Doug Nye: The Origins Of FOS

21st June 2016
doug_nye_headshot.jpg Doug Nye

“OK”, they said, “Do your next blog on your memories of the very first Festival of Speed”, they said, “…back in 1993 – that should be good, with this year’s Festival just coming together for this weekend…”, they said. Well, it might have seemed like a good idea, but in fact it has been remarkably difficult to wrap my head around that now long-gone weekend, back in June 1993.


My goodness, can it really be so long ago – more than 23 years?  And my goodness again, can my once pretty decent memory now be so diminished?  Either it comes to us all as the years roll by, or as my late Dad used to say “You’ve only got room in the barrel for so many apples boy, so don’t clog it up with windfalls…”.

Maybe that’s the problem then – too much unnecessary data clogging up the apple barrel between my ears?  Well, let’s knuckle the old forehead, and fight to think back.

It’s an old familiar story now how on leading classic car dealer Adrian Hamilton’s inaugural Tour of the Loire rally in 1992, Charles March accompanied Michael Pearson of Cowdray Park in the latter’s Ferrari 250GT ‘Tour de France’ Berlinetta. Leading auctioneer Robert Brooks was there in a D-Type Jaguar, and I was running a sister D accompanied by Mick Walsh of ‘Classic & Sportscar’ magazine.  One of the overnight chateau hotel stops ended-up with we four in the bar, and as the only virtual tee-totaller amongst them perhaps my memory is meant to be clearer than the others’. 


For the above reasons that’s not necessarily true, but in essence Charles mentioned that he was keen to run a motor sporting hillclimb in the grounds of Goodwood House, just as his late grandfather – Freddie March – had back in 1936 as President of the Lancia Car Club. Charles said that he’d won the approval and support of the BARC organizing club, and that Walter Hayes, in charge of public promotion for Aston Martin – then a Ford subsidiary – was backing the idea. As I recall the discussion began with some kind of British Hill-Climb Championship round as the hook, but I do remember suggesting that while such a thing would be fun – and the hillclimbers were a lovely bunch of people – we could probably provide the name and address of both would-be paying spectators. Robert then piped up and suggested “Why not run it for classic cars, and we’ll bring some and so will our friends and contacts….” – through his company, then known as Brooks Auctioneers (the modern Bonhams today).

In wider discussion next morning there was general support for such a notion amongst the runners and riders on Hammy’s Tour, and both Mick and myself were enthusiastic – just to see the Goodwood name back prominently in the motoring press.

Robert and I whizzed down to the House a few days later to discuss the concept in greater detail with Charles and with his friend and press officer Rob Widdows. Rob is another dyed-in-the-wool racing enthusiast who had attended Goodwood race meetings from childhood to the closure in 1966. I left that day to compile a list of people and cars we would like to invite to that inaugural event, and over the next few days we discussed various titles for it – and came up with (I think probably at Rob’s suggestion) ‘The Goodwood Festival of Speed’.


I sat at home and pondered both the Historic and classic cars I knew to be available, and then those I had never actually seen, but had always wanted to see. I was like a kid compiling his Christmas wish list. In effect Goodwood was providing all of us enthusiasts with a toy box, and here I was playing a role in loading it up with toys to be seen – to be heard – and in effect to be shared.

That was a most important aspect, and was viewed as such right from the outset. I had fond memories of being able to rub shoulders with the racing greats of the 1950s and '60s in the race paddocks of the world, and the effective wired-off exclusion zone of the modern-era race paddocks really disappointed me with their rejection of the paying spectator, and his or her kids. What I found especially repulsive was the notion of “the autograph slot” in which if the paying fan queued up long enough at a hole in the paddock fence some celeb driver might deign to report, backed by his PR minder, security and for all I knew his dietician too, and sign autographs for a few lucky hopefuls before getting on with his day job.

Hmmm – that made me scowl, and we pushed for the Goodwood Festival paddock to be open to all and sundry, so the supporting spectators and their kids could actually get as close to the cars, and the people and especially to the great drivers of today and yesterday, in exactly the way one could at Goodwood or Silverstone, or the Nurburgring or Monza, back in pre-industrialised Grand Prix racing days. I do recall being chuffed to pieces in later years when Nick Mason wrote to Charles with recommendations for the Festival’s progress, and one passage read “The paddock is a complete zoo – but don’t ever change it”. Nick’s a treasure. He just gets it.

The paddock is a complete zoo – but don’t ever change it

Nick Mason

But while that first Festival back in 1993 was going together in the home park at Goodwood House, it wasn’t quite the overwhelming build and preparation programme seen today. There were a few quite decent, but in retrospect canvas-smelling and creaky, marquees erected. There was a bridge built and panelled over the course adjacent to the paddock area (which was panelled the day before the event started and which saw Lord March himself up there wielding a paint brush the day before). And of course there were the straw bales laid out both to delineate (in those days some) of the course, and to provide some stark contrast in colour to the uniform white and black that his Lordship specified for the event overall. Nothing should detract from the parkland green, the strawbale yellow, and the dazzling flashiness of the speeding cars themselves. It was his commercial photographer’s eye, and it worked. And oh yes, there was a third duty for those straw bales, acting as a safety barrier to keep cars and motorcycles separated from the crowd.

But in places there were no straw bales, there was just a run-off lawn – and the picnicking crowd were separated from cars and riders by steel stakes and looped stripy tape – nothing more.

On the first morning the Estate gardener was down on hands and knees at the carriage circle, cropping over-enthusiastic stems of grass with hair-dressing scissors – but it had all come together, and although few of us on the inside realised it immediately, outside the lanes were filling up and a crowd much, much bigger than our most optimistic expectation was trying to come in.

Goodwood subsequently received a great letter from a local resident, reading along the lines that “Last weekend I was stuck in a massive traffic jam on the Singleton to Goodwood road. It was the worst congestion I remember since the last Goodwood Easter meeting on the old race circuit. And I want you to know I enjoyed every minute of it”.  Hey – that’s the ticket…


With support like that we just couldn’t lose.  So what else characterized that first Festival back in 1993?

As the Motor Sport magazine report put it: “To say that the meeting was a success would be a gross understatement. It exceeded everyone's wildest expectations, with crowds estimated to be in excess of 20,000 and an incredible entry in terms of quality. Here we had a pair of V16 BRMs, courtesy of Tom Wheatcroft and Nick Mason, the ThinWall Special, Carol Spagg's exquisite 158/159 Alfetta, a raft of Maseratis (250F, 250S, 300S and ‘Birdcage’) and Ferraris (166, 250MM, 500TRC, 275LM and 250GTO), not to mention six D-type Jaguars and various Astons (DB3, DB3S, DBR1 and DBR4, DB4GT and Zagato). The list went on and on, and incorporated a class for 500cc F3 cars and four for motorcycles.

“Among the personalities, 1962 TT-winner Innes Ireland with his bride of one week, the former Jean Howarth, drove an Aston Martin Vantage in the modern supercars demonstration, while Roy Salvadori drove Tony Brooks up the hill in Simon Draper's DB3S ‘63 EMU’. Elsewhere to be seen were Henry Taylor, Cliff Allison, John Cooper and John Coombs, who entered his D-Type for Mike Salmon and his Mk II Jaguar ‘BUY 12’ for former hill-climb champion Mike MacDowel, while Damon Hill made a run in the car of the type frequently driven to victory by his father on practice day. Event patron John Surtees was scheduled both to drive and ride in the competition, but after a fall from his 1952 Vincent in practice decided to sit out the timed runs”.


Tragically, the event was in fact marred by the fatal accident to 1948 Vincent motor-cycle rider Chas Guy, who fell after the finish line on the Saturday, a really chilling experience for all involved; the flipside of motor sporting spectacle, and majesty, and how the tone can change diametrically within a tenth-of-a-second…

But immediately before that inaugural Festival, I had been even more involved in cataloguing and verification for the inaugural Brooks Goodwood Auction Sale, which amounts to the other 50 per cent of my day job – more like 90 per cent on each of them, sometimes – since I’m a consultant to both Brooks/Bonhams and to Goodwood Motorsport.

After practice at that first FoS, Brooks hosted its inaugural 'Summer Vintage' sale of aircraft and automobiles, which included Vanwall ‘VW10’, ERA ‘R4D’, the ERA-Delage, the ex-Ruesch/Seaman/Poore Alfa 8C-35, the ex-Graham Hill World Champion 'Old Faithful' 1962 BRM P578 and the lobster-claw Brabham BT34, many of the lots coming from the former Mayman collection. Of those sold, the Vanwall made £528,000 and the ERA-Delage £140,800.

Class winners for the timed runs included David Cottingham’s pristine Jaguar XK120 lightweight, Gordon Bruce’s seemingly enormous Alan Mann-liveried Ford Falcon, dealer David Clarke’s ex-Phil Scragg HW-Alta, Simon Draper’s Aston Martin DB3S… and Frank Sytner in Sir Anthony Bamford’s ex-Ecosse Jaguar D-Type from my pal Brooks in Evert Louwman's sister car. 


The honour of the first sub-minute time for the 1.16-mile hill went to Danish Baron Otto Reedtz-Thott in his nimble Lotus 23. Frank Sytner posted a second class win in the Bamford ex-Maranello Concessionaires Ferrari 250GTO/64, and Simon Draper took his second class win in his Project 214 Aston Martin in the over 3-litre TT Car category.

The pre-1954 F1 and Formule Libre class was probably the most keenly anticipated, and it did not disappoint with Willie Green giving a masterful display in Carol Spagg's 158/159 Alfetta in its first competitive outing since being traded by the factory and subsequently rebuilt by Carol and Mike Poberejsky. To crown it all, Nick Mason took fourth FTD in that class with his V16 BRM – nobody slept while they were running.

Tony Merrick was another class winner in ERA ‘R1A’ as was Nigel Corner in his ex-Fangio '57 Monaco GP-winning Maserati 250F. Willie Green then set official FTD overall in Cedric Selzer's ex-van der Vyver Lotus 18.

The Earl of March Trophy for 500cc F3 cars was won by Ewan Cameron, who, with only one run in his Mk11Cooper, demolished the opposition while quickest motorcyclist was Ian Lawton with his 1966 Aermacchi.

We included a class for post-1966 F1 cars as a demonstration, to illustrate Goodwood's popularity as a test-track. Such mouth-watering machines as Matt Aitken's ex-Johansson Ferrari 156 Turbo, Lorina McLaughlin's ex-James Hunt McLaren M23 and Ron Dennis making his debut in a McLaren M14A graced the weekend. However, it was Green (Surtees TS20) who set the pace once more with an outright FTD of 56.34s, illustrating the tight confines of the course. Jonathan Palmer then served notice of how much road car technology has advanced by climbing just 0.01s slower in the McLaren F1 hypercar.

But for us – disappointment of the day was our old mate Denis Jenkinson, ‘Jenks’ of Motor Sport, for whom we had invented a class designed to give him a win there – a class for solo motorcycle riders over 70 years of age and under 5-foot 4 inches in height.  And d’you know what? The daft old devil was beaten into second place by Arthur Wheeler.

Images courtesy of The GP Library

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