Rolls-Royce celebrated its 100th Anniversary at the 2004 Goodwood Festival of Speed. This was more than appropriate, for the new Rolls-Royce final assembly plant is now tucked away in a fold between hills on the Goodwood estate. The glassy building is low and wide and designed not so much to blend into the surrounding terrain as to disappear altogether. It is a very impressive piece of work, inside and out-and seems to have done minimal harm to the beauty of the West Sussex countryside. In fact, it probably has done great good for the West Sussex countryside, because the lease agreement between BMW, which now owns Rolls-Royce, and the Earl of March, who owns and operates the Goodwood estate, means everything from increased employment to increased tax revenues to increased tourism to keep that countryside beautiful.
Charles, Earl of March, is a wizard. He is on the young side of middle age, looks a bit like Hugh Grant, and has a creative flair that could have made him a monster success in theater, the music business, or Hollywood. He combines energy and drive with good-humored accessibility in a positively un-English way. His fingerprints are on every single detail of the Goodwood Festival of Speed and the Goodwood Revival.
The festival is an outing for champions-men and cars. Grand prix champions, sports-car champions, Indy champions, NASCAR champions, motorcycle champions, and rally champions all mingle in the midst of a very knowledgeable crowd that numbers near 150,000 over three days. Every stroll through the paddock area strikes gold: Jacques Villeneuve driving the Canadian GP-winning Ferrari of his father, Gilles. Stirling Moss, John Surtees, Jack Brabham, Junior Johnson, Juan Fangio II, Derek Bell, Emerson Fittipaldi, Jochen Mass, Brian Redman. Dozens of your heroes driving cars that loom large in their legends-to misquote the late George Harrison, also a regular attendee.
The narrow asphalt road that snakes up the hill past Goodwood House, residence of Lord March and center of all the revels, is about a mile long. Each car makes a series of runs, some timed, some for demonstration only. There is no return road, so the cars are taken to the starting line in batches. Each car in a given batch makes its run and then awaits the others in a parc ferm at the top. When the entire batch is assembled, they are escorted back to their paddocks, and a new batch moves to the starting area. Watching a new batch of racing cars flow down the hill to the bottom of the road, where they make great, shrieking U-turns to get whipped around to face the flag, is memorable indeed.
The rally cars are probably the most spectacular, no matter where you stand along the course. Can-Am cars, IMSA GTP cars, Le Mans cars of the ’60s, and the big prewar GP cars are probably next in crowd appeal. Current and recent Formula 1 cars driven by young multimillionaires are too often merely showing off-with stops at each major viewing area for burnouts and donuts-but when an F1 driver does take the bit in his teeth and charge the hill, it’s well worth the price of admission.
The fastest timed run for the weekend was achieved by a friend of ours, Justin Law, driving the 1990 Silk Cut Jaguar V-12. Justin’s father, Don Law, fettles Jaguars for a string of private owners and for Jaguar’s Heritage Trust Collection. It was Don Law who built my own Jaguar Mark 9, which now resides in the American wing of the Heritage Trust Collection, and it was Justin Law who drove the Mark 9 chase car when Mike Dale and I co-drove a Heritage Trust C-type Jaguar in the 1999 Mille Miglia Storica.
The Rolls-Royce presence at Goodwood was pervasive. The centerpiece of the weekend, a soaring sculpture in front of Goodwood House, consisted of three graceful, petal-like wings 30 meters tall, representing Rolls-Royce’s achievements on land, in the air, and at sea. One wing bore Sir Malcolm Campbell’s Bluebird LSR contender, one held a Supermarine Schneider Trophy float plane, and on the third was a replica of Campbell’s Bluebird K4 record boat-all three Rolls-powered. The display was designed and engineered by Gerry Judah, who hoped to evoke the unique combination of power and elegance embodied in Rolls-Royce history.
Surrounding the base of this extraordinary work of engineering art were three dozen Rolls-Royces ranging from a 1904 10hp original to today’s Phantom, assembled less than a mile away in the new factory. This fantastic fleet featured several Silver Ghosts, including the 1911 London-Edinburgh record breaker, one of the most desirable Rolls-Royces ever to turn a wheel. Gen Xers flocked around John Lennon’s psychedelically painted Phantom V, but I kept going back to the Silver Ghosts and praying that one day I might get to drive one before I shoot through.