This is the ultimate petrolhead event bucket list – the greatest shows, festivals, historic racing and rallying, and classic car concours in the world
We’re not asking for sympathy… but this wasn’t an easy list to compile. However, these ten events, shown in alphabetical order, were still clear winners.
Some cost more than an average year’s wage to take part in but some are free to attend. All should be on your bucket list, because what’s a bucket list for if not once-in-a-lifetime, ‘if I won the lottery’ petrol-fuelled fantasies?
Tell us what you think in the comments below. Do you have your own top ten wish list? We want to know!
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Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance
Amelia Island, Jacksonville, Florida, USA
It’s ‘just’ cars in a field (well, a golf course), and it’s not even a series of events like at Monterey. And yet this is the favourite event of so many global showgoers. Why? Because it’s relaxed and entertaining, it’s jam-packed with some of the greatest cars in the world, and there are enough auctions and sideshows to keep you busy for three or more days. It takes place on the north-east coast of Florida in March every year, when flights are cheap. You can’t fail to enjoy it.
Bonneville Speed Week
Bonneville Salt Flats, Wendover, Utah, USA
Don’t expect luxury here. What you see is what you get, and that’s harsh white salt flats as far as the eye can see, blistering sun and the crisp rasp of engines tuned to within cubic inches of their lives. And a lot of men (and a few women) in baseball caps and Bonneville T-shirts of varying vintages helping to coax those engines into life. Every now and again a car or motorcycles roars off the line and spears off into the distance as onlookers hold their collective breaths until the run has been completed safely. At which point they hold their breaths until the timekeeper confirms the top speed. It’s madness, increasingly at threat due to the deterioration of the salt flats, and a strange piece of heaven for any petrolhead.
Chantilly Arts et Élégance Richard Mille
Château de Chantilly, Oise, France
If you’re not sure about the hardship of a rally or long-distance event, and feel that even Goodwood might be a bit too frenetic for you, there here’s the antidote. Possibly the most civilised classic car event ever know, a concours that concentrates on the elegance of the cars, the people and the surroundings – the last of which is the renowned French chateau 45km north of Paris. There are equestrian displays, fashion shows, art classes and even rides on classic boats. Amid it all are some of the greatest cars ever made, not just old ones but brand new concept cars and coachbuilts too. We feel relaxed just thinking about it.
Goodwood Festival of Speed
Goodwood House, Chichester, Sussex, UK
New cars, old cars, future cars, cars you’ve never seen before, legendary drivers, current race and rally stars, stunt riders, stunt drivers, the hillclimb, the rally stage, the off-road courses, the concours, the huge manufacturer stands, the open-access paddocks, the beautiful Goodwood estate, the latest crazy sculpture in front of wonderful Goodwood House. It’s not a cheap day out but do it just once, at least. Actually, try to do two days, because it’s not possible to cover everything in a single day.
Goodwood Motor Circuit, Chichester, Sussex, UK
Others have tried to match the ambience, the theatre, the excitement of the Revival, but none has come close. Even if you haven’t been, you’ll probably know that everything is kept roughly pre-1966, and that visitors are encouraged to dress in period – to the point that you’ll feel like the odd one out if don’t. The most exciting racing, of the standing ovation type, wonderful displays and sideshows, and the greatest atmosphere of any historic race meeting, period. Oh, and even the classic car park is better than most other shows.
La Carrera Panamericana
Mexico, South America
Take the atmosphere, excitement, speed and danger of the Mille Miglia – and double them. Actually, in the case of the danger, probably best to quadruple them. And instead of Ferraris amongst the frontrunners, substitute wild 1950s American machinery, built strong and painted in gaudy livery (though all manner of other cars take part too, all 1940-65). La Carrera Panamericana, a retrospective since 1988 of the original 1950-54 road race, speeds 3000km through Mexico at high speed every October, to the excitement of competitors and spectators alike.
Le Mans Classic
Circuit de la Sarthe, Le Mans, Pays de la Loire, France
There’s something about Le Mans. Those tall cedar trees, the sandy soil underfoot, the forests, the Dunlop bridge, the sight of race cars at full speed on the Mulsanne Straight in the middle of the night – it’s truly magical. The ‘proper’ 24 Hours of Le Mans is incredible, but the Classic is in many ways better, because the crowds are smaller, the visitors more civilised, and the cars more evocative. The racing isn’t continuous because it’s broken into six different classes (’plateaus’) which get three races each throughout the 24 hours. But the sight of, say, a 917, tearing past, lights ablaze, makes up for the pauses between races.
If you haven’t experienced it, you may wonder if the Mille Miglia is as mad as you’ve heard. It is. The Italians go wild for it, just as they did in its heyday between 1927 and 1957 – though back then the competitors raced the full 1000 miles non-stop. Nowadays it’s open to cars of a type that competed in the original, and it takes places over three days, but it’s still a challenge. Most of all, you won’t forget the experience of policemen waving you through red lights, police motorcycle riders urging you to go faster, and crowds cheering your way through every village, town and city. If you can’t take part, just book yourself into one of those locations and watch the historic automotive circus come to town.
Monterey Car Week
Monterey, California, USA
We’ve cheated a bit here, bringing an entire week of events into one week. But at least two of those events – Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and Monterey Motorsports Reunion – would have made it into the Top Ten anyway. Pebble is the most famous concours in the world, and you’ll see cars there that you’ll never see anywhere again, while the Motorsports Reunion is great racing at the superb Laguna Seca circuit. On top of those you have The Quail, Concorso Italiano, Concours on the Avenue, the Little Car Show, Ferraris at the Barn, Legends of the Autobarn, Werks Reunion, the utterly brilliant (and hilarious) Concours d’LeMons and more, including eight major auctions. Despite heavy traffic and high costs, it’s a remarkable week in a beautiful area.
Peking to Paris Motor Challenge
Peking, China to Paris, France
There are so many remarkable long-distance rallies but for sheer audacity and once-in-a-lifetime experience, we don’t think there’s anything to beat the late Philip Young’s remarkable rally, inspired by the original first run in 1907. Don’t misunderstand us, for this is a gruelling event, challenging beyond belief as teams battle through the harshest environments, such as the Mongolian desert, their pre-1976 cars taking the harshest battering you can imagine. But it’s an experience you’ll never ever forget. It’s only the few who’ll be able to take part but how about heading to Paris to wave in the finishers?