Three days of epic racing in West Sussex not only sees the 75th anniversary of the Silver Arrows' appearance in the UK, but also the classic and romantic sartorial taste of the 40s, 50s and 60s
In mid-September, a traffic debacle on the small two-way roads of Chichester surprisingly puts all in enthusiastic spirits. The cause is undoubtedly the eye-popping stack of gleaming vintage cars making way to this year's Goodwood Revival Festival. In honour of the glory days of Goodwood Motor Circuit (formerly hosting Formula One, Goodwood Nine Hours, and Tourist Trophy sports car race from 1948 to 1966) this event is a breath-taking step back into mid-Twentieth Century racing culture. On starting day, West Sussex County gives us all a "proper" English welcome with grey clouds and drizzling rain on Friday morning. Not that it's stopping any of us Goodwood Revival-goers, dressed to the nines in requested post-war garb.
Silver Arrows return to the UK
Presenting respective team badges, we make our way to the Paddocks - namely the garages, nicknamed "the box" - where under the low overhang, the drivers trade off racing stories as mechanics bustle about the Silver Arrows, tuning them up for the upcoming demonstration race. That's right, though the domination of the Silver Arrows in the Grand Prix racing were cut short by World War II, thanks to Mercedes-Benz and the Auto Union (now Audi Tradition) factory teams, the Silver Arrows are back in the UK this year. And never before in history has any race seen so many Silver Arrows together!
As Paul Stewart (founder of Paul Stewart Racing and son of three-time Formula One World Champion Jackie Stewart) acknowledges, these cars are no modern toys. Behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz W25, Stewart mulls over the frightening idea of a crash, showing reverent respect for these cars. He claims the "sound of the engine is incredible" and watching these Grand-Prix titans from the sidelines, there is no disagreement. At first, one hears a high-pitched whine approaching at an alarming rate. Then our eyes focus in on the metallic blur created by the crushing Silver Arrows screaming by at super sonic speeds. Up and down the stands, mouths drop and fingers automatically plug into ears to deafen the sound. Possessing forms and spirits that exist somewhere between the past and the future, they proudly bear emblazoned racing numbers in cherry red that attracts eyes even in the overcast light. As if to acknowledge their beauty, the continuous blasts from the engines are suddenly joined by the low throttling buzz of two RAF Spitfires breaking formation and rolling through the airspace above the track. The word "glorious" might have flashed through spectators' minds as it did ours.
Fashionable at Goodwood
Back at the race grounds on the following day, there's a brisk refreshing autumn vibe that subtly suggests a cup of Earl Grey at the Goodwood Market. A Dutch visitor joins us and lights up a cigar, contently puffing billows of smoke into the morning sunshine. Without addressing anyone in particular, he states with the air of a philosopher: "Every great English race requires a great cup of English tea."
With the phrase pleasantly lingering on our minds, we overhear the race announcer's remark: "This weather has really brought out some beautiful outfits!" And this is exactly what sets Goodwood apart from all other classic car events.
Sure enough, future politicians in white campaign uniforms and boating hats march about chanting: "Every-BODY vote for Dan, he is every-BODY's man!" while the ladies at The Telegraph wearing cotton overalls and classic driving hats threaten the day's paper to be sold out within the hour. Lord March, himself present at the fair in an immaculate double-breasted coat, writes: "Whatever they tell you today, history is full of mavericks with polished shoes and a sharp crease in their trousers and rebels with a collar that stands in the right way and a well pressed jacket." In response, the gentlemen today are from all corners of relevant history. The clean-shaven RAF Air Crew uniforms seem to multiply but the tough and dashing Teddy Boy is a favoured look this year as well. There is also no end to hunting or riding tweeds and others like myself lean towards the Rat Pack's slim-tie and suit combination of the 60s. The Racing Driver look is championed by the young boys running about in white racing overalls, goggles resting over their small driving caps.
The ladies turn eyes wherever they wander; the photographers can't seem to get enough shots of their gorgeous smiles! It seems there are a few Amy Johnsons and Amelia Earharts strutting about, confident and fearlessly romantic in flying goggles, leather flying jackets, jodhpurs, and RAF boots. But the majority are here with the glamour of the starlets and divas of the 40s, 50s, and 60s. There is no end to jiving in the Veuve Clicquot tent; the jazz from the live band is far too addictive and all the heels are definitely asking to be twirled around the dance floor. Some of the more courageous gentlemen oblige and the Goodwood Revival party scene goes into full swing!
The elegance of racing
At the Paddocks on closing day, the cars are rolled out into the sun where the photographers make quick work of the sight. Towering over mortals, Austrian born Formula One driver Karl Wendlinger explains that Silver Arrows have no speedometers, only rev counters. So although unsure of the exact mph or kph, he enthusiastically adds that it "feels very fast!" Germany's Bernd Schneider looking comfortable in white racing overalls and a grey racing jacket with classic tartan arm patches, echoes the same thought regarding the W154 he drives, a car that "needs to have speed" and the Goodwood track is ideal as "the straights are quite long. It's too much fun!"
But this is nothing new for legendary Formula One driver Jochen Mass, the expert on driving all the cars lined up here today at Goodwood. Recently seen at the 2012 Mille Miglia, he kindly takes a few minutes to indulge on the topic of Silver Arrow evolution. The soft spoken gentleman starts with the W25, comparing its handling to a Beatle, "very responsive, not vicious, and perfectly balanced." He refers to the beautiful W125 as a much improved version but then points to the beloved W154 and with eyes gleaming joy, dubs the machine: "the most sophisticated and superior."
This historical event has certainly seen those words echoed, not just from these cars but from other teams with their classic motors, the drivers, individual fashion, even the classic motorcycles, and the winged machines showing off dogfight manoeuvres in the air. But what draws them all, some from half way around the world, to Goodwood Revival? Is it simply a step back into time or something deeper? As racing has always been a part of British blood and heritage, the culture at Goodwood, though untouched by the modern world and laced with nostalgia, is as authentic as any other race. It is no wonder then that the preservation of Goodwood Motor Circuit allows us to truly appreciate the glamour of Post-War motor sport racing spirit with all its elegance and chivalry. We reluctantly drag ourselves away from the Paddock as our shuttle to the airport awaits, but when such an experience exists, we can only look forward to more of "the glory days."