Road cars

As someone who spends perhaps too much of his time trudging around the world’s motor shows, I found it difficult to underestimate the pleasure of going to the Goodwood Festival of Speed and attending a motor show without realising it.

Although the Moving Motor Show is now in its third year and going from strength to strength, to me this was the one in which the entire Festival raised itself to a new level. It’s no longer simply a hillclimb so popular it enjoys the patronage of car manufacturers, it’s the one weekend of the year when the UK car industry comes together to show its wares.

The structures they brought with them were just as big as they’d have been were this the NEC or London Arena, and possibly bigger, space being at less of a premium in Lord March’s garden. Rather than being an unrelieved expanse of stands, Goodwood offered showgoers the opportunity to dip in and out and spend the rest of time either keeping the kids happy at the junior Festival of Speed, or, of course, watching the world’s finest and most interesting machinery being flung up the hill by their heroes. As a one-stop shop for car enthusiasts, it’s unparalleled. For now.

The soaring success of the Festival will not have gone unnoticed around the world, nor will other countries be blind to the commercial opportunities it presents. I have long maintained that the traditional motor show is an entirely outdated concept.

The idea of trooping into a soulless building and walking around looking at cars under artificial light seems absurd to me. The cars don’t move and you can’t even hear them.

Before the last war people locked to Olympia because there was no other way of seeing the latest products. But now you can see, hear and watch all the latest cars at the click of a computer mouse. To be persuaded actually to get out of your chair, travel some distance and pay a lot of money to watch cars for real requires a really big draw – and that is what Goodwood provides.

From the car manufacturer’s point of view, doing it the Goodwood way puts them in touch with the greatest possible density of real prospects at a time when they’re relaxed and feeling passionate about cars. They may even film your product going up the hill and post the video on a social media site, helping with your own marketing.

Of course it can go spectacularly wrong, as the man in the Gumpert Apollo discovered this year when he became just the latest in a long line of supercar drivers who thought all that’s been said about the hill’s notorious Molecomb bend somehow didn’t apply to them. But for the most part, this year’s Festival passed off without incident.

The time will come when the world wakes up to what happens in West Sussex every year and realises that there really is a better and more imaginative way of connecting with your customers and prospects than simply parking cars on a plinth in the time-honoured fashion.

But it is hard indeed to imagine anyone doing it as well as Goodwood. If ever a brand was ripe for export, surely this is it? Given its name we should not have been surprised that the supercar run was so full of, er, supercars.

But I was still startled to see just how many new machines chose to be shown to the public for the irst time at Goodwood. Porsche brought over its new 918 Spider hybrid hypercar, though it did not run it, while Aston Martin paraded its new Vanquish. It’s an undeniably pretty car which has considerable presence but which still looks too derivative of the nearly 10-year-old DB9. Bentley chose Goodwood for the new Continental Speed to make its world debut while the likes of the BMW M6, Ferrari 458 Italia Spider and Toyota GT86 were seen here for the first time.

But my eye was drawn more to the less well known machinery in the supercar paddock. I’m always heartened by the fact that, whatever the economic climate, there’s always a band of have-a-go heroes happy to pump a load of their own money into a new brand or reviving an old one. Sometimes they succeed, more often they don’t, but I never fail to be impressed by their courage and commitment.

The great-looking Arash AF10 deserves to be taken seriously: the work of Arash Farboud, the man who designed the mightily impressive Ginetta G60 (nee Farbio GTS), it is an 850bhp, carbon-chassis, mid-engined monster, deliveries of which should start later this year.

I quite liked the look of the GTA Spano, a Spanish supercar powered by an 8.3-litre V10 motor supercharged to 820bhp. But the least familiar car on the hill was the de Macross Epique GT1. Korea’s only supercar, the Roushpowered mid-engined machine ran up and down all weekend with Justin Bell at the wheel.

He told me the development of the car was “90 per cent there” but it had not yet been decided whether it should go into production or not. You might have thought AC Cars was long gone but in fact it’s been quietly pumping out hand-built Cobras these last few years, and has now hooked up with old ally Zagato to produce the 378GT. Underneath that sleek Italian body lies sensible GM engineering in the shape of a stock 434bhp Corvette motor, so it should be both quick and reliable. At around £90,000 it faces a lot of stiff competition from Porsche, Aston Martin and Jaguar, but if AC can keep on top of the quality this may yet prove the new dawn for AC Cars predicted by its management. I wonder if Damon Hill will come to regret telling the Daily Telegraph that “most people aren’t safe to drive above 55mph”. For myself I’d be interested to learn of the evidence upon which he based the comment, not least because I really don’t want to think he’s as patronising as he sounds.

Some have said it’s a bit rich that Hill should be making such comments given the way even he admits he used to drive in his youth, but we’re all entitled to grow up and change our minds. What is so disappointing is that someone I always thought a highly intelligent man should resort to spouting such sprawling and unsupported generalisations in the press.

Are ‘most people’ really unsafe above 55mph? I don’t know, not least because I don’t know what Hill regards as ‘unsafe’. You simply cannot paint with such a broad brush and hope to emerge with a clear picture of what is a highly sensitive and complex topic.

For what it’s worth, I believe most people are entirely ‘safe’, insofar as they pose a minimal threat to themselves and other road users while driving at 55mph, so long as their equipment and conditions allow – which, most of the time, they do. The truth is, and I’m aware I’ve said this before, there are circumstances in which most people will be safe at 80mph and others when anyone would be lethal at 30mph. You simply cannot make a single sweeping statement, apply it across the board and expect to be taken seriously. I’d expect the more militant elements of the road safety lobby to elect not to understand the point, not a former Formula 1 World Champion.

Andrew Frankel