1972. Best remembered for the Watergate scandal, The Godfather and the spandex onesie. But for petrosexuals with more mature tastes, you may know it as the last year your car can be manufactured if you want to avoid paying Vehicle Excise Duty; the legislators recognise it as an historic vehicle and figure you’ve got enough on your plate without having to worry about road rent.
It’s also the year we intend to inhabit wholeheartedly during a trip to classic car festival, Goodwood Revival, from the top secret Top Gear lair, just off London’s glittering Westway. That means we’ll only be wearing clothes, listening to music, using roads, buying fuel, fixing our car, taking pictures, and telling the time in a way you could back in ‘72. And it’s not going well…
Skilfully limboing under the VED threshold is Top Gear’s 1963 Jaguar E-Type - a car equipped with the sort of fripperies you wouldn’t expect from a classic (independent suspension, a functioning heater, and a cooling system that doesn’t detonate at the sight of traffic). Though the electrical system’s not quite up to contemporary standards…
Every light - inside and out - has stopped working. And it’s dark. And we can’t use our dizzyingly modern mobile telecommunications devices to light up the fuse box tucked behind the dash. Matches seem, for obvious reasons, foolish, so we’ve resorted to waiting for the brief windows of headlight from passing cars to locate, remove and examine the fuses. Turns three of them have fried. We only packed one spare. Headlights seem the most important, so in abject darkness we continue south to West Sussex.
Only thing is, we can’t actually go south because the M25 wasn’t built till 1986 - we’d have to wait 14 years for the pleasure (which, incidentally, isn’t far off the average delay time). Down through Twickenham, Kingston and Cobham instead. By the time we’ve reached Guildford on the A3 (not far from the Top Gear track, a simple airbase in ‘72) the sun’s up and the traffic’s reached fidgeting stasis.
The vagaries of fate have put our junction to Haslemere close ahead - we need fuel, but this is 1972 so we can’t just duck into the nearest Shell. Time for a splash of four star. Banned in ‘98 you say? Luckily, some beards from the classic car community rallied against the veto - modern fuel needs hardened exhaust valves and seats for use in old engines, and limited quantities of leaded petrol have been available since 2000. Only there are just a handful of retailers, hence our off-piste diversion.
With the distant cough of polar bears ringing in our ear, we lunge through chocolate box villages towards Chiswick, the E’s 3.4-litre six-pot gently churning ahead. Time for a sense check. And we appeared to be eight days, seven hours and fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. Either that or that or our 1964 Omega Seamaster De Ville broke last week.
Even though everything seems to implode with alarming regularity, living in the early seventies isn’t entirely unpleasant. Especially when you’re in an E-Type. In 2012, it’s a head-turner. But back in 1961 when it was launched, it must have looked utterly bonkers alongside the contemporary Rovers and Humbers - as Jeremy says, “You’d been to a bakery, queued for a week for a loaf of bread in black and white and you were overtaken by one of these - what was THAT?!”
Quite. Then there’s the price. Back then, the equivalent Ferrari was £6000. This was £2098. And, as a genuine 150mph car, it was faster… But it wasn’t a cheap me-too sportser. The eponymous Enzo Ferrari described it as “the most beautiful car ever made”, and its roster of celebrity owners quickly grew to include Steve McQueen, Tony Curtis, Roy Orbision, Count Basey, and Brigitte Bardot.
Even Jag’s current design director, Ian Callum, says: “It is impossible to overstate the impact the E-Type had when it was unveiled in 1961. Here was a car that encapsulated the spirit of the revolutionary era it came to symbolise.”
And that revolutionary era was waiting at Goodwood. Still well and truly installed in the era - and sweating from the thick circa-1965 tweed jacket we found in James’ locker - the serpentine roads to Revival hove into view. As does the smell of unburnt fuel and Castrol 20W-50. Just enough time for a Spam sandwich before we slip into our spandex onesie, then.
Keep clicking for event pics…