Saturday, September 21, 2019

The next Grand Prix will be at Hillview Avenue.

 The prestigious Singapore Airlines Formula One Grand Prix, the F1 night race, is now trending all over the social media as Singapore hosts the spectacle once again this weekend at the Marina Bay street circuit.

 Ask any die-hard motor racing fan where Singapore's original Grand Prix were held and they'll tell you at the Sembawang Circuit at Upper Thomson Road. Yes, the original official Singapore Grand Prix was held annually from 1961 to 1973 at Old Upper Thomson Road. The first Grand Prix was sponsored by the then Ministry of Culture as part of their Visit Singapore - The Orient Year tourism drive and the race was flagged off by Yang di-Pertuan Negara, (later 1st President) Yusoff Ishak.

Singapore Grand Prix at the Sembawang Circuit 1960s.

Photo credit: National Archives Singapore

Backed by the government, the 1961-1973 Singapore Grand Prix were organised and run by the Singapore Motor Club.  This was a club of dedicated die-hard racing enthusiasts who had been organising ad-hoc races in Singapore right after the end of World War II. The club was formed in 1948.

Initially comprising mostly British expatriates and British Forces personnel, the SMC members were
very active and organised motor rallies, sprint races, speed trials and even 'economy' races where the winner was the one which used the least fuel. They conducted their races at places like The Gap Hill at Buona Vista, Admiralty Road at Naval Base and held the annual Hill Climb at Bukit Batok Hill.
Their favourite track was at Lim Chu Kang where they often held speed trials and sprint races.

Their vast experience in organising motor races led them to become the organiser of the 1960 Johore Grand Prix. With that successful race event under their belt, they were asked to organise Singapore's 1st official Grand Prix in 1961 at the Thomson course.

Prior to this, the club had their own private annual Grand Prix, which they termed Championships.
These were mainly speed trials and races along Lim Chu Kang Road.

The Singapore Motor Club Trial Races at Lim Chu Kang.
In 1956, they were unable to make use of the Lim Chu Kang Road circuit and had to search for an alternative. After vetting all the possible sites, it was announced...

"The next Grand Prix will be along Hillview Avenue at Princess Elizabeth Estate"

The 'Grand Prix' that year was called the SMC Sprint Championship and had 40 competitors in both the motorcar as well as the motorcycle races. Hillview Circuit would run from the Hillview Circus to the Hairpin at the end of Hillview Avenue. In 1956, Hillview Avenue was a cul-de-sac which ended where today Hillview Villas estate is.
The circuit was only 3/4 mile long and drivers had to do 2 rounds of the circuit for a total of 1-1/2 miles.

The Hillview Avenue Circuit highlighted in yellow.
(Click on the picture for a detailed view)
Unfortunately, there is no record available of who won the race that year.
(The SMC had all their records destroyed by a fire at their HQ at Farrer Park)
The highlight of the 1956 race was the spectacular crash by Dr F. Marshall when his car rolled off the track at the Hairpin.

(Source: ST. 11 March 1956.)

The SMC Sprint Championship was held again the following year in July 1957 at the Hillview Circuit, now with 80 competitors for both motorcar and motorcycle races.
This time, the motorcycle race was won by Peter Chan on his 125cc Ducatti Sports Special, while the motorcar race was won by DEL Birch who set a new course record of 1 min 49 seconds.
There were no further grand prix at Hillview Avenue after 1957.

Peter Chan, winner of the 1957 Motorcycle Race, on his $3,000 125cc Ducatti Sports Special
(Source: Singapore Free Press 13 July 1957)

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