Close your eyes and you could swear it’s 1945. High overhead, you see the propellers of Spitfire fighter planes, their engines backfiring as they approach the grassy landing strip. The morning air is thick and damp, bathed in the smell of breakfast sausage and stewed tomatoes. AC Cobras and Ford GT40s, Ferraris and Jaguars race wheel-to-wheel around historic Goodwood Circuit as onlookers in period-correct attire stand trackside, sip champagne, and enjoy the spectacle. We’re absolutely smitten by the annual Goodwood Revival, which brings the world’s most dedicated motoring enthusiasts together in southern England at the end of summer for one unforgettable experience.
In the motorcycle paddock, mechanics scurry around in smudged, sweat-stained overalls. Beautiful old bikes cough to life, their exhausts popping like popcorn kernels. Linger long enough, and you will be introduced to some of the friendliest, most interesting motorcyclists you’ll ever have the pleasure of meeting. “What you see is what you get over here…no frills,” says Nigel Challis, wrenching on a ’62 Norton Manx 500. “The car side of the Revival is a bit glittery, but it’s real people and real bikes here. Like an everyday club meet with a few star riders thrown in. And thanks to the BMW team, our paddock always has the best beer.”
Halfway through a pint of that beer, we stumble across another Manx 500 and chat up its rider, eight-time Isle of Man TT winner Charlie Williams. Williams is fully suited for the Barry Sheene Memorial Trophy race, but he’s totally calm and couldn’t be cooler. “I don’t really race much anymore and my wife doesn’t like it, but I always bring my best to Goodwood. The circuit is fast, which is great as a TT, man. It’s such a special race…really the last of its type in the world.”
We post up by Goodwood’s famous chicane to watch the second half of the two-part motorcycle race; the day before, at this same spot, we witnessed nine-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen drive the wheels off a lumbering ‘59 Ford Thunderbird to thunderous applause. The motorcycle race has a Le Mans-style start, which means riders run from the paddock to their bikes before taking off down the front straight at full throttle. The magnificent sound of a ‘64 MV Agusta 500/3, ridden by brothers Michael and William Dunlop, rattles our chest every time it skirts the pit wall. This flat-out motorcycle racing is unbelievably cutthroat, far more aggressive than you’d expect from a bunch of vintage bikes.
After teammates Duncan Fitchett and Jeremy McWilliams take first place on their Manx 500, some onlookers head into the paddock to celebrate with the riders as they exit the track, while others go for a cup of hot tea or to get a scoop of ice cream served out of a vintage Rolls-Royce. Since this is England, the clouds darken with the threat of rain, but nobody seeks shelter. A chorus of ladies, all wearing pink cardigans and floral-print dresses, stand their ground and sing a flirtatious Cockney tune as the caretaker of a gorgeous dark blue Jaguar D-Type roadster props up an umbrella in the driver’s seat and walks away to have a smoke. Wolfgang, an aviation and racing buff from Stuttgart dressed in a full pilot’s suit, looks positively overwhelmed. “I love this place,” he says, the corners of his mustache darting upward as he speaks. “Just look at all the well-dressed people, the wonderful planes, and such great racing.”
The Goodwood Revival is a fabrication, but it’s a beautiful lie. No, it’s not really 1945, but you can immerse yourself in the era just the same. Let yourself believe it for just one weekend a year, and you’ll soak up every ounce of excitement, flavor, and bliss that this unreal event has to offer.