Andrew Frankel has been racing cars for over 20 years and testing them for nearer to 30. He is senior contributing writer to both Autocar and MotorSport magazines, sits on the Car of the Year jury and was chief car tester for the Sunday Times for 15 years. He cites driving and writing as the only disciplines for which he has any talent and therefore considers himself vocationally employed. When he is not working he lives quietly in the Wye Valley with his family, a small and unimportant accumulation of cheap old cars and some sheep.
I’ve been lucky, blessed you might say, to have been able to race at Goodwood almost every year since the circuit re-opened in 1998. In that time I’ve driven a lot of cars from little Alfas to big Ferraris, but not once did a race I was in ever get a reception like the S.F. Edge Trophy at the 74th Member’s Meeting last weekend.
Those who brought their Edwardian monsters to Goodwood simply couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. To them a car constructed from a few steel rails, covered by the smallest amount of bodywork possible, powered by the biggest engine that could feasibly be accommodated is entirely normal. To everyone else, these leviathans appeared as creatures not only from another age, but another planet.
And I sensed that for many it was great just to see them there. Before our race I got no sense that there was any expectation we’d do much more than wobble around the track hoping our wheels wouldn’t fall off. We were as dancing bears to a circus crowd, the point not being the quality of the dance so much as the fact it was happening at all. At least until we headed out onto the track.
Then it was revealed that when you put an engine originally designed for an aircraft, an airship or even quite a large boat in a very minimalist body, the result goes quite fast. And when you staff such cars with a cadre of charmingly unhinged nutters who appear entirely oblivious to what the rest of us can see are the fairly obvious risk of climbing aboard such contraptions, then one hell of a show results.
I was in the middle of it, driving one of the youngest cars on the grid, a 1922 ‘TT’ Bentley whose 3.0-litre engine would probably struggle to act as a starter motor to Julian Mazjub’s enormous Sunbeam Indianapolis and the Land Speed Record breaking V12 Delage with which it fought for pole. My favourite however was in third place, where Duncan Pittaway drove a tiny little GN racer into which he had shoved an 8.5-litre V8 Curtiss aero engine. I was a surprising ninth, elated to make the top ten on a grid of almost 30 cars.
It was a hilarious race, and if the crowd had one tenth of the time watching it as we did driving in it, they will have had a fine old time. I made my usual rubbish start and spent the entire race just trying to recapture the places I’d lost off the line. A tiny little Brescia Bugatti took a very long time to deal with, a contest resolved in my favour only because it was one of few cars on the grid the Bentley could thoroughly outgun. But the real fun came from another of Pittaway’s cars, a Monarch also with Curtiss power under its skimpy bonnet, and with the skilled and experienced Ben Collings at its wheel. I have to say we had a ball – he had quite a lot more power, I had slightly more grip and massively better brakes and, as you always hope, each of us was stronger at various points around the track but ultimately with advantages that cancelled each other out over the course of a lap.
But the reason the race was so enjoyable was that almost everyone was driving beautifully, which is fairly important when you’re driving at over 100mph in cars with an average age of over 100, open wheels and, in the vast majority of cases, no front brakes. Some idea of how comfortable I was going wheel to wheel on such a grid is provided by the fact that when I got a chance to slither down the inside of the Monarch flat out through Fordwater, I took it. And you don’t do that in anything unless you trust your opposite number completely.
And I have to say I felt very smug as the Monarch receded in the Bentley’s mirror and stayed that way until the very last lap when he came steaming straight past me again on the run up to Woodcote for the very last time, taking me so completely by surprise I let James Collins in his Hudson Super Six past as well. So in the end I came 11th. Up the front, a battle royal had broken out between the Delage and Sunbeam. But no-one enjoyed it more than Pittaway who took the opportunity provided by these Goliaths clubbing each into submission to nip through the middle and take a well deserved win.
In its own unique way, that race was as much fun as I’ve had in a car at Goodwood and if those who came up to us and were kind enough to say how much they’d enjoyed watching were representative of the crowd as a whole, perhaps the Edwardians will be invited back. After all, driving at Goodwood is racing of course, but more than anywhere it is also putting on a show for the crowd to enjoy. And whatever else we may or may not have achieved, I think we did at least manage that.