2023 Goodwood Revival celebrates Lotus, Jackie Stewart, and the circus
Every year, the Goodwood Revival vintage racing extravaganza in southern England picks a nostalgic theme for its main display area by the entrance. Last year it was flying saucers à la 1950s B-movie sci-fi flicks. For this year’s 25th anniversary event, it was The Greatest Show on Earth, the traveling circus as it was back in its postwar heyday when Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey, and other operations large and small crisscrossed America and Europe to delight packed tents with death-defying stunts, clownery, and prancing animals.
The Goodwood visitor was thus greeted by a large circus ring in which performers did their acts throughout the weekend, plus a bevy of restored circus trailers and trucks because, let’s face it, Goodwood is all about the vehicles. The other marquee highlight this year was a celebration of 75 years of Lotus, as well as tributes to racing icons Carroll Shelby and 84-year-old Jackie Stewart, who drove a few laps in his 1973 Tyrell-Cosworth 006 F1 car. It was at Goodwood in 1964 that Stewart got his first break in racing, testing a Tyrell F3 car at a faster pace than Bruce McLaren, impressing Ken Tyrell enough to offer him a spot on the fledgling team.
A parade of some of Lotus founder Colin Chapman’s earliest as well as his greatest creations took to the track each day to, well, add lightness to a rollicking weekend beset first by unsually sweltering heat, then by pelting rain. Let out first onto the track were the fastest, including a series of Lotus F1 cars that brought glory to the brand during its 1970s golden years. They included a couple of 1973 Lotus-Cosworth 72s once driven by Ronnie Petersen and Jacky Ickx (who was also in attendance), a brace of famously black-and-gold John Player Special beauties, including the 1976 Lotus-Cosworth 77 and Mario Andretti’s World Championship–winning Lotus 79. The highly inventive double-chassis (but never raced) Lotus 88B from 1981 also ground-sucked its way onto the circuit, followed by the 1982 Lotus-Cosworth 91, which was the last Lotus F1 car produced during Chapman’s lifetime.
Lotus was always innovating, and in that vein, gliding onto the track with the whistle of a vacuum cleaner was the gold-and-black 1971 Lotus 56B, which attempted to bring Pratt & Whitney turbine power to Formula 1 after earlier attempts to win with turbines at the Indianapolis 500. Graham Hill’s green-and-yellow Lotus 49 recalled the great grand prix Lotuses of the 1960s. The many smaller sports racers, single seaters, and road cars from the House of Chapman were represented by the Elevens, 16s, 18s, 22s, 27s, Elites, Elans, and Europas that conga-lined around Goodwood’s 2.38-mile circuit of former dispersal roads for RAF Spitfires and Hurricanes that flew from here during the war.
Finally, the “oldest” Lotus—actually, an exact recreation—trundled out. The Lotus Mk.1 was a jacked-up trials car based on a 1920s Austin Seven that Chapman built in his girlfriend Hazel’s parent’s garage while studying engineering at the University of London in 1948. The original car has been lost, but Classic Team Lotus, which is run by Colin Chapman’s son, Clive, executed an exact copy down to its battered trials patina.
More than 50 cars representing the long and storied career of Carroll Shelby also circulated on the track during intermissions in the racing, starting with his first race car, a wire-wheeled MG TC that Shelby raced in Oklahoma in 1952. Other notable highlights from Shelby’s years behind the wheel included a Ferrari 750 Monza that he shared with Phil Hill at the 1955 Sebring 12 Hours, an Aston Martin DBR2 and DBR4 representing his years driving Astons, and the Balchowsky-Buick special “Ol’ Yeller II” that Shelby ran in a number of sports car races in the U.S. in 1960.
Cobras, King Cobras, and Ford GT40s, including the ’66 Le Mans winner, were there. Notably absent was a Dodge Omni GLH or Shelby Dakota pickup, but the Goodwood Revival, ahem, tends to stick to cars produced during its years as an active racing circuit from 1948 to 1968.
In keeping with tradition, the 15 individual races that the Revival stages each year have charmingly British names, like the Fordwater Trophy and the Rudge-Whitworth Cup. The Lavant Cup is typically a one-make race. Last year it was all MGBs; this year it was Ferrari V-12s from 1960 to ’66, and people took to calling it the Billion-Dollar Cup owing to the approximate (though almost certainly overestimated) combined value of the 18 entries.
There were no fewer than 12 Ferrari 250 GT SWBs in the race, along with a 250 GTO, a 330 GTO, and a 250 LM supplied by Miles Collier of the Collier Foundation in Florida. And lest you think that it was just a parade by nervous zillionaires, there was plenty of carnage, including a sideswiping of the wall by the 250 LM driven by racing veteran Rob Hall.
The weekend’s most dramatic moment also occurred during the Lavant Cup, when the 250 GTO blew its rear differential to smithereens, sending a chunk of shrapnel rocketing through the fuel tank. A massive fireball erupted, out of which the Ferrari, driven by a hapless Karun Chandhok, emerged spinning with a locked-up rear axle. (You can watch that footage and read more about it here.)
The GTO slid into the grass and Chandhok had the door open before it even stopped moving, leaping from the car to avoid being barbecued alive. However, by then the fire was already mostly out and the car was barely damaged, proving that if you’re going to blow a hole in the gas tank of your $50 million-ish Ferrari, blow a big one so all the fuel dumps at once.