The Goodwood Festival of Speed is Mecca for motoring enthusiasts.
Now in its 21st year, this four-day, all-encompassing celebration of two and four wheels from every corner of the automotive world is the fastest growing motor show on earth. And it's not hard to see why.
Where else can fans see Nascars, Formula One cars, Le Mans winners, rally legends, production supercars and futuristic concept cars on the same stretch of tarmac on the same day?
Where else can you see ''Wee'' Jackie Stewart in Fangio's 1954 championship winning Mercedes-Benz W196 sharing tarmac with Jenson Button in the 2008 championship winning McLaren and an insane 650kW Peugeot that won the Pikes Peak hill climb in America just two weeks earlier? Or a 6000hp dragster followed by Jacky Ickx in the Porsche 936 he drove to win the 1977 Le Mans 24hr race?
Where else can you see Nascar great and one-time Marcus Ambrose teammate Michael Waltrip swapping anecdotes with F1 legend Sir Stirling Moss? Or two-wheeled madman Randy Mamola sharing a laugh with Bob Riggle, whose rear-engined Plymouth Barracuda ''Hemi under Glass'' does bigger and better wheelies than Randy could on Valentino Rossi's 2011 Ducati MotoGP bike. Or Hollywood legend Peter Fonda riding Captain America, the Harley Davidson he made famous in Easy Rider?
The Goodwood Festival of Speed was first held in 1993, the brainchild of English Aristocrat Charles Gordon-Lennox, the Earl of March and next Duke of Richmond. Lord March, as he is known, is a keen car collector and motorsport enthusiast. So, when he took over administration of family lands south-west of London in the 1990s, he wanted to bring racing back to the once-famous Goodwood circuit.
Getting the necessary permits proved harder than expected, so he decided instead to host his Festival of Speed on the 1.9km driveway that meanders through the family estate. 25,000 spectators came to the first Festival despite a date clash with the Le Mans 24hr race, and since then the crowd has grown to the 185,000 that passed through in 2012. Organisers expected this year's event held last weekend to top that, especially given the weather played ball with a rare run of 30-deg summer days.
Part of Goodwood's success is the sheer variety of cars and bikes, and their human pilots, that come to Lord March's place every year. Nowhere else in the world can fans still hear the distinctive wail of a 1965 Honda F1 car's 1.5-litre V12, or the primal roar of an Auto Union Type C's 6.0-litre, supercharged V16. Equally, Goodwood this year saw triple world champ Nelson Piquet reunited with his 1984 championship winning Brabham F1 car.
Lord March is also very careful to ensure his event doesn't clash with any major motorsport event. That's why there are 17 Formula One race winners at this year's event, and nine current F1 drivers, headlined by popular Brits Button and Lewis Hamilton. Unlike the strict segregation of an F1 race, there's no accreditation or cordons keeping fans from their heroes. At Goodwood, you're just as likely to see a famous face or two among the crowd salivating over incredible cars from bygone eras.
But it's not all motorsport cars; far from it. Production cars are an increasingly important and growing participant in the Festival, and car companies are now using Goodwood as a platform to debut exciting new models. Car companies like Audi, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Bentley and others build huge, multi-storey temporary structures to house and show off their latest and greatest road cars. These massive edifices cost more than most houses, and have to be pulled down and removed within two weeks of the show's end. But the exposure is worth the expense outlay for car companies, especially because the British Motor show folded after 2008.
Every year, the Festival celebrates the milestone of a particular marque or model. This year there were many anniversaries - McLaren and Lamborghini's 50th - but the biggest celebration was reserved for the golden jubilee of the Porsche 911. On the lawn in front of Lord March's mansion soars a 34m high sculpture topped by three Porsche 911s from various eras. They're real cars, each weighing between one and 1.5 tonnes. But they're not the only 911s there this year. In fact there are more than a dozen examples of the world's most famous rear-engined coupe, including competition cars like the 1984 Paris Dakar winning 911SC and the Martini-liveried 1978 911 SC that competed in the Africa safari.
Static displays of classic cars is a major component of Goodwood's allure, and here too, the lack of rope barriers is refreshing, and a little alarming. There's nothing stopping a clumsy fan from accidentally scratching a $2m Rolls-Royce, or a $5m Merc C111 rotary concept or even a $40m Bugatti Type 57C, one of just six in the world. And yet the respect fans show to these cars is clearly evident in the way they tread warily around such rare exotica.
At its heart, though, Goodwood is still just a hillclimb event in which drivers compete to see who can demolish Lord March's 1.9km driveway the fastest. This year's battle is a two-way arm wrestle between a 1987 Jaguar XJR9 endurance racer and the Peugeot 208 T16 which nine-time WRC champ Sebastien Loeb recently used to destroy the Pikes Peak hillclimb. Their times are in the 45-second bracket, insanely fast for a narrow driveway with no run-off or sand traps. But it's well short of the all-time record of 41.6 sec set by Nick Heidfeld in a McLaren F1 car in 1999 - at an average speed over 160kmh.
These days, though, cars tackle the hill climb with one of two distinct goals. They either want to be the fastest, or the most creative, and it's not unusual to see F1 cars, rally cars, even Le Mans cars break out a few tyre-smoking donuts along the way.
But that's the Goodwood Festival of Speed, an unashamed celebration of car culture. And quite possibly the greatest motorshow on earth.
-Fairfax News Australia