It’s freezing. The sun is bright but low, a very fresh morning breeze is sweeping across the Goodwood greenery from the sea and I’m sitting in what seems like the most exposed driving seat in the entire Northern Hemisphere: the solitary bucket of an early Range Rover Drivable Chassis (DC), essentially a vehicle with all the running gear of a 1970 Range Rover but no body whatsoever.
I’m about to drive this contraption on a lap of the Goodwood Motor Circuit at the head of a 50-vehicle parade to mark the half-century of Britain’s king off-roader. It’s one of three built at the end of the 1960s to demonstrate to Land Rover corporate traditionalists how the soon-to-launch Range Rover’s newfangled coil-sprung, self-levelled suspension and permanent four-wheel drive system would work. Only two DCs still exist, and they have become important industrial artefacts, so I’m honoured to be allowed behind the wheel. All around me are better-qualified Range Roverists who would kill for this opportunity.
A couple of months ago, any kind of Goodwood gathering would have been out of the question. The fine old estate’s three annual flagship motoring events had been summarily cancelled. Their founder, the Duke of Richmond, was appealing to his members and backers to form a new group, the Goodwood Supporters’ Association, to help stave off impending financial difficulties for the estate – an extraordinary turn of events for an organisation always associated with opulence.
Still, it must have worked. The concept of the Goodwood Speedweek was hurriedly born as an online spectacle with no crowds and no tickets, just an essential cast consisting of real live racers, key supporters, some members of the media and an imaginative programme based much more on goodwill and hard work than money. And it soon emerged that part of that programme would be anniversaries.
My mission on this pre-race day – Thursday – was first to parade the DC, then to join an Audi group celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Quattro’s launch with a Hillclimb procession, a lunch in Goodwood House and finally a ‘brisk’ circuit parade, this time of Quattro models of various persuasions. For this, I was furnished with an early-build 2008 Audi R8 Quattro, one of Audi UK’s fine fleet of heritage cars, which I had driven in the dark early morning from Gloucestershire.
But first the Range Rovers. After assembly in Goodwood House’s fetchingly named Ballroom Car Park, our convoy proceeded down the drive at 10am sharp, turned left for half a mile on Kennel Hill, went across a roundabout and turned right into the circuit. After photography (it was great to work again with former Autocar chief smudger Stan Papior) and a greeting from His Lordship (who was disarmingly delighted to see us all), we drove out onto the track, camera car in the lead.
The DC had been spitting and misfiring. Apparently these engines aren’t used to being unveiled to passing breezes and it was cold. But a tickle of the choke to 40mph or so cleared its throat, as its custodian from the Range Rover Register had assured me it would. In the driving, I wasn’t as cold as I had expected: the big alloy V8’s radiator kept throwing heat my way (propelled by the fan) and a fat silver silencer just below and behind my right heel was soon dispensing heat as well.