The early fall months in Europe are the best; the Alpine passes are free of snow, the bars and cafes are full, grapes are ripening on the vines—and there is an abundance of great car events to attend, roads to drive, new places to visit. Now that the leaves are turning, let’s take a look.
YOUNG PEOPLE, OLD CARS
The United Kingdom’s Goodwood Revival is one of the best early autumn European car events. It’s uniquely British; a celebration of everything great about Great Britain. The excuse is a vintage car race, but the experience entails so much more.
Every detail of the event is vintage British in the finest tradition, from the vintage buses that bring spectators into the racing circuit, to the historic, on-site World War II airfield, where demonstrations of Spitfires, P51 Mustangs, and other WWII ace flying machines occur. The racecourse, dating back to 1948, originated as the perimeter road around the RAF airfield that occupied the site during the war. Serious motor racing took place there through 1966.
Thus, the Revival celebrates the time period during which the circuit and airfield were originally operational, and every detail is painstakingly correct—including the clothing styles worn by the spectators.
Vintage style is paramount at Goodwood; you’d look quite daft not wearing a stylish, era-correct getup for the weekend. Only gentlemen wearing jackets and ties, for example, are allowed in the racing car paddock. (I wore a Harris tweed jacket, wool vest, short tie, and flat cap in the proper British spirit.) The spectators, in effect, become a major part of the show—the people-watching alone is worth the trip to attend.
Cars and our relationship with them remain very relevant to British popular culture—and the Goodwood Revival is proof. The number of young people in attendance was especially impressive—entire families came dressed in period costumes to revel in the intoxicating, full-immersion British experience that Goodwood provides. No American motoring event even comes close in terms of such an all-encompassing happening.
And the organizers actively encourage and promote the participation of the younger generation—an important path to the future of vintage car “hobbying.” A race was staged for the children, and they participated by “driving” 1950s-era Austin pedal cars. The entrants—some as young as four years old—wore kiddie-size driving suits and exhibited obvious pride in the unique paint schemes of their cars. The kids racing in their kiddie-cars were as spirited as the old guys racing in the old cars. Competition among the parents was palpably fierce.
In the U.S., we see too few young people at our vintage car gatherings. Perhaps we do a poor job of making the cars and their history relevant to them in the era of iPhones and Facebook, a world where social networking has replaced actual socializing. The Goodwood Revival exists in a different world, and it was quite magical to spend a few days immersed in it. For a moment, it seemed that the crowd believed it had been transported back to 1965. But as the awesome Tourist Trophy race (one of the original races that made Goodwood famous) started—to the sound of Ferrari GTOs and Shelby Cobras spinning their tires and roaring off toward Madgwick Corner with great ferocity (it’s common for owners to hire professional drivers to race their cars with little regard for their value, even to point of crashing them)—everyone had their iPhones out to document it.
MERCEDES-BENZ C180—THE JOYS OF A EUROPEAN – SPEC MBZ
For the first time, I’m writing a car review while actually sitting in the car, hurtling down an Italian autostrada at 140 km/h, typing on an iPad in the passenger seat as my brother, Howard, deftly navigates the light traffic outside Genoa on a Sunday morning. We have at our disposal a Mercedes C180, the most basic European version of the Mercedes C-Class sedan.
You don’t see Mercedes that are this delightfully simple in the United States. This version gets a four-cylinder engine with a six-speed manual transmission; a throwback to the old days, and delightful to use. It is sad to some enthusiasts that Mercedes no longer offers manual gearboxes in the U.S.—there is simply no demand for them here.
The C180’s taut suspension and superbly precise steering was perfect for the mountain passes of Europe, including Switzerland’s Klausen Pass and the infamous Passo dello Stelvio in northern Italy, with its 40-plus hairpin corners within just a few miles.
Seven years ago, I undertook a similar European road trip using only Michelin road maps for guidance. No GPS, no iPhone. Today it’s hard to imagine how this was possible—the C180’s excellent, in-dash GPS was in operation constantly during this year’s 6000-kilometer trip and aided immensely in finding some fairly obscure Tuscan castles and Spanish Pyrenees hideaways.
With a base price of around 28,000 euros (in Germany), it is by far one of the most impressive cars driven all year. It had just the right amount of everything one would want in a car, and nothing excessive. This is the perfect car for a serious, European road trip.
David Swig is a car enthusiast and a regular participant in historic car activities, including circuit racing, road tours, and Concours d’Elegance. He is an expert on specialty collector cars, especially sports racing cars (1950s thru 1980s). David and his brother, Howard, are carrying on the California Mille for their father, Martin, who founded the car tour in 1991.