The finest feats of engineering at Goodwood aren't necessarily the cars

| 18 Jul 2013

A few people seem to have become a bit blasé about the enormous, alien sculptures that loom annually over the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

I can even understand why – at the most fundamental level each combines some massive, usually white structure and some cars.

This year I heard someone muttering that they didn't think the trio of 911s was quite as close to the flightpath as the 300SL 'Gullwing' had been some years before, and that is a depressing sign of how these artworks are now being judged.

In fact, I saw it a load of times, an initial 'wow', a five-second pause and then wandering on to stalk some minor F1 driver with a "seen it all before" shrug of the shoulders.

It's human nature I suppose, but if that's the attitude, boy are we taking these things for granted.

Perhaps I even needed reminding myself what astonishing engineering, what phenomenal works of art these gravity-defying behemoths are.

The sculptures, of course, have all been the brainchild (brainchildren?) of one man: Gerry Judah.

Born in Calcutta in 1951, he moved from the colour and drama of India to "post-war drab" London when he was 10. Inspired by the Indian architecture and landscape he remembered so fondly, as soon as he graduated from all the best places – Goldsmith's then Slade – he didn't start out small, but set straight to work on large sculptures.

His work has been everywhere, but ever since his first showing at Goodwood – an arch for Ferrari in 1997 – that is where his work has been most prominent publicly.

The following year came the first of the sculptures: five Porsche 917s splayed like lollipops across the lawn outside Goodwood House. It was incredible, people could scarcely believe that it, or they, could be real.

Since then, Judah has dazzled annually with ambitious works, but perhaps with familiarity comes less feverish interest in what they are all about, in both the conception and the execution.

Did you notice, for example, that last year's Lotus effort embodied the monocoque theme into the engineering of sculpture itself, or that the Auto Unions in 1999 weren't just raised, but sweeping along the AVUS banking?

This year, I thought the 911s – a 1963, a '73 Carrera RS 2.7 and a current model – were inspired. For those who didn't think about the actual shape, each 911 was at the intricately constructed apex of an arrow an impressive 35 metres off the deck.

Judah said: "The concept was that each car is shooting into the sky, supporting one another, racing each other, captured in a perfect moment. Like the cars it displays, the sculpture is superbly engineered, lightweight and reflective of the Porsche 911 itself: simple, pure and built for the job."

But to me it was just as beautiful as a feat of engineering. Weighing over 22 tonnes, each leg of the sculpture was a monocoque made of steel plate welded together with no internal structure. It balanced on points at the base that were extremely narrow. 

Just look at the photo at the bottom and see how they are balanced, so precarious looking, but so secure.

So next time you are at the Festival of Speed, pause a little longer than it takes to gasp and please think about both the thought process, the representation and the masterful engineering that rivals anything in the cars on the ground, however sophisticated they might be.

That said, the 2001 inverted funnel with John Young's Gullwing perched on top is still my favourite.

Pictures: David Barbour

For a full review of Gerry Judah's Festival of Speed art, see the June 2013 issue of C&SC.