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Good vibrations at Goodwood Revival

Spear’s heads to Goodwood Revival in West Sussex to soak up the good cheer and great cars of pre-1960’s Britain with Formula One legend Sir Jackie Stewart, writes Emelia Hamilton-Russell

It’s Saturday morning on Platform 14 at Clapham Junction, and it could be a casting call for Dunkirk: there are land girls in headscarves, ladies in floral frocks and fur stoles, army boys and trilby-clad gentlemen with jaunty spotted handkerchiefs. There isn’t an iPhone in sight.

As we pile in to the regrettably modern Southern Rail train, the conductor wonders where we’re all going. ‘I know Chichester’s posh,’ he says.

We're off to Goodwood Revival, a three-day festival that recreates a golden era for motor racing between 1948 and 1966. This extraordinary event, a theatrical and sporting drama, assembles the most significant racing cars and motorcycles along with legendary drivers and from the past and stars of today.

The inaugural Revival opened in 1998, when the Earl of March, now the Duke of Richmond, drove around the circuit in the same Bristol 400 that his grandfather had debuted on the track 50 years before. Since then, Goodwood has become the world’s most celebrated historic motor racing event. Petrol heads and vintage fashion fans flock from all over the country to soak up the unique atmosphere in impeccable period costume. The event is also loved for its flying displays in recognition of Goodwood’s history as a wartime fighter base and for its refusal to allow modern cars within the circuit on race days.

©Rolex/Jad Sherif

Arriving at Chichester station, we are shuttled to the event in a bright red, mint condition 1950’s double decker; the driver doffs his cap, and the time-machine transformation is complete.

As we disembark, the smell of engines mingles with the roar of iconic race cars and I battle through the mud towards the Ford stand – the best place to watch the racing, I’m assured, as it overlooks the finishing line.

This is the romance and glamour of motor racing as it used to be. It's like stepping into a black and white photograph, except it's in colour and 3D. Betty’s salon offers to pin up my rain-battered hair and set it in a respectable 50s bouffant, and the beady eyes of fox fur stoles draped around the shoulders of bustling ladies stare at me as I follow the crowd towards the stands.

And the cars are even more polished than the people. In the paddock, the owners are busy buffing their prized vehicles to a dazzling shine before they come out onto the track. They seize the opportunity to discuss the intricacies of engine restoration and bespoke colour mixtures. The general favourite seems to be the 250 GTO, which has recently sold for £25 million at auction.

©Rolex/Guillaume Mégevand

Just in time to catch the Ecurie Ecosse parade, I arrive as the starting grid fills with the great cars and drivers of Ecosse team history. The greatest and the best is Sir Jackie Stewart, three-time winner of the F1 World Drivers' Championships, and twice runner-up. Noted for his penchant for tweed caps, the ‘flying scot’ steps into his car to the sound of cheers and bagpipes, and revs the engine enthusiastically in acknowledgement of the crowd. It’s an unforgettable moment.

Riding high on the thrill of car fumes and guttural engine noises, I make my way to the Rolex Drivers’ Club to interview the man himself. I grab some apple crumble and custard in the officers’ mess while I wait for Sir Jackie to finish his lunch with the other Rolex VIP ambassadors, which includes nine-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen (the Dane had just raced in the St Mary’s Trophy in a Ford Thunderbird).

‘Be nice and loud with me,’ booms Sir Jackie as we’re introduced in the replica library. ‘Between shooting and motor racing – I’m a little deaf.’ Slightly star struck, I pull myself together and annunciate manically.

Goodwood is a huge deal for Sir Jackie, he says, as it’s really the birthplace of his racing career. ‘I first came to Goodwood in 1953 as a little boy,’ he remembers. ‘My big brother was racing, and I got the autographs of Fangio and Gonzalez, Sterling Moss and Mike Hawthorn. I was completely bowled over by them, and I got into Formula 1 because I did a test drive here at Goodwood.’

‘Goodwood is something very special, there’s nothing else like it,’ he adds.

As we wrap up the interview, the heavens suddenly open and I, along with other revellers, take shelter in the tunnel that runs under the track. In the dark, pressed up against each other’s steaming, pungent tweed, we share knowing, delighted looks as the heart-stopping sound of rumbling thunder mingles with roar of Spitfires circling overhead. Someone lights a cigar. This is what the Revival is all about.

©Rolex/Guillaume Mégevand

Emelia Hamilton-Russell is a Researcher at Spear's