As we circled the top of the hill, my heart rate gradually calmed—although it felt as if my chest had bottomed out at the start. With pro driver and McLaren Automotive instructor Tim Bridgman deftly commanding an orange whip-fast McLaren 720S, I’d just rocketed up the snaking, 1.16-mile hill climb course at Goodwood Estate, home to the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed since 1993. Held over four days on the rambling grounds of the Duke and Duchess of Richmond and Gordon in West Sussex, England, it’s a well-manicured meetup for hundreds of thousands of gearheads, many so nattily attired in their summer best that the people-watching (and celeb-spotting—hello, Richard Petty and Sir Jackie Stewart) alone warrants the price of admission. As moto enthusiast Keanu Reeves summed up the scene on his 2016 visit: “I’m gobsmacked” (YouTube it).
The McLaren GT, the brand’s first true grand-touring vehicle, racing past Goodwood House during a hill climb at the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed.
While there’s much to see (from supercar paddocks and product displays to forest rallies and action sports), do (how about a helicopter ride over the grounds?) and hear (the roar of engines, startling at first, settles into an almost soothing, souped-up symphony of white noise), Goodwood’s main draw is the hill climb, a sinuous stage for contemporary and classic models to prove their mettle against the clock. Your grandpa’s jalopies these are not: According to Goodwood, the total daily value of the racing vehicles exceeds $2.2 billion. It’s also a prized event for manufacturers to tease their latest wheels—especially so for McLaren Automotive, headquartered at the striking McLaren Technology Center in nearby Woking, Surrey. As Ian Digman, global head of product management, noted: “Goodwood has a very special place for McLaren. It’s our biggest show in our home market.”
Appropriately, on day one of Goodwood, the brand used the high-profile platform to make a major statement with the global dynamic debut (i.e., seeing the car in motion) of its first true grand tourer, the McLaren GT, a significant step for a brand synonymous with blazing supercars. After watching the midengine stunner glide up the hill, enthusiasts crowded the brand’s tented pavilion, McLaren House, for an up-close look. Under the tutelage of Design Director Rob Melville, the lightweight ride channels McLaren’s blink-and-miss it speed (0 to 60 mph in 3.1 seconds with a max speed of 203 mph) into a “continent crossing”-capable set of wheels with ample luggage space for the well-heeled road-tripper. As Global Marketing Director Jamie Corstorphine explained, the GT “fits into [customers’] lives a bit more flexibly and allows them to get that great, refined driving experience more days of the week and travel longer distances.”
Elegant, subtle details like machined aluminum controls elevate the GT’s interior with nuanced panache.
That ethos of calculated, purpose-oriented design for everyday use—but at its most elevated—crosses over into the brand’s out-of-auto extensions. Unmissable in the McLaren House VIP area was its partnership with Italian leather expert Schedoni on a handsome four-piece luggage set created specially for the GT, as well as the recently announced McLaren Vision Collection, a teamup with L’Amy Group yielding 3D-printed titanium frames and featuring Leica lenses custom engineered for five different types of activity, including driving, skiing and golfing. Of the company’s expansion into the lifestyle area, Corstorphine elaborated: “We want to take the McLaren brand out to a broader audience.”
In fittingly extravagant fashion, the event culminated in the lavish Festival of Speed party, an invite only fete at the palatial Goodwood House. When we pulled up to the stately manse in a handsome Blade Silver McLaren 720S, I was ushered to a rolling lawn where sophisticates in black tie toasted the week’s proceedings with clinking flutes of Veuve. After dinner and remarks in the home’s opulent Egyptian dining room, a spectacular scene unfolded outside as a jaw-dropping fireworks and video display saluted the festival’s theme, “Speed Kings, Motorsport Record Breakers.” By the time the last burst faded in the air, guests were more than ready to groove to the evening’s featured performer, Sister Sledge, whose lively performance matched the kinetic energy of the week’s on-course action. As partygoers crowded the dance floor, it recalled the driving DNA of this salute to motorsport, and what compels us to get behind the wheel in the first place: the irresistible desire to move.