SUSSEX, U.K. – It’s 8:00 a.m., and the massive crowds have yet to converge at the startup paddock. Even at this hour, the morning’s stillness has been shattered by the primordial bellows of the early gods of combustion.

We’re at Goodwood’s Festival of Speed, the quintessential celebration of all things automotive. From turn-of-the-century leviathans to carbon-fibre supercars – Goodwood is the “ne plus ultra” of bucket-list car fantasies.

Founded in 1993, Goodwood FOS was the brainchild of Charles Henry Gordon-Lennox, the Earl of March. The heir to one of the last great English landholdings of its kind, Lennox has managed to turn the enormous historical money pit into a self-supporting operation. By leveraging the family’s long legacy in various sporting interests such as motor racing, horse racing, fox hunting, air shows and golf, not to mention the splendour of Goodwood House itself, the Earl has managed to exploit the estate’s assets in the most genteel manner, while preserving it with elegance intact. Goodwood Festival, and the annual Goodwood Revival, have since become the pinnacle of the automotive world’s aristocracy, both contemporary and past.

The festival’s popularity has exploded – it’s estimated that over 180,000 fans attended over its four days.

More on In Pictures: Goodwood Festival of Speed

Our early morning start was an attempt to beat the swarming throngs that would soon make navigating the grounds very much like salmon swimming upstream. Yet even now, there are thousands moving beneath the leafy green canopies over the miles of pathways that crisscross the grounds.

Our first stop is the Cartier “Style et Luxe” – a concours d’elegance set on the lawn of one of Goodwood House’s three wings. This year’s concours celebrates the 80th anniversary of the great Franco-Italian coach building company, Figoni et Falaschi, with a category showcasing their work. Five glorious examples were on display, characterized by the swept-back, aerodynamic influence of the newly burgeoning aircraft industry with their distinctive teardrop shapes. Delahaye, Bugatti, Voisin and Talbot-Lago – the names invoke a timeless sense of gentility that’s only accentuated by the garden party atmosphere of the concours. Ladies in sleeveless shifts and broad-brimmed hats pick their way across the lawn accompanied by gentlemen in Old School silk ties, against the backdrop of the ivy-covered, centuries-old stone of the manor house.

In addition to the pre-1940 coachbuilt works are a fabulous collection of Citroens, and a class of 200-mph supercars from 1980s and 90s – including the Jaguar XJ220 concept car, a Ferarri F40 and a rather garish yellow Bugatti EB110 SS.

Behind the house are acres of paddocks, consisting of row after row of some of history’s most legendary racecars. Truly an automotive smorgasbord of nearly indescribable proportions, the paddocks represent just a portion of the Goodwood spectacle, yet they’re worthy of devoting an entire day to their exploration.

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