Remember when Britain had an international motor show? Well it still has – except it’s no longer held in London, but at Goodwood in Sussex.
Standing surveying the manufacturer stands at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, this writer’s thoughts strayed back to 2008, and the last British International Motor Show, at the Excel Centre in London’s docklands. It was a great new venue in the capital, but it was also to be proved the last show – okay there is a London show today, and yes it’s going back to Excel next year, but it’s all about dealers rather than manufacturers.
After that 2008 event, the car manufacturers said they couldn’t justify the cost of exhibiting at Britain’s show, especially as it was no longer in the premier league of motor shows such as the Geneva or Frankfurt events. This week I thought of that as I stood on the cricket green of Goodwood House, and looked at the enormous, multi-storey stands spread before me.
Showing out in Sussex
Today, car manufacturers are spending very big money to put themselves on show at Goodwood. Admittedly not every manufacturer was present, but there were plenty, and some of the stands have reached extreme proportions.
Once upon a time, this writer used to attend the Festival every year, and to be honest he got a bit bored by it – it seemed to be getting just too commercial, without the unique ’50s film set’ appeal of the Revival event in September. Then relocation from just up the road in Surrey to mid-Wales gave me an excuse not to go anymore, and I didn’t, for almost a decade.
Returning last year, I realised the Festival has changed. There was always plenty to interest this motorsport fan, but the now four-day extravaganza in Sussex has become as important to the road car industry as it is an essential fun weekend for those in motorsport.
Where will one now see the new models for the first time? At the Festival, where the makers not only get to show their latest wares off and hopefully sell some through those enormous stands, but also to demonstrate their cars, driving them up the Goodwood Hill.
On the first day, known as ‘Moving Motor Show’ day, said cars are put in the hands of a few lucky potential customers, plus the occasional journalist, which is how at this year’s Festival I found myself lining up on the famed start line in the new Infiniti Q60.
We at The Car Expert will be bringing you an in-depth test of this model in a few weeks’ time, which is a good thing as I’m unable to tell you much about it yet – because I wasn’t really that focused on the car. With a proportion of the 200,000 or so that attend the Festival watching on from behind the straw bales, binning this brand-new model would have been a major embarrassment, so discretion was called for – especially as the ‘pro’ drivers told me the track had never been so slippery.
One slip from disaster
I didn’t bin it – though I can confirm the track was indeed treacherously slippery, and challenging. It has more turns on it than are apparent when watching from the side, and it is narrow – especially halfway up, where the flint wall seems to loom out at you, challenging you to bounce expensive metal off the side of it.
While after my run I really wanted, in vain, to go again, I also had a new appreciation for the racing drivers who throughout the weekend would reach quite astonishing speeds up what is still basically the driveway of a stately home. Formula One, NASCARs from America, sports cars that only two weeks earlier had been winning the Le Mans 24 Hours, and a riot of historic machinery each with its own story – the competition machinery gathered in this one place was jaw dropping.
But there also remained the First Glance and Supercar categories, road cars on prominent display. Okay after Thursday the more ordinary stuff, Dacia Sanderos, Renault Twingos and such were gone. Instead the focus was on the likes of BMW, showing off on the hill as it launched its Black Edition sub-brand in the stable yard of the house. The most powerful Jaguar yet built, the 200mph XE SV Project 8 with its 3.3-second 0-62mph time, was debuting, as were new models from McLaren, Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce – the list goes on…
So now the Goodwood Festival of Speed is very much a manufacturer must-attend, particularly for any brand launching a vaguely sporty model. But I also came away from Sussex having enjoyed the event more than I used to. There is now so much to see that even the enormous attendance gets spread over the site, and the overall impression is of a great many people having a great deal of fun.
So yes, I will be back at Goodwood next year. And if any manufacturer wants me to drive their new supercar up the hill, well I know which way the track goes now and you know where to find me…