The noise emanating from Eugene Laverty’s supercharged 1929 BMW R57 Kompressor is extraordinary. The prewar bike sits long and low in the crowded pits, its mechanic dutifully warming it up to the ear-splitting level of 131 db. Any other racetrack around the world would immediately kick you out for breaking 105 db, but at the Goodwood Revival, nestled in the Chichester forest in the south of England, the noise is not only tolerated, but encouraged. I’m in heaven.
Witnessing Laverty’s $300,000 vintage racer get ready to compete is the culmination of four days spent touring with BMW Motorrad on its R 18 and R nineT motorcycles from London to the Goodwood Revival, a three-day festival celebrating bygone eras of motorsport. Along the way, we stop and visit Marshall Amplification, the German manufacturer’s British commercial partner, as well as Mini Cooper, a BMW subsidiary. The memorable journey through the British countryside is made all the more poignant and populated due to the funeral of Her Majesty The Queen a day after the action comes to an end at Goodwood.
BMW Motorrad has changed significantly over the past decade and is focused on developing the motorcycles of tomorrow powered by e-fuels and electricity. But, for this particular weekend, the brand is commemorating the decidedly analog bike, and in grand style.
The arrival of the R nineT model in 2014 set the tone for the almost hipster vibe that continues through BMW’s current lineup to the heavy-hitting R 18 cruiser. I opt for the latter as my ride on day one, as we leave the confines of London’s Classic Car Club and head north to Milton Keynes to take a tour of Marshall Amplification. The logo of the audio house can be found on the speakers of the R 18, as the component atelier provides the sound for BMW’s largest production motorcycle.
The next morning, I saddle up on an R nineT to visit the immense Mini Cooper manufacturing facility, as the brand was purchased by BMW in 1996. The plant is oddly hypnotic as robots complete almost all the heavy lifting and welding, with humans mainly confined to trim and electronics duties. It’s hard not to think that the robot overlords are not just coming but are already here. The factory floor is near spotless, and the cleanliness of the area is in stark contrast to what working conditions were like during Mini’s early years in the 1960s and ’70s.
The raison d’etre for our pilgrimage and final destination, though, is arrived at the following day. The Goodwood Revival takes place at the 2.36-mile Goodwood Circuit, also home to the Goodwood Festival of Speed, and is the closet you’ll get to time travel. It’s mandatory to dress in period attire, which makes the people-watching as enthralling as the racing itself. I was so thoroughly immersed in the aesthetic of early last century that it felt odd to take photos with my phone and not a wind-up camera that needs an assistant holding a flash.
The smell of Castrol R permeates the bike pits. That mixed in with the aroma of aviation gas makes for quite the classic horsepower cocktail. There are even actors hired to play 1930’s-era salesmen selling the “latest” sundries.
Goodwood is paradise for a petrol head. Three Ferrari 250 GTOs, each valued somewhere in the mid to high eight-figure realm, sit idly in the pits waiting for drivers. Formula 1 champion Jensen Button swans by on his way to victoriously piloting an immaculate Jaguar E-Type belonging to automotive design legend Adrian Newey. Also from the premier race series are cars from the late three-time Formula 1 world champion Graham Hill’s career, as the 60th anniversary of his first win is honored through the weekend.
Spitfire fighter planes fly in unison above us as pretend British secret service agents do their best to shy people away from a supposed UFO that’s “crash-landed” on the grounds, apparently on its way to a Hollywood movie set. And vintage clothing shops do a roaring trade as the public soaks in the sensory overload of brutish Can-Am V-8’s filling the air with the growl that made a generation fall in love with motorsport.
Yet the loudest and most pleasing soundtrack is undoubtedly that of the R 57 Kompressor being raced by Laverty and teammate Herbert Schwab. Skinny and spindly, the 70 hp steed is visibly faster than everything else in a straight line, but also the hardest to ride. Laverty, a former WorldSBK race winner and MotoGP pilot, needs to use his left hand to change gears with a hand-shifter on the right side of the chassis, doing so as his right hand remains on the throttle. It’s like trying to write with your opposite hand . . . at speed.
Laverty and Schwab take turns on the bike during each of two Barry Sheene Memorial races and garner eighth-place and fifth-place finishes, but the results matter little. The sight of such a rare motorcycle, drenched in BMW history, is a fine way to cap off an extraordinary few days commemorating collaboration, camaraderie and, of course, competition. It was also a chance for BMW Motorrad to take a brief look back at a legacy its building on for the long haul.
Click here to see more photos from the 2022 Goodwood Revival.