The present UK government, like many socialist-leaning administrations, does not like cars. Besides complaints – sometimes justified – about pollution and congestion, a lot of the hatred of the car contains a puritan impulse (sometimes this is also seen among a certain tweedy sort of conservative). Congestion charges, petrol taxes, speed cameras, road bumps… you name it, owning a car will soon be on a par with smoking, eating red meat, or confessing to enjoying recreational sex.
Well, I have bad news for the puritans. I spent last Saturday in total petrol-head heaven – the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed in west Sussex, and the event was a total sellout. I saw the Lotus of the late Ayrton Senna driven immaculately on a wet track at 150 mph and hear the unbelievably high noise that a F1 car makes. Vintage Maseratis, Ferraris, Lotuses and BRMs vied with Le Mans endurance cars such as the Ford GT40 or the Gulf Porsche (of the kind that Steve McQueen drove in the movie, Le Mans). Magic. There is an almost sensual pleasure involved in the sight, shape, noise, and yes, the smell, of a very fast car.
The crowds were large although not so big as to impede my enjoyment. From what I could see, Britons remain firmly in love with cars, including very fast and noisy ones. I would not presume to check the political/cultural views of the crowds, but I would guess the bias would be towards liberal (small l), fairly pro-enterprise, pro-fun, and not very keen on environmentalism and high taxes. If I were Conservative Party leader Michael Howard, then the Goodwood Festival of Speed clientele would be the sort of folk I would have in mind as a target constituency. I would call it the ‘Jeremy Clarkson Voter Segment’.
The Goodwood event also reminded me of something else, which is the high number of South Africans, Finns and Scots who have excelled as drivers over the years. I wonder why that is?