Birmingham Superprix - Britain's most controversial circuit?
1984 - 'The Greatest Free Show on Earth' paves the way
for the Birmingham Road Race Bill
- David Page
- February 14, 2007
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1984 proved to be a very important year for Martin Hone and the movers of the Birmingham Road Race Bill. The Road Race Bill was brought up once more, before the General Purposes Committee, as Peter Barwell was a member so that gave a crucial edge to make the road race happen for real. The City sollicitor agreed that they should prepare a redrafted bill and the council employed Martin Hone’s company International Festival Services as a consultant to help pass the bill through Parliament.
This time, a suitable circuit layout was needed and Martin Hone has already revealed his plans of the Birmingham Superprix layout back in October 1983. Hone claimed that it took him three years to design the layout. He explained:
“I know circuits inside out, I know what the drivers want, I know what the spectators need, I know where the sponsor banners go because I have done it all my life.”
He added that he remembers taking Councillor Marjorie Brown, Councillor Barwell, the City Engineer and the Chief of Police around the circuit in his motor home.
The route was accepted by the police, fire brigade and ambulance officials to be the one that would cause the least disruption of through traffic and local traffic and more importantly, would be close enough to emergency services in the event of an accident. Martin Hone created a unique priority corridor leading from the circuit to the Birmingham Accident Hospital, only a half mile away.
On Sunday 15th June, in the early hours of the morning, a Class C DFV Grid driven by Steve Thompson tested out the proposed circuit under the supervision of a police motorcycle. At some occasion, the police motorcyclist had to flag down the car to slow down so the rider could keep up with Thompson! It evoked many complaints about the noise from the local residents nearby.
On 14th October, the practicalities of staging a major motorsport event were tested in the On The Streets motor cavalcade and it was the best event organised by Martin Hone and his company. It was sponsored by Davenport’s, a local brewery best known for its home deliveries. The festival was called The Chequer Bitter Class after one of Davenport’s brews. According to Hone, it cost £180,000 to stage the festival. Only £20,000 came from the City Council and the rest was through private sponsorship.
The event was opened by Kenny Gibson, the rock man who had opened the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. He came complete with his 8900 bhp rocket belt to soar 80 feet over the start line at Bristol Street. He came with a fee of £7,000 for just twenty seconds for his performance!
There were different eight grids ranging from pre-war Grand Prix cars, a phalanx of Jaguar and Aston Martin cars, hill climb and rally cars, sportscars and Formula One cars. The crowd puller was Juan Manuel Fangio in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR.
Rally legend Jimmy McRae led a parade of rally cars
Juan Manuel Fangio in his Mercedes 300 SLR
It was a feast for the eye and ear. It was an orgy of nostalgia for the 200,000 spectators that attended at the Festival that ran around the Birmingham Superprix proposed circuit and all with a 40mph speed limit.
John Horton and his daughter in their Bugatti
It was a crowd puller and the long running saga of Birmingham’s capabilities to be a motorsport venue of the future gained a massive vote of confidence from some of the great names of the sport. Now the enthusiasm and overwhelming public support would be pressed home and the moves by the Birmingham City Council to apply in November for parliamentary permission to stage motor racing would be back to the full.
Now the fun was over and the serious political work still had to be done. Less than a month later after a very successful motoring event, the Birmingham City Council approved to take the Birmingham Road Race Bill to Parliament on 6th November. The Road Race Bill was deposited to Parliament with high hopes. The Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Councillor Reg hales, in presenting the Road Race Bill to the House of Commons on Tuesday 27th November, said:
“The people of Birmingham want this race. The commercial sectors want it. The motor racing fraternity want it. The City Council want it. The County Council want it. The economy of Birmingham and the West Midlands need it. Fun, international glamour, tourism, jobs. How can Parliament say no!”
Two days later, the Birmingham Road Race Bill went through to the Parliament despite opposition from Labour MPs, Jeff Rooker and Clare Short. Now the finishing line was fast approaching for Martin Hone, Birmingham City Council and the people of Birmingham to make the Birmingham Superprix into reality.
After the crucial meetings at the House of Parliament, Bernard Ecclestone (President of the Formula One Constructors’ Association) said:
“I’ve no idea whether or not a Grand Prix could be held in Birmingham, but it would be nice to see it happen.”
Bernard Ecclestone’s words gave hope and the mechanics of the project began to run smoother than before, the RAC Motor Sports Association (the sport’s governing body in the UK) threatened to end the dream when it said it was “unlikely” to grant the city of Birmingham permission to hold a street race.
The year ended with mixed hopes and fortunes for the people who were still hoping to see any form of racing in the streets of Birmingham.