Muddy Goodwood is to motorheads what Glastonbury is to music

De facto British motor show sees Mazda unveil its hard-top MX-5 as Bristol brand hints at a return


What Glastonbury is to music, Goodwood has become to motoring fans. It was fitting that both events coincided last weekend, although the shadow of the Brexit vote cast a cloud over both gatherings.

On the grounds of the West Sussex estate of Lord March, thousands gathered to witness the hill climb by hundreds of classics, modern racers and luxury sports cars, with the occasional celebrity at the wheel. For those people watching, Keanu Reeves, Nico Rosberg, Ken Block and Valentino Rossi topped the bill.

Aside from the relatively high-speed parade of high-priced metal, the Festival of Speed also mixes in stands from the major manufacturers. In much the same way the National Ploughing Championship has become the de facto Irish car show, so this Festival is now the British motor show in all but name. Indeed the similarities with the Ploughing Championships ran through to the muddy setting after a deluge on Thursday.

Wellie-clad industry bosses mingled with well-heeled afficianados, past Le Mans and Formula One winners and millionaire collectors. While the first topic on most conversations was the Brexit vote, none of the company bosses cared to comment on its consequences for the British motor trade.

What it lacked, perhaps, was the high profile world exclusive new car reveal, but for all that there were several unveilings of cars new to European buyers.

Amongst the most high profile of these was Mazda’s new hard-topped MX-5. Billed as the RF, the fastback iteration of the award-winning sports car takes on a significantly different profile to the soft-top version.

More of a semi-convertible Targa Top than a full convertible with the roof folded back, the rear c-pillars remain in situ when the rooftop flips up and slides back into a slot over the boot.

The retractable hardtop consists of front, middle and rear roof sections, and a rear screen. When the top is lowered the front and middle portions are stowed together, while the rear glass sits behind the seats, leaving the rear roof section in place to create a unique open-topped look, and a cabin feeling that combines a sense of open air freedom with the impression of being securely ensconced within the car. The hardtop increases the overall height of the car by 5mm but other dimensions remain the same.

The real changes are on the c-pillar and the buttresses give the car a more aggressive stance than the soft-top, while the vertical rear window set back behind the rear seats, creates a look that’s reminiscent of the old Jaguar XJS. Admittedly it’s only in terms of overall format and certainly not in terms of scale: the MX-5 RF remains a small, tidy little package.

The car is due to arrive in Ireland towards the end of the year, with the RF expected to be a particular draw for male buyers.

Bristol is back?

Elsewhere, aside from the lure of the celebrities, another talking point was the return of the Bristol brand.

Bristol Cars, one of the most iconic and iconoclastic marques of all time, is headed for a potential revival and showcased the first fruits of its efforts at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. The Project Pinnacle concept, still wrapped in camouflage tape, is a clear throwback, at least in styling terms, to the classic 405 and 407 models of the 1950s. It has a traditional slow-slung shape, with anachronistic rear fins atop the boot, and simple, round single-element headlights either side of a large, jet-intake-like grille.

Speaking on behalf of Bristol Cars, Sir George White,whose father founded the Bristol Aircraft Company said: “these announcements underline the very exciting times at the company. Project Pinnacle signifies the re-birth of the brand with a design and character respectful of the company’s rich heritage in Great Britain - in aviation, commercial and luxury automotive - delivered with a modern approach to performance and comfort. This car, along with the investments in Kensington and Brentford, not to mention the advanced development of an all-new super-luxury grand tourer, all make for a very bright and promising future for this company that I hold so dear.”

The car uses a bought-in BMW V8 engine, although no-one’s saying anything about power outputs or performance as yet. With a weight figure suspected to be in the region of 1,500kg though, it’s certainly not going to be slow. The BMW engine itself is also something of a throwback to Bristol’s history - in 1945, representatives of the Bristol Aircraft Company ‘liberated’ BMW engine plans for its straight-six engines as part of war reparations, and the company diversified into making cars as well as as ‘planes.

Some commentators have said that the use of a relatively simple BMW engine is a disappointment, as there had been talk of a high-tech hybrid, which would have been in keeping with the electric car expertise of Bristol’s owner since 2012, the Frazer-Nash Group.

One who thinks it’s not disappointing is Nick McGarvey. Having worked all his life in finance, McGarvey, from Gloucestershire in the UK, bought a Bristol “because my wife walked into the office with a cutting from a Sunday paper and said ‘when we sell the business, you can buy me one of these…’”

One of these turned out to be a Bristol Fighter - a radical, light, highly aerodynamically efficient gullwing-door two-seater using an 8.3-litre Chrysler V10 engine. Only ten were ever built, and McGarvey reckons that his is one of only four on the road at the moment. As to the possibility of a new production Bristol, he’s keen…

“First of all, it’s gorgeous. I’ve seen it a couple of times now and it’s just drop-dead gorgeous” McGarvey told The Irish Times. “And the quality is very good. If it’s not quite up to Pagani Zonda levels, then it’s in that area. It’s funny - you go and see something like this and you expect it to be a pig, and then they take the covers off and suddenly it’s gorgeous.

“As for the engine, this thing is that under Frazer-Nash ownership, there was a lot of talk about a hybrid, about a McLaren P1-beater. But Bristol has, shall we say, a chequered past and this was certainly the safe option. If they’d gone straight for a hybrid and it hadn’t worked properly, then that would have been all anyone talked about, so this is a good way to ease the brand back into public consciousness.”

Bristol became famous, possibly infamous, for its unique approach to both building and selling cars over the years. Such celebrities as Noel Gallagher, Bono, Peter Sellers and Eric Clapton have owned Bristols over the years, and for decades the sole outlet was a showroom in west London presided over by the mercurial Tony Crook. Crook became the soul and heart of Bristol (he decreed that all models should have space for four, high performance and a tight turning circle) but also its spleen - his temper was short, his anger long and never more so than when dealing with journalists who dared to review his creations.

The company went bust in 2011, but the Frazer-Nash takeover has been carefully planning a return to car production, and Project Pinnacle should evolve into a full production car next year, if all goes well. So far, Bristol has committed to building just 70 cars, at a still-undisclosed price. Will Nick McGarvey buy one? “I’ve discussed it with the wife and we might do, although it being a speedster and us living in the UK might mean that there are a limited number of days on which we can actually use it. Maybe if they do a coupe…”