Goodwood Festival of Speed 2008 blog

Published: 15 July 2008

Did you go to the Goodwood Festival of Speed 2008? Are you wondering how the experience could possibly be improved upon? Here’s my tip: do whatever it takes to score a drive up the hill. If it means selling the house, a kidney or one of the kids to buy an historic racer worthy of inclusion, just do it.

The crazy recent inflation in the value of classic cars is driven partly by the desire to take part in events like the Goodwood Festival and Revival. Paying a seven-figure sum to buy your way in might seem crazy, but once you’ve driven here, it’s totally understandable.

Would I like to drive a Jag XK120?

I was lucky enough to compete in this year’s Mille Miglia in the 1951 Jaguar XK120 coupe in which Stirling Moss, among others, smashed a series of speed and endurance records, driving it at an average of over 100mph, 24 hours a days for seven days.

Reasoning that I’d brought this priceless machine back in one piece after 1000 miles of hard driving on Italian public roads, Jaguar asked me to drive it one mile up Lord March’s driveway. I said yes before they’d finished asking.

Cars and stars galore at Goodwood…

There can be few other events where a star-struck nobody like me can suddenly start hanging out with the heroes of his favourite sport. At the Ball on the Saturday night, we dined next to Sir Stirling and Jochen Mass. We danced next to Jenson Button and former disco champion Petter Solberg. We had breakfast with Solberg and WRC supreme David Richards, the man who has just bought Aston Martin.

And the line-up of cars and drivers in my batch nearly stopped my heart: I shared the track with a GT40, a Porsche 917K and a 917/30, all in Gulf colours, and the Ferrari California for which Chris Evans paid £5.5 million at auction last May.

I shared a bit of idle banter with my fellow drivers, people like Derek Bell and Richard Attwood, incandescent heroes to people like me who think that sports car racing in the sixties and seventies was about as good and as glamorous as motorsport gets. It was like being on the set of Le Mans; only Steve McQueen was missing.

Oh, and my car. My co-driver on the Mille Miglia, a very skilled former racing driver, drove it at Goodwood the day before and crashed at the infamous Molecomb bend, proof that the Hill is a lot harder than it looks. So instead Jaguar asked me to drive NUB120, the iconic XK120 roadster that won the Alpine and Monte Carlo rallies.

Driving up the hill in a priceless classic

How would you feel sitting on the start line in a historic racing car worth millions but which you’d never driven before, which the programme worryingly describes as being in ‘remarkably original condition’, with stone-cold drum brakes and a notoriously truculent crash gearbox, with all your heroes lined up behind you and a crowd of 60,000 in front of you?

Terrified doesn’t really do the feeling justice, but no mile’s motoring will ever burn itself as completely or clearly on my memory.

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By Ben Oliver

Contributing editor, watch connoisseur, purveyor of fine features