Shot: The 2021 Goodwood Revival

After a Covid-induced year away, the classic cars and the dressed to impress crowds were back on track for a celebration of the bygone days of wheel-to-wheel racing.

I’ve been covering the Revival pretty much every year since 2009. It’s an event I really enjoy because there’s so much more than just the cars and the racing action to photograph. Revival is as much about the audience as it is about what’s happening in the paddocks and on the track. That’s because the majority of those attending come dressed to impress in an array of vintage clothes. It’s what makes the 22-year-old event so unique. It’s why The Times labelled it “the fastest fancy dress party on Earth!”

My last Revival however was back in 2017 and with last year put paid to by the pandemic, it’s been a while.

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder and I admit, after the time away, I was really looking forward to being back at the old circuit. But time away from something also means any changes are even more noticeable. And I have to say there was a lot different between this year’s event and my memories of previous Revivals. This one, for me at least, fell somewhat short of the exceptionally high standards one has come to expect of Goodwood.

Now it’s hard to put one’s finger on precisely what was missing or what was not quite on point, but I came away feeling that the economy had taken its toll on the event. It appeared that a lot less money was being splashed around by Goodwood, with significantly fewer and less extravagant elements than we’ve come to expect at past events.

Take one’s first impression for example. In recent years, subsequent Revivals have staged ever more ambitious theatrical ‘happenings’ just inside the main gates. These have celebrated anniversaries of notable events such as the 1966 World Cup finals, or 60 years since the introduction of the Fiat 500, with props and a troupe of enthusiastic performers adding colour to the in-period visitor experience.

This year, it was all about celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Festival of Britain, but — at least from what I witnessed — Goodwood’s usual flair and inspiration was missing and there really wasn’t the spectacle we’ve seen in the past.

Yes I know these are particularly challenging times economically and ‘normalcy’ is still some way off, but all n all it just didn’t feel very Goodwood.

I can only speculate that the previous year’s cancellation, meant belts were tightened. Whether or not that was the case, it certainly felt that way to me. That’s not to say, the entire event was disappointing, it wasn’t and I’m sure most first-time visitors would have left impressed with what they saw. But having experienced many memorable Revivals, apart from the track action itself, I felt this one just lacked that touch of pizzazz.

Of course, the very nature of an historic motoring event does mean much of what one sees from one year to the next is the same — or at least, very similar. It’s precisely for that reason, that Goodwood always comes up with new things to keep Revival fresh and to keep the punters coming.

And on the Saturday — the second of Revival’s three days — it was certainly packed. One report I read talked of 50,000 visitors each day.

I also noticed that this year Goodwood introduced a couple of new marketing concepts that suggested a push to attract more revenue: a ticket allowing entry for just the afternoon, rather than a full day and another allowing only a visit to the ‘Across the Road’ attractions — a host of traders, fairground attractions and the like.

Of course there’s still a lot on offer that’s worth seeing, especially walking around the pits and watching the racing which features only vintage cars that would have competed between 1948 and 1966.when the historic West Sussex circuit was one of Britain’s best.

And unlike a lot of other track events, at Revival the cars — no matter what their value — are properly raced, with wheel to wheel action. One of the most eagerly anticipated of this year’s races was the John Whitmore Trophy, which celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Mini Cooper.

Of the 30 Mini’s on the grid, car number 43 stood out because of its eye-catching appearance.

Nick Swift’s 1963 Morris Mini Cooper S was ‘finger painted’ in pink and blue and featured gold wheels and tyres.

The reason for this was that 9-year-old Stanley Wilkinson had won a competition to have the Swiftune Engineering car specially painted in his livery for the race — hence it bearing his initials SNW.

Stanley’s entry was judged the winner by legendary American driver Richard Petty and Nick Swift lived up to his name and won the race.

During my visit I tried to seek out things that were new, but for whatever reason I struggled to find much that I hadn’t seen before. In previous years, the Earls Court Motor Show, for example, was a great place to step back in time and see classic cars displayed as if they’d just been launched. But this year, at least half the space was given over to Sky for a particularly lacklustre movie set installation, leaving the ‘motor show’ with little room, generating even less impact.

Of the cars on display, the one that got my attention should not have been there. The Radford is a brand new ‘recreation’ of the Lotus Type 62 which originally was launched in 1969, three years after racing ended at Goodwood. This one was finished in the iconic JPS black and gold livery.

The car was making its world debut at the Revival and marks the renaissance of the name of English coachbuilder H Radford. One of the people behind Radford is former F1 world champion, Jenson Button, who just happened to be making his own debut at this year’s Revival driving in the event’s flagship race, the RAC TT Celebration.

Speaking of drivers, one of the anomalies of the event was why the driver’s club was themed as a Vegas-style casino.

There appeared to be no reason for this apart from featuring some Vegas show girls complete with feathers and sequins. All I can say is they were good to shoot.

One fixture of the Revival who is always good to shoot is Jake, one of the group of bikers who add authenticity to the Revival High Street.

I always aim to get a portrait or two whenever I see him and this year was no different.

Behind the shot: These images were taken either using the Olympus OM-D E-M1 with the M Zuiko 1.8 75mm lens or the iPhone 12. The challenge as always was to come away from the event with a set of interesting images that were different from those taken by all the other photographers there. Photographed at the Goodwood Motor Circuit on 18 September 2021

About the author: Based in Sussex-by-the-Sea, on England’s south coast, Gary is a creative writer and image-maker. He specialises in out of the ordinary portraits of musicians and people with interesting faces, as well as photographing some of the world’s finest flowers and gardens. With no concerts or major events taking place during lockdown, Gary turned his attention to creatively capturing the landscapes of West Sussex. On the writing side, he also penned deep dives into some of his favourite songs beginning with Bryan Ferry’s ‘These Foolish Things’ ‘Ghost Town’ by The Specials and ‘All The Young Dudes’ by Mott the Hoople. Most recently, he has written a biography of Robert Palmer and the story behind Whitesnake’s ‘Still Of The Night’. All these can be found here on Medium, along with his reviews of gigs and events and chats with musicians.

Creator of images that are out of the ordinary, reviewer of live music and live events and interviewer of interesting people