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Feb / Mar 2015
Rare Old Time

WRITER: Sara White Wilson

Since 1998, the Goodwood Revival has been a brilliant annual extravaganza of motorhead nostalgia. Presented with an invitation to attend the three-day festival, there was no way we could resist the allure of revelling in such a romantic time capsule.


Thurs, Sept 11 8:58 am. “Babe. A man in a classic car is picking you up at the station. The man is named Gautier. Hurrah.”

I glance at this text between negotiations with the information desk attendant at the Champagne-Ardenne train station, in an effort to use his Bluetooth Wi-Fi connection to send a work document I should have sent days earlier, which is why I was up until 5am to finish it, in response to a trail of harassing emails. By the time we get a signal, a stunning yellow Porsche 356 SC rolls up to the train station. That’s my ride.

Out comes Gautier in an energetic yet easy manner, driving gloves in hand and hair styled with a well-manicured stubble that’s all the rage these days. We slip into the two-seater – old enough not to have seat belts, of course – and off we go, weaving between fields of champagne grapes.


Photography by Lucille Pillet


Thus begins my cinematic run to Goodwood Revival with a troupe of journalists, vintage car enthusiasts and a fleet of seven very, very sexy cars, both old and new: a stately Jaguar MKVII, a classic but sporty Triumph TR2 and a sleek Ferrari FF, to name a few. From the twists and turns through the picturesque French countryside to the ferry in Dieppe across the English Channel to Newhaven, we head to the Sussex countryside for a three-day dip into an alternative world of vintage cars and adventure.

I must say that I was going against my better judgment in accepting this invitation, kindly extended by French champagne house Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin that, while perhaps better known for its sponsorship of Polo events with the likes of English princes, also enjoys the pleasures of motoring. Their engagement is a sparkling wink to heritage as Madame Clicquot’s grand-daughter, the Duchess of Uzès, was the first woman in France to have a driver’s license, the first to create women-only driving clubs and also the first woman to get a speeding ticket.

While speeding tickets aren’t in my personal field of risk, intense nausea is, which had the better of me as I soon began my job as a rather useless co-pilot; map ignored on the floor, laptop on my knees sliding back and forth as my body was yanked left and right through winding roads and my fingers tapped away on the final edits of this accursed work document. In between polite conversation - so as to not appear entirely rude - I desperately grasp at the door handle during particularly vivacious turns, thinking to myself, ‘Sara, why don’t you just get a normal job?’

Here I was playing hooky – I didn’t actually have the leisure to run away to England for four days. And it wasn’t like my fiancé was elated about my weekend escapade in fast cars with boys. But I knew going to Goodwood was the chance of a lifetime. For once, I would be that girl who dares skip school.

My failed, if short-lived, career as a co-pilot resulted in Gautier and I getting lost, diverging from the others en route to Dieppe. We went in circles, retraced routes, and stopped to ask shopkeepers for directions. Throughout the many small French villages, both when lost and once regrouped, I couldn’t help noticing how these gems of automobile design we were privileged to drive, evoked a remarkable response. Farmers stopped their work in the fields to watch and wave. Wide-eyed schoolboys stood roadside. Our carefree touring seemed to elicit joy without a hint of jealousy. Awe rather, a nod to the good life.

Once on the ferry, Gautier took a nap and I was once again at work on a Bluetooth connection from a borrowed phone. Document sent and cars mounted, we slide out to sea with no internet or mobile connection. Above the deck, I huddle under an orange Veuve Clicquot blanket and watch the approach of English shores.

Under the auspices of the Earl of March, whom I met briefly, the Goodwood Revival is held in his family grounds, which forms part of his huge 4,800-hectare estate, over half of which is used for agriculture and forestry, with the remainder dedicated to other enterprises including the famous Goodwood horse race course, the Goodwood Aerodrome, two golf courses, a hotel, an organic farm and of course the Rolls Royce headquarters. His grandfather, who was the 9th Duke, hosted early races in the 1930s and Lord March re-opened the Goodwood Motor Circuit in 1998, which today is the world’s only circuit dedicated to historic motor racing.


Phototgraphy by Lucille Pillet


In 1940s, 50s and early 60s sporting spirit – lads in caps, ladies with touches of coquetry in fur stoles and pillbox hats – we arrive in a parade of style, one that is animated by Goodwood’s 148,000 visitors. The sights are endless, from vintage car repair shops, boutiques and auction houses (Bonhams achieved 23.3 million USD in sales, for instance) to 1950s-inspired hair salons (where I got a hairdo using a bottle of lacquer and 58 ‘Kirby Grips’). I spot Second World War heroes roaming around – only a few were real, the rest actors – as we make our way toward the private Veuve Clicquot paddock on the racetrack. A red 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB, which must top the list of the world’s more expensive cars, is sitting pretty out on the lawn to greet us. During lunch and tea, my conversation with a female classic car pilot is punctuated by the roaring advance and retreat of seasoned motors.
During a tour of the grounds where cars rest between races, which swarmed with men in classic overalls tinkering away, I fall in love with the quintessential English Jaguar. From a line-up of sporty C-types and long-nosed E-types, thirty D-types were left to parade on-track in what was the largest gathering of D-Types in history.
Later in the evening, a Lost City of Atlantis-themed gala hosted by the Earl and Countess of March culminated this long weekend of escape into an alternate universe. I even have an iPhone snap of me with costumed Poseidon, covered in seaweed. But perhaps my most marked memory of being transported far away in time, style and experience was in the backseat of that stately Jaguar MKVII, whom we affectionately named ‘Joan’.
Four of us inside, we rolled through the Sussex countryside with the somewhat comforting smell of gasoline and old leather, listening to the radio, making silly jokes and generally behaving like teenagers. I imagined we were in the era when this car was the best that money could buy and we had stolen it from one of our parents for a night out with friends. I felt safe, outside of time, outside of responsibility. As someone in the car dared express, “I don’t want to go back to the real world.”
But indeed the car eventually – and elegantly – pulled to a stop, and we snapped out of our reverie. Perhaps this isn’t far from the true aim behind pure luxury: to create a sense of ultimate safety, style, play, and indulgence that returns us to childhood, a space of total forgetting about that work document that was supposed to be due on Monday.
Before leaving to catch that early morning train, I once again face the weight of more work deadlines and a possibly displeased husband to-be. But to be completely honest, the ride was totally worth it.

Phototgraphy by Remi Dargegen

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