Car Culture

You need to go to the Goodwood Revival

Vintage racing and period-correct cosplay combine for one of the finest weekends of the year -- and it’s not just for car enthusiasts, either.

Michael Shaffer/Subaru

The Goodwood Revival has been on my personal bucket list for quite some time. And now that I've finally had the chance to partake in the period-correct festivities, I can safely say that it ought to be on yours, too.

For one weekend each year, the Goodwood Motor Circuit in Chichester, England, about 70 miles southwest of London, is home to an event that celebrates more than just vintage racing. Sure, cars are the focus -- various races take place throughout the entire weekend. But between the historic war trucks and planes, interactive displays of old-world culture and the seemingly endless array of merchants, watering holes and carnival-style games, there really is something for everyone.

You could never watch a single race and still have a hell of a time.

I was fortunate enough to attend the Revival with a small group of car writers, hosted by Subaru's North American arm. The Japanese automaker doesn't have any sponsorship deal or tie-in with Goodwood, but with sales booming in the US, the Subaru team felt like celebrating with a weekend abroad at one of the world's premier historic motorsports events.

Actually, just make that premier historic event. The attention to detail at Goodwood is absolutely astonishing even before you get to the cars. From the moment you arrive, you're fully immersed in the spirit of World War II England. Arrive by helicopter and you'll be transported to the Revival site via 1940s Willys Jeep or decades-old Land Rover. Spitfire planes line the walkway just past the entrance. The workers are perfectly outfitted. Actors portray army officials, farm hands and shopkeepers. Every sign is lovingly painted in the style of yesteryear. And, as you can see in the gallery above, no stone is left unturned.

And so it's not only appropriate, but highly encouraged, for revelers to dress the part. A lot of folks go all out, with lavish costumes in the style of high-falutin' urbanites, rural country folk, race-team servicemen or military personnel. But you don't need much more than a tweed jacket or vest, a nice pair of slacks, a jaunty hat or a lovely dress to fit in. Men who wish to enter the race paddock (and trust me, you will) are required to wear a jacket and tie. Ladies are asked to wear a dress or suit.

This is the only paddock in the wide world of motorsport (that I know of, anyway) that requires a jacket and tie for admittance. And rightfully so.

Michael Shaffer/Subaru

Period dress is not required for entry, but like, don't be that guy. In the same way that you wouldn't go to a Halloween party without a costume, don't be the schlub who shows up to the Revival in easy-fit jeans and a nondescript t-shirt. When you're embracing the vintage vibe, it's actually really jarring to come across some lame-o who hasn't bothered to exercise even a smidgen of creativity. The Goodwood organizers put a lot of work into making every part of the Revival a proper throwback experience. The least you can do is half-ass it and don a newsboy hat and cheeky bowtie.

Practicing and qualifying kicks off Friday morning, with the first race event of the weekend taking place that evening. Full schedules of car and motorcycle racing make up the Saturday and Sunday agendas, with only small gaps between on-track events. Grandstands are set up at several points along the Goodwood Motor Circuit, and better viewing areas are available near the start-finish line or the chicane for folks who have special (read: more expensive) tickets.

Of particular interest is The Mess, a huge hall with reserved seating decked out in full World War II-era paraphernalia. Performers sing classic songs throughout the day. Tables are situated outside, behind a raised viewing area just for these VIPs. It's a great way to still feel like part of the crowd -- just, you know, not the unwashed masses.

Private viewing pavilions can be arranged at several trackside locations, my favorite of which is the Salvadori row, nestled right by the chicane. In addition to the secluded indoor seating areas where the champagne flows freely, these pavilions offer reclining chairs perched on a hill, so you not only get a commanding view of the on-track action, but the plebes in the grandstand across the way can bask in your Veuve Clicquot-soaked experience.

Whether you're seated in a grandstand or hanging out in a VIP area, there's no bad view at the Goodwood Revival.

Michael Shaffer/Subaru

Vintage racing of this caliber is a truly awesome experience. You have million-dollar, Pebble Beach Concours-worthy machines competing wheel-to-wheel with one another, and while there's a general level of respect for the privately owned autos, crashes do happen.

It's hard not to stand with mouth agape as the most beautiful Ferrari 250 GTOs you've ever seen mix it up with Aston Martin DB4s and Ford GT40s in high-speed action. You find yourself laughing when tiny Minis get up on two wheels after hitting the apex at Woodcote. And you can't help but cringe when the Plymouth Barracuda crashes through the chicane and red-flags the race.

Since there isn't one standout, must-see race -- though the final Sussex Trophy event on Sunday afternoon is particularly thrilling, and the kids' vintage pedal car lap is equal parts cute and hilarious -- you'll have plenty of time to check out the myriad shops, eateries, bars and activities hosted in what Goodwood calls the Over The Road area. You can buy everything from Revival-spec attire (see, you can even buy it on-site!) to funny little tchotchkes to classic car parts here. But none of them feel so unique that you couldn't just order them off the internet back at home. So don't worry about forcing your carry-on bag closed because you just had to have those pit crew overalls.

While you're Over The Road, go a few steps beyond and check out the parking lot. It's like the coolest, rarest cars and coffee meet you've ever seen. Old Bentleys. Triumphs for days. Oh, and special kudos to the guy who showed up in a Ford Torino Squire with what can only be described as a "well-worn" patina.

Ooooh, Barracuda! Crashes don't often happen during Revival races, but this Plymouth destroyed the chicane barriers during a Sunday afternoon race.

Michael Shaffer/Subaru

You can buy individual day passes for the Revival weekend, but if my experience has taught me anything, it's that you're much better off ponying up for the whole shebang. I spent two full days at the Goodwood Revival and still feel like I left part of the experience on the table. There is just that much to see and do.

You don't need aristocratic money to attend, either, though you will need to buy tickets in advance. Official pricing for next year's Revival hasn't been announced, but day passes for adults usually run between $50 and $75, and you can get a weekend admission for something like $200 to $250. You can even camp on the Goodwood Estate.

The Goodwood Revival happens every year in early September, and it's not the sort of thing you'll only want to do once. The organizers change up the shops and displays, and different vintage cars from around the world make the journey to Chichester each year.

I'm absolutely, positively, definitely going back. And I already know what I'm going to wear.

The Goodwood Revival isn't just about the cars. It's a fully immersive historical experience.

Michael Shaffer/Subaru

Editors' note: Roadshow accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, the manufacturer covered travel costs. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists.

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