Goodwood Revival - Wind Back the Clock

Every year the great and the good of motorsport gather for a weekend of period dress and vintage racing at the Goodwood Revival

Mr James Whitham and Mr Niall Mackenzie are down in the country for the weekend. It's going to be a topping few days of sport as our two heroes tear around the track on their fine machines, filling the air with an aroma of hot oil and warm rubber.

The sun is shining across the Sussex downs, and all around chaps with spanners poking out of their back pockets are fettling racing machines. Mr Mackenzie has brought his man, Mr 'Diddy' Daryll Young, to fetch refreshing drinks and to prepare leathers, fettle riding equipment and generally to look after his master's needs.

Plea_se, ladies and gentlemen, wind your timepieces back to the 1940s and join Visordown from the Goodwood Revival. It's going to be a weekend of dashing gents and glamorous fillies, of fantastic machinery with two and four wheels - and even a few with wings and propellers.

Mr Whitham is no stranger to Goodwood, for it was only this summer that our great friend made a complete dumpling of himself at the Festival of Speed with a dramatic misjudgement that resulted in the Triumph motorcycle company's TT-winning 600cc machine being summarily chopped into four pieces by one of Lord March's gateposts.

But we won't dwell on that, because the only nose that was really put out of joint was Mr Whitham's, and everybody is more than happy to have the chap back again. Indeed he is essential, for the last two years it is young Whitham who has taken the fight to that colonial cove Mr Wayne Gardner in the Revival weekend's motorcycle races. A tussle that has always raised the pulses around the track as well as on it.

Before we open shooting sticks, fill hip flasks and settle ourselves down to watch the racing, for the benefit of those of you who have been serving overseas with your regiment or have perhaps been tending to your tea plantations, I will now take the opportunity to tell you a little about this fine event.

A racing circuit was established at Westhampnett aerodrome three years after the last big show (although we don't, of course, like to mention the war) and was used for racing for another 20 years. Mostly the races were for motor cars driven by aces such as Stirling Moss, Graham Hill and dashing foreign johnnies such as Juan Manuel Fangio; but motorcycles also raced there.

From '67 Goodwood was used only for testing, but in '98 Lord March (after much to-ing and fro-ing with wheelbarrow loads of dirt to build earth ramparts so that the people in the village nearby didn't have their naps disturbed by the noise of racing machines) announced the inception of the Goodwood Revival road races.

Because there's no more stirring sight than that of a chap dressed neck to foot in leather, leaning his motorcycle into a fast bend throttle wide-open, a couple of motorcycle races are included in the weekend's sport. For the past two years, the races have been called 'The Barry Sheene Memorial Trophy' as a mark of respect to the great cockney motorcycle champion who raced at Goodwood even though he was fighting a great battle against illness. It is such pluck and determination that is the essential spirit of Goodwood.

Mr Niall Mackenzie, dressed elegantly in tweeds and cap (and with the early indications of some fine sub-nasal topiary) is on his first visit to Goodwood. "I'd heard that this was a wonderful event," he says, "but I didn't realise that it was so well done. Such attention to detail - mind you, I'd have thought that Whitham would have got his man to pack some rather smarter clothes - and so much to see that you don't know where to look."

The Scottish ace is riding a 500cc Manx Norton from '61, very similar to the Manx Nortons being ridden by Whitham, Gardner and top amateur riders Duncan Fitchett and Gordon Russell. However, Mackenzie's mount is fitted with 19-inch wheels and its engine with a chain primary drive. The other chaps' bikes have 18-inch wheels, for which are available slightly stickier tyres, and a belt instead of a chain on the primary drive. This gives Mackenzie rather a handicap, which, together with absolutely no knowledge of where the track goes, means that the old fellow will have lots of work to do.

At many motor racing events the egos of some of the competitors can get slightly out of control. We're glad to say that at Goodwood this is not all the case. First of all, everyone - including the riders and drivers - are here to have an absolutely jolly time. Secondly, there are so many tottering around the place who have achieved such great fame and success in their sport that they really don't have anything left to prove.

It would be rather silly for a competitor to swagger into the drivers' enclosure (which for some reason is out of bounds to gentlemen of the press) and do the big 'I am' when sitting in there taking tea and biscuits are 17 former world champions, three fighter pilots, four rock stars and Rowan Atkinson (a variety artiste of some note).

But now we must hasten to the assembly area for Saturday's motorcycle race. The riders are at present being briefed in the drivers' room by Mr Gardner - who, reports Whitham, "Usually stands up and lectures about it being important that we put on a show, and that it's not really just a race, before going out and riding his backside off."

As the riders return to their machines, Mr Oliver Tennent (whose task it is to capture the weekend's excitement on celluloid) and myself notice retired racing motorist Gerhard Berger of Austria striding towards his Manx Norton. Good spirit for a chap accustomed to the stability of a motor car to risk all on two wheels. But what on earth has happened to Mr Berger's riding apparel? Instead of the regulation black, it is covered in flashes of orange with advertisement lettering emblazoned upon it.

Unfortunately, Mr Mackenzie's Norton suffered mechanical problems in Friday's practice sessions and our plucky Scotsman is having to start from 19th place on the grid. On the front row is Wayne Gardner, Duncan Fitchett, James Whitham and Tim Jackson, an amateur racer of great talent.

Now I know that many of you fellows ride machines from the Orient and are not familiar with grand old names such as Matchless, Velocette, Aermacchi and Norton, but these machines are much more rapid than you might imagine. Wayne Gardner has circulated in 1m31.548sec, at an average speed of 94.37mph.

What to ride at the Goodwood Revival

Before Yamaha introduced its first TD and TR  two-stroke production racers in the late '60s, the Manx Norton was the tool of choice for the private rider whose talent often exceeded their budget. Dozens of riders would scrimp and save, buy a Manx and an old van, and spend their summers in Europe racing and living off start money (and, if lucky, some prize money). It was exactly the bohemian the way of life privateers would later follow in the '70s with Yamaha's TZ production racers. Yamaha's earlier TR/TD2 air-cooled production racers sounded the end of the British racer, but incredibly the Manx would score its last GP victory as late as 1969, when Godfrey Nash won the Yugolsav GP.

The Manx Nortons that Whitham, Fitchett, Gardner and Mackenzie rode at Goodwood are all modern recreations built using modern methods (such as CNC machining) but from many of the original patterns.

The first three of those riders were on bikes built and prepared by Molnar Precision Engineering, founded by Andy Molnar in 1979, initially producing stainless steel parts for classic bikes before acquiring the rights to manufacture Manx Norton engines in 1994.

The rules for the Goodwood races state that the bikes must use engines with a bore size of no more than 90mm. This is a little different from the Classic Racing Motorcycle Club rulebook, in which ultra short-stroke engines with 95mm bores are allowed. These produce around 63bhp at 9000rpm, whereas the 90mm bore engine gives about 55bhp at 8200rpm.

It doesn't sound much, but you're looking at a bike that weighs about 125kg. The brakes look as though they came off grandad's bicycle, but the four leading-shoe drum brakes can be very effective. A top Manx with a good rider can lap Brands Hatch's Indy circuit in about 53sec, which compares with 50sec on a modern 600 in club racing.

What will really stagger you is the price of these bikes. You're looking at £20-25,000 plus VAT. Most people in classic racing own theirs, but some ride bikes for enthasiasts who love old bike racing but are no longer up for doing it themselves.

And they're off! What a splendid sight as the field roars off towards Madgwick corner. Lap after lap the leading group - Gardner, Whitham, Fitchett and Jackson - dice for the lead. And then disaster, as the valiant Jackson tumbles from his machine on lap six. Two laps later Gardner hurtles across the line merely 0.357sec behind Whitham.

Mackenzie puts in a sterling performance, especially considering that he only completed one lap in practice and was really learning the track as he went along. Let us all doff our hats in recognition of Niall's stunning seventh place. As the afternoon draws to a close, a trio of Spitfires tumble and turn about the sky as a nostalgic tear trickles slowly down the cheek of every Englishman present.

Sunday dawns with Visordown's gallant riders fresh from the previous night's party. Alas, it seems that both our boys were awakened to the thunder of Alka Selzer exploding in the glass.

Mr Mackenzie, for one, presents himself on the grid for the weekend's second motorcycle race surrounded by a self-made fog. "This is a first for me," he declares. "For when I was a professional motorcycle racer I would steer clear of a pre-race snifter. But last night the atmosphere of the party let down the guard, and this morning I'm looking at the world through a proper highland mist."

James Whitham, another who claims to have been unknown at the bar when a racer, failed to say 'when' as the champagne was decanted with vigour into his flute. "Every year it gets better," says Huddersfield's finest. "You're surrounded by the heroes of your youth. I had pictures of Mick Grant up on my wall when I was a teenager."

As did many of us. Mr Grant - who, like Whitham, hails from the frozen north of the country - hadn't raced a motorcycle since '85 and had never seen Goodwood. Jolly good show, then, that Michael managed 11th in the first race.

"I also sat near Ray Hanna," remarks Whitham. "The chap pretty much invented display flying in warbirds. I love aircraft so he's a hero of mine, too."

The second race is just as exciting as the first, with many chaps around the course losing their hats in the excitement. Sadly, Mr Gardner's conveyance suffers a mechanical breakdown on the first lap, leaving the way clear for Whitham and Fitchett to duke it out for the lead.

"Yesterday I rode quite cautiously for fear of repeating the embarrassment of the Festival catastrophe," confesses James after crossing the line some way aft of Fitchett. "But this morning the head was too muddled for such planning, and I just rode the thing. Well done to Duncan for a great ride to win. I'm a bit cross with myself that I didn't take him, because I was lapping a bit quicker."

Niall Mackenzie ends the race ninth. "An engine mounting bolt came out." he says. "The vibration was so bad I couldn't feel the handlebars. Never mind, I've had a wonderful time. Next year I'm going to do a bit more preparation."

So, in all, a splendid end to a splendid event. If you love dressing up, adore speed in all its forms and want to meet a few heroes, then dispatch your gentleman's personal gentleman pronto to procure tickets for next year's beano.

What to wear at the Goodwood Revival

Of course, as Visordown readers are a cut above the rest, we are rather telling granny how to suck eggs. But for those of you joining us from less stylish periodicals, here is some sartorial advice for looking the part at Goodwood. Chaps down from town should aspire to the look of a character from one of Mr Wodehouse's comic novels: blazer, turn-up flannels, cravat, Brylcreem, Panama or Homburg hat, spotted handkerchief, rolled-up umbrella, cigarette holder, eye-glass. Or, if you're going for the 'country' effect: sports jacket, trousers and braces, check shirt, tweed hat or flat cap, woven tie, pipe, binoculars in leather case, shooting stick.

Ladies from town should wear floral summer frock or twin set and pearls, 'church' hat, fox fur, small handbag, gloves, rouge. Or, from the country, a voluminous dress clinched with wide belt, slender high heels, glamorous hat, sleek gloves, seamed nylon stockings, liberal make-up with polished 'de rigeur' look, dark eyeliner and false lashes, bright lipstick.

If your budget is modest, splendid results can be had from nosing around charitable emporia. Especially those in towns such as Eastbourne, where owners might until recently have been wearing this period kit every day. If you want to do the job properly, however, and look as good as Mackenzie and his man, you need to visit an outfitter that specialises in quality clothes for the gentleman, Such as Old Hat in the Fulham Road (020 7610 6558) or Bertie Wooster, also in Fulham (020 7352 5662).