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Many worlds meet at Goodwood

David Suzuki would hate the Goodwood Festival of Speed, which is three days of high-performance cars rocketing up a country road, spewing noise and pollution into the air, not to mention reducing so many tires to so much rubber dust.

  • The image of cars in a showroom

CHICHESTER, England–David Suzuki would hate the Goodwood Festival of Speed, which is three days of high-performance cars rocketing up a country road, spewing noise and pollution into the air – not to mention reducing so many tires to so much rubber dust.

Ah c’mon, David. The Tour de France bicycle race, taking place simultaneously right across the channel, probably generates more greenhouse gases from the riders’ methane than Goodwood does.

(Not to mention that the bikers are likely fuelled with more toxic chemicals than the race cars.)

Canada’s leading environmental activist would be entitled to his opinion. But in the opinion of tens of thousands of motorsport and vintage car fans – the event was sold out weeks in advance – Goodwood is the highlight of their year.

The country road in question is basically the 1.87 km driveway of the Goodwood Estate’s mansion, ever-so-modestly referred to as “The House.”

Charles the Earl of March, the current owner, initiated the hill-climb event in 1993 when local town planners refused him permission to re-open the Goodwood Motor Circuit for vintage races.

That permission was subsequently granted, and the Goodwood Revival, a vintage race meet, celebrates its tenth anniversary this September.

This year’s Festival of Speed theme was “Hawthorne to Hamilton: Britain’s Love Affair with World Motor Sport.” That would be Mike Hawthorne, Britain’s first world driving champion, who was tragically killed in a road crash shortly after cementing his place in the annals of motoring history, and Lewis Hamilton, who hasn’t won a world championship yet but surely will – maybe as early as this year.

The festival also celebrated various anniversaries: the centenary of AC (whose Ace roadster begat the Ford Cobra), the French Grand Prix and Ford’s Model T.

There’s also the 60 years of Land Rover and Porsche, 50 years for the British Touring Car Championship, race-car maker Lola, and Cosworth (whose DFV V8 is the winningest engine in Formula One history).

And there’s 40 years for McLaren, Gulf Oil-sponsored motorsport teams and the Ford Escort (represented by examples of this car in hill climb and world rally championship guises).

The rally boys also got to play on a Forest Rally Stage where they got well and truly sideways in the dirt, as only they can.

The vehicles were all there by invitation from Lord March and his selection committee. They ran the gamut – all eras, all countries, all forms of the sport.

On the hill itself you saw everything from a 1905 British Star, to a dozen or more entries in that 1908 French Grand Prix, to NASCAR stock cars, to World Rally Championship cars past and present, to Formula One race cars, past and present as well, to racing motorcycles from the 1900s to current Superbike entries.

It’s difficult to mention some without mentioning them all, but here’s a sampling of a few of the vehicles that made a personal impression.

1933 Napier-Railton Special. You bump into people at Goodwood, and just start chatting. One jovial-looking gent, identified only as “Dave” on his coveralls, also had a Chevrolet badge thereon, not something you might expect to see on a British mechanic.

We were watching some techies trying to get an old Bolide started, and I said to Dave, “Nothing that a small-block Chevy wouldn’t fix!'”

He laughed, and agreed. I asked him about the incongruous badge. He said he had owned a series of Chevy-engined dragsters, although on this day he was wrenching for this Napier-Railton Special.

This 24-litre – not a misprint; 24 litre! – 12-cylinder monster will hold in perpetuity the absolute lap record for the now-demolished Brooklands circuit at an astonishing 143 miles per hour (231.7 km/h) under the “direction” of multiple-time world speed record holder John Cobb. More likely, he just held on – it only has brakes on the rear wheels.

The noise this thing made as it fired up was beyond description – small mammals and low-flying birds were in danger of being sucked into the engine.

1972 McLaren-Chevrolet M8F CanAm car. This car, in its McLaren-traditional orange, was never actually raced – the customer who ordered it never paid up. It became a development mule for the factory and was tested at the nearby Goodwood Motor Circuit, where company founder Bruce McLaren died in a testing crash in 1970. There is a lovely little memorial garden in his honour at the circuit.

But watching, hearing and feeling it thunder up the hill brought back plenty of memories.

Nostalgia may not be what it used to be, but if there has ever been a better racing series than CanAm, I don’t know what it could have been.

The sight and sound of 30 or more of these missiles pounding down the front straight at Mosport will forever be among my favourite motorsports moments. The earth did move.

The McLarens dominated this series almost from the outset, until Porsche adapted the turbocharged Le Mans-winning 917 to this series, and the McLarens were out-gunned, despite the 8.4-litre V8 engine encased within their massive body.

1961 Showboat Dragster. When the National Hot Rod Association banned nitromethane fuel in the late-’50s/early-’60s, several drag racers went to multiple engines to generate the power they wanted.

One of the most famous personalities of the era, “TV Tommy” Ivo, built a four-engined, four-wheel-drive beast that could do an eight-second quarter-mile run with all four tires smoking all the way down the strip.

A car like this could never be driven the length of the Goodwood hillclimb, and if this exact replica of that car ever did fire up on the weekend, I didn’t notice – and you’d think you’d notice, the way you’d notice an atomic bomb.

1963 Deep Sanderson “Twinny.” Multiple engines have also been tried for road-racing cars, like this strange contraption powered by two 1.1-litre Mini Cooper engines, each driving one pair of wheels. How they coordinated the throttles, transmissions, etc., is hard to imagine but I did see this make it up the hill, so they figured it out somehow.

1966 Honda RC173. Built for multiple championship-winning “Mike the bike” Hailwood, this is as rare as a motorcycle gets. Only two were built, and the other has mysteriously disappeared. I’m including it here because: (a) I have pictures of it in the paddock, and (b) Mr. Editor is a motorcycle fan. You can tell this is one because, um, it has a wheel in front, a wheel in back and the engine is in the middle.

Suffice it to say that no matter where your motoring interests might lie, you’d have found a favourite or 10 here.

Goodwood also attracts the crème de la crème of motoring personalities. Sir Stirling Moss, surely the greatest driver never to win a world championship – if not the greatest driver of them all – had to get special permission from the International Automobile Federation (FIA) to wear his vintage helmet as he piloted the first British-designed and -built F1 car to win the constructors’ championship, the 1959 Vanwall, up the hill.

NASCAR legend Bobby Allison probably didn’t understand the British accents all around him any more than the Brits understood him. But everyone was in awe when he fired up the Banjo Matthews-built Buick Regal he drove on NASCAR’s short tracks in 1983.

Former WRC champion Petter Solberg seemed to be having the most fun when he deliberately spun out in front of The House in his Subaru WRX on Saturday, did a half-dozen doughnuts, then proceeded up the hill. Who cares about a quick time? It’s all about showmanship.

Five-time World Motorcycle Grand Prix champion Mick Doohan and four-time Superbike winner Carl Fogarty highlighted the two-wheeled crazies.

But the biggest cheers of the weekend were reserved for England’s latest hero, McLaren-Mercedes F1 driver Lewis Hamilton, fresh off a stunning rain-soaked victory at the previous weekend’s British Grand Prix. He thundered up the hill, mostly on the rev limiter, stopping occasionally to do a burn-out for the fans.

It is rare that you get to hear a Formula One car by itself that close. David Suzuki probably wouldn’t have liked that either, but the rest of us loved it.

So, politically correct Goodwood may not be.

But as a retrospective into the sporting history of the automobile, it is unmatched.

Start saving your frequent flyer points, and mark the middle of June on next year’s calendar.

Travel was provided to freelance auto writer Jim Kenzie by Audi Canada jim@jimkenzie.com

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