Birmingham Superprix - Britain's most controversial circuit?
1971 - Birmingham City Council considers the road race project
- David Page
- January 5, 2007
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After the success of the 1970 Birmingham Motoring Festival, in January 1971, Peter Barwell wrote to Councillor John Silk who was then Chairman of the Entertainment Sub Committee and the Parks Committee to put the proposal of a road race on a formal basics. Now the push for a road race was getting more serious and realistic…
The proposal was raised at the General Purposes Committee on 12th March 1971. The was the first mention of a road race in the Council Minutes. It was a fairly routine discussion, along the lines of ‘let’s consider a road race in Birmingham.’
In April, Peter Barwell received a letter from the Town Clerk stating that the proposal has been considered by the Committee and that further consideration was to be given to the possibilities of securing powers to hold an annual motor race on one of the carriageways of the Inner Ring road, as had been suggested before.
Martin Hone was completely besotted of the idea of the possibility for Birmingham to host a road race. He did extensive research into how to organise a road race, get some funding especially from sponsors and even designed a street circuit. With his usual enthusiastic manner, he threw himself in the project. He sounded out the feelings of the local Aldermen, consulted with the Police and the RAC, and then went specially to the Spanish Grand Prix at Montjuich Park in Barcelona to see just how things were done there. He compiled a dossier of photographs and on his return he presented a White Paper titled “Proposed Major Tourist Attraction for Birmingham City Centre Devised by Martin Hone” as he was recommended to produce a White Paper by the Birmingham City Council.
When the White Paper was presented to the Committee, it caused an uproar as although many council members were in favour of the proposal to promote the city, there were some who thought the proposal was crazy and impossible and were decidedly against it. The main opposition of the councillors was on the grounds that colossal expense would be incurred in staging such an event. Presenting a Bill to Parliament in itself is very costly and many argued that the money would be better spent elsewhere. In particular the then chief constable of Birmingham, Sir Derek Capper, bitterly opposed the proposed road race from a safety point of view. In fact he was so against it that he was quoted as saying: “Over my dead body will it happen.”
Ironically Sir Derek in fact died before the road race finally went head.
In May, Councillor Victor Turton helped the road race campaign around the City’s Inner Ring road by announcing that he would make it the major project for his coming term as Lord Mayor. He fiercely promoted the scheme and eventually a working party was set up to investigate the idea.
The working party was formed and the Committee included Basil Tye, RAC’s Deputy Director, Geoff May, a former Secretary of the Porsche Club of Great Britain, Brian Fox and Roy Mitton, both leading members of the BRSCC Midland Centre who organises races at Mallory Park (the Birmingham City Council have sponsored a race meeting at Mallory Park in 1970), Mike Broad, a local travel agent and Press Officer of the Association of West Midlands Motor Clubs, and Norman Austin who was Area manager of the RAC. The newly formed Committee requested positive facts on the costs of hosting a road race and the faceless men who were said to be prepared to finance the project.
Martin Hone took up the challenge to go on a fact-finding mission and within weeks, he gained support from Sir Stirling Moss and Graham Hill by his side. Also there was a business consortium that was offering to guarantee that it would not cost the city a penny. It was estimated that it would cost £125,000 to set up the circuit and that the grand total for all expenditure would be something like £300,000.
An article appeared in one of Birmingham’s newspapers, Evening Mail on 22nd May stating that Martin Hone and Neville Borg, the City Engineer and Surveyor had submitted plans to the Birmingham Public Works Committee regarding about the feasibility of staging a ‘Monaco’ style motor race around the Inner Ring Road. The street circuit would be 1.75 miles along compared with the length of the Principality circuit in Monaco of 1.9 miles.
Then there was a proposal for a circuit more than three miles long including Paradise Circus, Holloway Circus, St. Martin's Circus and Bristol Street. It would be a huge task to set up such a street circuit in this size!
Two other proposals were also put forward.
The Birmingham Mail reported of this proposed circuit on 22nd May.
The Committee staged a meeting in London on 15th June to discuss various points regarding about the safety side of the road race so the RAC can issue a racing permit if modern safety measures can be met. At one point, they thought that only F3 racing would be allowed, but then they received a report from the RAC which stated that the circuit may be able to introduce F2 racing. Also there would be some support racing mainly from saloon and GT sports cars. Basil Tye proposed that on the first weekend of July there would be a provisional to the site of the proposed circuit layout when plans for a test day were being made using responsible local drivers and teams such as John Fitzpatrick with the Broadspeed Escort, Sid Taylor with the CanAm McLaren and Alan Rollinson in the F5000 Surtees. Birmingham Corporation would have their roads closed for some periodic anti-skid tests, which would create a good opportunity to show to those who involved to show how the affair should be set up.
The width of the road at Station Curve can be judged by the size of the road cars there.
The driver's eye view as he rushes along Smallbrook Straight to Sentinels Curve.
Martin Hone inspects the part of the proposed circuit, now blocked, which would form the St. Martin's Hairpin. The start/finish and paddock would be off to the left.
The plans for the test day were going smoothly until a stumbling block came up when a committee meeting on 17th June of the Public Works Committee, under the Chairmanship of Councillor Harold Edwards turned down the idea. He later explained: “It seemed that we don’t have the legal power to lift the 30mph speed limit on these roads. Had we done so we would have been accessories before the fact and liable to prosecution.”
On the same day, ATV’s Today programme arranged a feature on the road race project, and invited Martin Hone and Harold Edwards to appear on a televised debate. At the last minute, Edwards was unable to attend and Martin Hone seized the opportunity to perform a one-man selling job to the masses.
One could but hope that the various political in-fighting had reached a peaceful settlement by the time the race looked like a reality, and a date in 1973 was envisaged by Councillor Silk. Hone reckoned things could be pushed through time next year.