s biggest motor show.

The Goodwood Festival of Speed is a unique event in the world's motoring calendar

Just over there, I can see Jackie Stewart and Emerson Fittipaldi – sharing a combined total of five Formula One world championships – having a quiet chat. A little later, Emmo is crying softly as he lowers himself into the Lotus 72 that carried him to his first grand prix crown.

Goodwood salutes the old while also celebrating the new

A little further into the Festival, I spy a field of dream cars, including a priceless Bugatti Type 57 Atlantic from 1934 and a $50 million Ferrari 250 GTO. Actually, there are four GTOs here.

Then comes the unmistakable howl of a V8 F1 engine screaming at 13,000 revs on full noise, as Dan Ricciardo throws a racing Renault into action on the Goodwood hillclimb – the main, but far from only, focal point of this most unique event.

Fast cars attract keen crowds at the Goodwood Festival of Speed

Every time it seems things cannot get better, they do. Even when a sunshiney Saturday turns to showers on Sunday, there are no complaints. As one superstar disappears, another arrives.

My visit to this year’s Festival is my fifth, and reinforces my belief that Goodwood is the best motoring event on the planet.

A sculpture celebrating Aston Martin and the 70th anniversary of the company’s first race at Goodwood

Monaco has glamour and celebrities, but getting anywhere near the Grand Prix action means having friends who are superstars or billionaires; Indianapolis has the biggest one-day attendance of any sporting even on the planet but is really just a race; while the Tokyo Motor Show is the best of a dying breed of old-school car displays.

At Goodwood, the cars move. Many of them really move.

It's not the Goodwood Festival of Slow, but of Speed...

And they cover everything from the earliest days of motoring – like the flame-spitting 108-year-old Fiat called the ‘Beast of Turin’ – to the future of motoring, the Volkswagen ID.R that rewrites the rules for battery-powered performance cars and also rewrites the long-standing hillclimb record.

Unleashing the Beast of Turin, the 1911 Fiat S76 – once the fast car in the world

At its simplest, Goodwood is a giant garden party hosted by the Duke of Richmond and Gordon.

It is run at the height of the English summer, when there is tennis at Wimbledon, horse racing at Royal Ascot, cricket at Lords, sunburn, succulent strawberries, buzzing honey bees, bright sunshine and surprising sun showers.

One of many blasts from the past at Goodwood 2019

The Duke, or the Earl of March as he was at the time, first opened the gates to his estate in 1993 for a celebration of all things motoring. He thought it could be a tidy earner, and around 25,000 people came to see what it was all about.

Not all of Goodwood's attractions take place on the grass or bitumen

In 2019, the Festival of Speed is sell-out event for more than 150,000 people – who pay a minimum of $50 for a day – that has also become Britain’s biggest new-car show. There are corporates in suits-and-ties at the invite-only enclosures with canapés and champagne, but also a huge throng of regular punters who wander wide-eyed through the event.

Goodwood can be just the place to grab a selfie with one of the stars of motor racing

Everything pivots around the Duke’s driveway, which climbs from the front gate to the top of the estate in a narrow strip of bitumen that is outlined by the sort of stacked haybales which served as safety barriers in the 1950s.

It's not quite Downton Abbey...

The Festival runs with military precision through a series of ‘exercise’ events, when cars are driven up the hill in groups which recognise their shared history.

Goodwood salutes the old while also celebrating the new

This year includes a very special display of Michael Schumacher’s race cars, staring with his first Formula Ford and including an F1 Benetton that is driven by his deadly rival from back-in-the-day, Damon Hill.

A cavalcade of Michael Schumacher's F1 race cars

Old-timer cars chug and chunter past the crowds, modern racers scream and howl and slip and slide, and the very latest in road-going supercars are demonstrated for the punters, with well-padded wallets in the pockets of specially-selected passengers.

Not all the cars at Goodwood are icons of yesteryear

It takes time to get around the Goodwood estate, but it is worth a 10-kilometre hike to move from the historic displays, past the Grand Prix guest stars, through the motor show displays, and up to a specially-constructed rally stage where old and new cars drift through gravel bends.

Along the way you can dip into a $10 organic burger, or chat to the mechanic working on Peter Brock’s 1987 Bathurst-winning Commodore, or get an autograph from Aussie motorcycle world champion Mick Doohan.

Volkswagon's ID.R, a prototype fully-electric racer, shows what it can do

Goodwood ticks every box for anyone with even the slightest interest in motoring, and its intimate formula bringing paying punters within touching distance of both cars and stars, is now being copied around the world. There is even talk of a Goodwood-style festival of speed at Bathurst in 2021.

How good is it, really? Even after five visits, it still sits at the top of my personal bucket list.

Plenty of other people must agree, because the Festival of Speed is already a sell-out for 2020.

Paul Gover

As Motoring Editor for Executive Traveller, Paul Gover spends less time at his Gold Coast home than he does on the road (literally) test-driving the best of the four-wheel world.

Hornet

Hornet

17 Jan 2017

Total posts 4

I think Goodwood Revival is equally as good (if not better) and should be an absolute must on the automotive bucketlist.

Ourmanin

Ourmanin

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

08 Jun 2018

Total posts 64

Absolutely agree with Hornet. The Goodwood Revival is every bit as good as the Festival of Speed (having been to both several times) although the FOS is also an incredible experience for anyone with an interest in anything that moves. Anyone who loves cars (or bikes) should try and visit either (or both) of them at least once.

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