Welcome to Who? What? Where? When? Why? on the World Wide Web. Your comments, criticism and suggestions: editors#8w.forix.com (replace # with @).
8W is forix.autosport.com's motorsport history section and covers the drivers, cars, circuits, eras and technology that shaped the face, sounds and smells of motor racing.

Birmingham Superprix - Britain's most controversial circuit?
1985 - Transition from dream into reality...

Author

Date



Back to BSP index page

After the success of the Chequer Bitter Class festival and the Birmingham Road Race Bill was presented to the Parliament by the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Reg Hales, there were still many issues that needed to be ironed before the Birmingham Road Race Bill being approved by Members of the Parliament. The Birmingham City Council made some compromises with the people involved in the whole project. This involved the reduction of the number of days allowed for erection and dismantling of the circuit and compensation terms to be arranged with the local traders based around the Superprix circuit for loss of business caused by the disruption of the event.

The council agreed to issue free passes to residents for access to the circuit. They also offered to pay for the people living on or near the circuit to go away on race days if desired. But these were not the only issues in Birmingham.

The political stirrings in Birmingham were making the 10 permanent UK circuits (e.g. Silverstone, Donington, Brands Hatch etc.) worried that the possibility of street venues would detract from the permanent motorsport circuits. So the City councillors arranged a meeting with the Motor Sports Council in February and the matter was quickly resolved. That was one hurdle out of the way as the City Council were still trying to find a compromise with the RAC Motor Sport Association as the motoring organisation mentioned that they might not issue a racing licence for National events in Birmingham. But then again, if the Parliament passed the Bill then the RAC MSA would agree to grant the city a licence to host a racing event.

Behind the scenes at the City Council in Birmingham, there were a lot of works to be done such as consulting with the various transport, highways, gas, fire, water, police, and sewerage and health authorities. It was very-time consuming but they needed to prove a workable plan to show to the Parliament to sway the votes to approve the Road Race Bill. It was a PR exercise to generate support to get 100 MPs to support the Bill. The City Council would continue to petition for the Bill until 30th January and they would hope that the Birmingham Road Race Bill would be awarded Royal Assent in July.

But there was a blow as on the 30th January when the second reading of the Road Race Bill was blocked in the House of Commons. It was believed that it was the same people that originally blocked the Bill in November, 1984. There were still some obstacles to overcome.

Then a compromise over the objections of the Road Race Bill emerged. This involved the reduction of the number of days allowed for the erection and dismantling of the circuit and to provide suitable compensation terms arranged with the local traders for loss of business caused by the event. The organisers tried hard to make residents living near the circuit happy and to provide access by giving out free passes. The City also offered to pay for the people living on or near the circuit to go away on race days if desired.

The Road Race Committee kept their hopes up and in February, the RAC MSA indicated that they would grant Birmingham a race licence provided if the Road Race Bill was passed on 2nd April.

The first day of April was a very crucial day for the city of Birmingham as the members of the Parliament would vote to approve for the Road Race Bill. The Committee acknowledged that 100 votes were needed to support the Road Race Bill. Eventually, in the second reading, 202 MPs voted for the Bill with 68 MPs against it. Now Birmingham had cleared the final hurdle and the finishing line was so near.

In order to meet the August deadline composed by Parliament for the Road Race Bill to gain Royal Assent, the Road Race Committee had to work on designing the circuit and how it would fit into the day-to-day life.

There were a lot of negotiations going over on how to put together the Road Race Bill to make it accessible for the people of Birmingham. The Bill authorised the City to hold a motor race only over two days, a Sunday and Monday at the end of August over the Bank holiday weekend. The closure of certain roads was allowed over these two days from 9am to 6pm.

Permission was granted for such things as making of bye-laws, finance arrangements such as borrowing, film and broadcasting rights and levying of admission charges. The pit area and grandstands could be set up and armco barriers could be erected. The period allowed for erecting and removing barriers was limited to ten days prior and five days after the event to avoid disruption the traffic around the circuit and access for the residents living around the area.

After the Road Race Bill was approved by the members of the Parliament, the City Council stuck to their intentions of having a road race to show off the city as an attractive place in which to live and work and to encourage new businesses to come to Birmingham.

But there was some ugly scenes away from the public eye as back in November the year before, Martin Hone had an important document produced from the previous council incumbents saying that if he ever got this through Parliament, then his would be the company, and he would be the man, to run it for the City of Birmingham. But then when he was beckoned to the city administrator’s office, he was told that the city would like to put together a tender for him. But Martin Hone protested that he got this crucial document that allowed him to run the whole event.

The problem was that the Labour Party won control of the city of Birmingham in May and they didn’t recognise any agreements made by the previous incumbents. So Hone acknowledged the fact that he found himself bidding for his own idea. But he had no idea of whom. He was informed that there were other parties interested and making bids.

So then Martin Hone’s company and other interested companies were invited to submit sponsorship proposals to the City. Martin Hone remembers making his presentation:

“I went to the City Council House and, in front of a board of 30 people, including city leaders, solicitors, the Lord Mayor, councillors and all the people that we had been working with for years and with whom we had built up a good relationship. I guaranteed them they’d make a profit, because I had already got my agreements in place for television and sponsorship, and with Bernard Ecclestone for FIA Formula 3000, and I knew I didn’t need a solitary person through the pay-gate to make a profit. I gave them a guaranteed sum in writing, I made a 45-minute presentation with pictures and movies.”

Afterwards, he waited for the verdict and other bidders walked in. One of them was Andrew Marriott of CSS Promotions, a well established motorsport marketing company based in London, also responsible for the commercial backing for the city’s bid for the 1992 Olympics.

When Andrew Marriott emerged after less than 10 minutes into his presentation, Martin Hone knew his local bid was lost:

“It was like a knife going into my gut and out the other side.”

The contract was awarded to CSS Promotions for organising sponsorships. The Council’s decision caused controversy. People had to defend themselves, such as Mr. Denis Howell (Labour MP for Small Heath), as he was a consultant to CSS Promotions and president of Birmingham’s Olympic Committee. But he said that he had no connections with its commercial work for the race, nor with its commercial backing for the city’s Olympics bid, he simply helped the Road Race Bill to get through Parliament.

Finally in October, the Road Race Bill was given Royal Assent. The dream of having a road race in the streets of Birmingham had been fulfilled. For the handful of early dreamers, especially Peter Barwell and Martin Hone, all the work had been worthwhile. The original Road Race Bill is now at the Sutton Coldfield Library.

Now the City Council wanted to see things happening with the sponsorship to help them to finance the road race. In the early discussions about a Birmingham street race, people had been talking optimistically about a Grand Prix. Later in July, 1972, the Evening Mail ran a competition to find the best title to give the proposed race. The prize of £5 was won by Mr. D.Ashman of Sparkhill, Birmingham with the suggestion of Festival Grand Circuit.

It was to be thirteen years later in October 1985, before it was given its official title by the Road Race Committee. By the time, it was accepted that it was not going to be a Formula One race and so could not be called a Grand Prix. The committee came up with the name The Birmingham Super-Prix.

Amongst the controversy over Martin Hone and the City Council, they pulled off a coup as six weeks after giving CSS Promotions the contract they got title sponsorship from a car parts and bicycle firm, Halfords. The Redditch-based firm would become the main sponsor and paid £70,000 to the Birmingham City Council. The motorsport event would have looked like this:

The Halfords Birmingham Superprix was born…

In terms of the new sponsorship of the Birmingham Superprix meant that Halfords had the rights for the circuit corners. They chose to name the roundabout at the top of the Belgrave Middleway “Halfords Corner” as this was the part of the circuit they thought would likely get the most publicity. It is a wide hairpin corner making it the slowest on the track and is also the best vantage point, so would attract a large numbers of spectators. Their hope is that ‘Halfords Corner’ will become a well known Birmingham landmark and not just a roundabout associated with an annual two or three day event.

As the year came to a near close, the Birmingham City Council pulled off a big motorsport coup by announcing on 17th December that it won official sanction to host a Formula 3000 European Championship event in its programme for the first weekend in the August Bank holiday in 1986.

Echoing Bernard Ecclestone’s words about Birmingham hosting a Grand Prix in the future, the city could not hope to secure full-blown Formula One racing in its streets because for some years, the racing calendar was committed so far ahead and any circuit have to be tried and tested for at least two years.

It came at a price as the City Council paid £100,000 to bring the 26 teams of the F3000 series to race in Birmingham.

Behind the scenes, there were some warring words as the City Council had some sponsorship problems as there was a headline in the local press dated on 1st June:

“AUSTIN PRIX NON-STARTER.”

It reported that Austin Rover, Birmingham’s biggest employer, had claimed that the company which had given Birmingham the name ‘Motor City’ had been shut out the round-the-streets event because the councillors’ demands were too high.

A spokesman for the car manufacturer was quoted as saying that their joint sponsorship deal had been rejected and instead they had been offered the chance of providing cars for a possible celebrity event. This they refused as they claimed that the deal would have cost almost as much as the entire day event and although they was keen to be involved in the race. They accused the city councillors of making it impossible for them. Councillor John Charlton, member of the Road Race Committee said that they had made many attempts to contact Austin Rover’s chairman, Harold Musgrave, without any success. Also they claimed that the firm did express interest but couldn’t confirm any commitment of support.

So then the council agreed with the French car manufacturer, Renault to provide Renault 5 turbo cars to race five laps of the Super Prix circuit in the celebrity event.

Councillor, Mrs Marjorie Brown, chairman of the city’s Road Race Committee hailed this announcement as another major first for Birmingham. She announced the decision by unveiling the first section of Armco barrier at the side of the road race track at the Highgate Island which would become the Halfords Corner.

Councillors Peter Barwell and John Charlton, the BRSCC’s John Nicol, and Cllr Bill Turner (Technical Committee) celebrate street credibility.