This man has always been just a little different. He couldn’t wait to get out of Eton College – he left at 17 – and cars were seemingly destined to be in his blood. He also happens to be the driving force behind the Goodwood Festival of Speed and the Goodwood Revival.
The subject gripping our conversation is not so much travel, but rather how we arrive. Of course, it’s all about cars. ‘My grandfather launched the Goodwood Motor Circuit in 1948, and I’ve grown up in or around cars my whole life,’ he tells me in his measured, mellifluous tone. The Duke dreamed up the Festival of Speed at Goodwood in 1993, partly to help with the monumental upkeep costs of the 4 856-hectare estate in the verdant Sussex hills. ‘Goodwood is steeped in motor-racing history, so I was keen to bring motorsport back here again,’ he tells me.
For a man who has access to the most exotic and rare vehicles in the world, the conversation didn’t take long to gravitate towards those exact things. ‘One of the most beautiful coupés ever made is my mid-’50s Lancia Aurelia, which was incredibly advanced for the era. It’s a classic piece of modernist design, but sadly, I rarely get to drive it. There are just too many great cars and not enough time.’
Given Rolls-Royce Motor Cars has been based on the Goodwood Estate since 2003, the subject of modern versus classic cars came up. ‘Naturally, there’s a Rolls-Royce Ghost in the automotive stable, but my favourite Rolls is a one- off Phantom coupé that was built especially for the Festival of Speed as a course car. It’s orange inside and has an orange coachwork line. It sounds terrible, but it’s ice cool.’
After his ‘dream car’ – the Porsche 911 GT2 RS – was officially launched at the Festival two years ago, he promptly went and bought one. It now sits in his garage along with an Audi RS6 and several Land Rovers, one of which is the Defender Works V8 70th Edition – the most powerful production Defender ever built.
There is no doubt that technological breakthroughs have made modern cars better to drive in many respects, but those classic designs of yesteryear were drawn by hand to create so many unique body shapes. ‘Today’s cars are technology-rich and economical, but classic cars emphasised design purity and an analogue driving experience.’
Think of the 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO, which was built by hand and was noted for its beauty and sheer driving exhilaration, versus the Ferrari 812 Superfast – which is blisteringly fast and integrated for the increasingly connected lives we all lead. So, are the best cars modern and exotic or rare and beautiful? The Duke’s answer is perhaps surprising.
‘A while back, I tried some high-speed driving at Bonneville Salt Flats, in the US, and I fell in love with the hot rods.’
Of the 1929 Ford Model A he shipped back to England, he says, ‘If the devil was a car, this would be it – because it looks as if it’s been dredged up from the bottom of a lake. Since then, I have gone off the idea of owning very expensive cars but have rather warmed to the idea of curating my own unique vehicle.’