Stilring Moss in 1954 M-B W196
1937 Auto Union Streamliner 1
Stilring Moss in 1954 M-B W196 (top); 1937 Auto Union Streamliner 1. Click image to enlarge

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Article and photos by Peter Bleakney

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2009 Goodwood Festival of Speed

Goodwood, West Sussex, United Kingdom – Lord March sure knows how to throw a party.

This is the seventeenth year his lordship has opened up the grounds of the sprawling Goodwood estate (and more specifically, a 1.8-km stretch of ascending, nine-turn tarmac) to a jaw-dropping array of historic and contemporary race cars. Think of the three-day Goodwood Festival of Speed as the ultimate motor museum featuring countless priceless race cars – except it’s outdoors, the cars are driven hard, and as you mill about the paddock getting up close and personal with these gems, you could very well bump into the likes of Damon Hill, Stirling Moss, Al Unser Sr. or Jackie Ickx suiting up for a blast up the hill. Yes, the festival is as much about the people as the cars.

This year the featured marque was Audi, which is celebrating its 100th year. As such, there was an impressive assemblage of rally, touring and Le Mans racers, but the real stars here were the priceless prewar Auto Union grand-prix cars (Audi, Horsch, Wanderer and DKW represented by the four rings). These mid-engined V16 and V12-powered Auto Unions did battle with the front-engined straight-eight Mercedes-Benz cars – also very well represented here. The fierce and well-financed rivalry between Mercedes and Auto Union spawned a progression of beautiful, powerful and spectacularly sophisticated machinery known as the Silver Arrows.

1937 Mercedes-Benz W127
J James Trophy Truck copy
1937 Mercedes-Benz W127 (top); Jesse James Trophy Truck copy. Click image to enlarge

And 75 years on, they were at it again. Let me tell you, these suckers are loud. I was mere inches away from the tailpipe of a 1934 Mercedes-Benz W35 supercharged straight-eight when the mechanic fired it up. It was like a bomb went off. I think I lost a couple of years on that one.

At the top of the hill a rally stage has been carved out of the lush forest. Here, the stars were flinging about everything from vintage Minis to legendary Group B cars at silly velocities. The legendary race/rally driver Walter Rohrl was reunited with the 1987 Audi Sport Quattro S1 in which he broke the 11-minute barrier at the Pikes Peak Rally – a record that stood for 10 years. He noted, “I haven’t driven it for 22 years. With 600 horsepower, it still feels very fast.”

Jesse James of West Coast Chopper fame wowed the crowd with his 900-hp Baja Trophy Truck, driving sideways up the hill, blasting through the woods and taking out a few hale bays just for good measure. “If I drove like this anywhere else, I’d get in trouble. Here, they love it!”

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