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S.A. Grand Prix
at East London

The interest in motor racing was ignited in the early 1930s after the municipality had constructed a circular road on the West Bank of East London.

Mr. Brud Bishop, the motoring editor of the local newspaper -- the Daily Dispatch -- took a Sunday drive around the route and the idea sprung to mind to hold a race there.

In his office the following Monday morning, he began to put his thoughts down on paper and local support was aroused among businessmen of the City.

His ideal position at the Dispatch allowed him all the right contacts and, as he was born in England and had started his working career there, entries were soon being received from abroad, as well as around the country.

The entries from abroad gave the event international status and it became known as The South African Grand Prix.

The date set for the first South African Grand Prix was 27 December 1934. Even the old steel bridge over the Buffalo River played a part, as the bridge had just been completed but not yet officially opened.

Mr. Bishop drove to Pretoria to meet with the Minister of Railways and invited him to be the Master of Ceremonies at the Grand Prix, and officially open the bridge at the same time.

Hence it was that the Honorable Mr. Pirow officiated and presented the Barnes trophy to the winner of the race, which was attended by 42,000 spectators.

Further South African Grands Prix took place from 1936 through to 1939, after Potter's Pass had been introduced to avoid racing through the township of West Bank.

This shortened the track to 11 miles and 57 yards and it was thereupon named the Prince George Circuit. It is estimated that a crowd of 82,000 attended the 1936 race.

Interest in motor racing was kept alive after the war by racing on the Esplanade at East London, as the old circuit had been affected by the introduction of the new airport.

The year 1959, however, saw the opening of the new Grand Prix circuit as we know it today, cutting through the old shooting range. It measured 2.4 miles in length.

The 6th South African Grand Prix took place in January 1960 on the new track and drew a crowd of 50,000. The 7th took place in December 1960, while the 8th happened in December 1961 and drew 67,000 spectators.

The 9th Grand Prix took place in December 1962 and was to be the decider for the world championship. It drew 90,000 spectators.

The 10th Grand Prix took place in 1963 and drew a crowd of 40,000, while the 11th in January 1965 drew 50,000 spectators.

The 12th and last Grand Prix took place January 1966. It thereupon moved Kyalami in 1967.

Norman Hickel
27 January 2010

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