A little background…

Street racing is not allowed in Great Britain. It is allowed on the Isle of Man, a self-governing crown dependency within the British Isles, but not part of Great Britain. it was also allowed in Ireland and Northern Ireland, for similar reasons. Great Britain has always been rather troublesome about cars, beginning with the Locomotive Acts of the 1860s and 1870s which made it virtually impossible for automobiles to use public roads in any serious way. The 1865 Act, known as the Red Flag Act, for example, required a speed limit of four miles per hour in the country and two miles an hour in town, and the requirement for a man with a red flag or lantern to walk 50 metres ahead of a vehicle in order to warn other traffic of an oncoming vehicle!

The 1878 Locomotive Act removed the need for a flag and reduced the distance of the escort to 20 metres. Intense lobbying by automobile enthusiasts resulted in the Locomotives on Highways Act of 1896, which raised the speed limit to 14mph and got rid of the need for an escort.

As cars developed this was obviously no longer workable but it also coincided with the Paris-Madrid race in which it is estimated at least 10 people were killed in various accidents. As a result of this Britain had to host the Gordon Bennett Cup on a road circuit at Athy in Ireland.

The Motor Car Act of 1903 raised the speed limit to 20 mph, but this still meant that there could only be car racing on private circuits, which is why the great Brooklands speedway was built a few years later. International racing switched to Ireland and the Isle of Man, where the Highways (Light Locomotive) Act of 1904 gave permission for the Isle of Man to hold the Gordon Bennett Eliminating Trial. The 20mph limit remained in place until someone had the idea of getting rid of all speed limits with the Road Traffic Act of 1930. An increase in the number of fatalities, particularly of pedestrians in towns resulted in the Road Traffic Act of 1934, which set a speed limit for 30 mph in built-up areas. By then there was a tradition of closed circuit racing in Britain, which was boosted in the post-war period by the use of many old air force bases.

The law, as it stands, still means that an Act of Parliament would be required for a street race in Britain. This was the case with Birmingham, which began to discuss holding street races as early as 1966, when the first proposal was made to the City Council. It was not until 1984 that the council sent the Birmingham Road Race Bill to Westminster and the Members of Parliament did not approve it until the Spring of 1985. It did not come into force until it was given Royal Assent in the autumn of 1985. A circuit was laid out on closed streets near the city centre and the first Birmingham Superprix took place in August 1986, for Formula 3000 cars. The circuit was deemed to be very bumpy and the weather was appalling. There were a large number of accidents and the race was stopped before the halfway point. It was won, incidentally, by Luis Perez-Sala, now the team principal of HRT.

After five years the event disappeared from the calendar because of the financial burden, as losses amounted to nearly £5 million, which was a great deal of money at that point. In 1998 the safety equipment that had costthe city council £2.4 million, was sold off for just £45,000.

Since then no-one has attempted to hold a full-blown motor race on the streets of Britain, the only activity being demonstration runs, such as the 2004 event on Regent Street, which had a speed limit of 75mph.

74 thoughts on “A little background…

    1. That would be against the law. They can have time trials and single car runs but they are not allowed to have cars actually racing.

      1. As usual you are quit correct Joe. It’s used for timed stages and hill climbs. I have had fun driving my Volvo XC90 up it! of course abiding by the speed limit.

      1. Olivers Mount /is/ a public road, part of the circuit goes round the war memorial, a cafe and a picnic area, and the bike racing is competitive, rather than time trials. OBS may have seen the starting grid whilst driving up the hill.

  1. That demo run in regent street in 2004 was insane. We went along, were 5 metres from the cars, and could see absolutely nothing. It was astonishingly busy, the pavements were rammed almost dangerously so.

  2. look to the rally fraternity!
    Tour of Mull – closed roads every year since October 1990 (yes, it took a lot of time, effort and money). Well done 2300 Club. Unless I’m very much mistaken (?) an act of parliament is the only way of suspending the RTA speed limit.

    Jim Clark Rally – following in 2300’s footsteps.


  3. Interesting history. Thanks for that.

    PS: On a completely unrelated note. Does anybody else see Michael Schumacher when looking at the ‘The man who caught Crippen’ add in the right-hand column?

    1. yes me too, and i think it was schumi who caught crippen 😉

      Michael is seen on the front cover wearing the latest Mercedes uniform for all special ambassadors.

  4. Car sprints and Motor cycle racing are held on the public roads of the promenade at New Brighton, Wirral the UK.
    The local council have powers to close the roads for 12 such events per year.
    Way back in the early 1970’s I organised the first 2 car events for the Wallasey Motor Club. Entries ranged from standard road cars, Formula 3000 and the 3 litre V6 engine TVR Tuscan successfully raced in Modsports events by Brian Hough.
    The W.M.C. continues to run the event today but as a special stages rally.

      1. given that the common mantra from people who complain about F1 is that it’s just cars going around one by one with no overtaking, F1 could therefore probably get away with running without a change in the law… 😉

    1. Rallying is done on private land (usually Forestry Commission stages or the grounds of stately homes and the like) while road rallying is tightly restricted so the aim is that the competitors achieve a very low average speed. Permission has to be sought from the police usually and the speed and noise are restricted when you go past houses.

      Anorak away now!

      1. Neither the Tour of Mull or the Jim Clark Memorial Rally are restricted. They’re balls-out rallies on asphalt. Each has to obtain a specific Act of Parliament. They do set a precedent for closing highways for competitive motor sport that would be valid for racing as it is for rallying… but ultimately it’s never going to happen for cost reasons.

  5. Ha! My first ever live race was the 1987 SuperPrix. Very vivid memories of standing at a sun-baked Halfords Corner watching the F3000s scream up the road towards us, get hard on the brakes, and flick right around the bales before grinding their way around that 200 degree left hand hairpin. Fun times.

    It was actually not a bad track, as far as I recall, but I do remember the vicious hostility with which the locals regarded the event. Even though the circuit was a little away from the city centre it did manage to foul up three major A-roads, including the city’s two important arterial roads from the south. I can only begin to imagine what the outcry would be if you closed off the tourist hub of London for a week.

    Much as I do love the street races, I can’t see how the problems you outline could be overcome in the case of London.

    1. sadly it’s not as if the city has much of a car industry left to promote via a race. And the council just announced a £21m black hole in the budget.

      1. Ooh, I don’t know. Jaguar Land Rover still have the Solihull, Castle Bromwich and Whitley plants in the West Midlands, and the new engine plant in Wolverhampton is on the way. Their HQs are split between Coventry and Gaydon. Aston Martin are cheek-by-jowl with the Gaydon operation. A trickle of MGs emerge from the Longbridge plant now and again, and BMW crank out almost the whole world’s supply of Minis from the Cowley plant just down the road, near Oxford. Toyota’s plant at Burnaston is a similar distance to the north. Heck, even Bentley’s Crewe plant isn’t more than an hour north west. Some of those examples may be stretching things a bit, and the industry certainly isn’t what it used to be, but there is still quite a bit of automobile manufacturing going on in central England.

        Not that I imagine the SuperPrix will be revived, just looking at things in a cup-half-full sort of way.

      1. Umm… I was there. I have family who still live there. It was not at all universally popular and there were a significant and highly vocal portion of the population who were distinctly against it.

  6. So if there is a race in/around London where does that leave Silverstone (again) is this just some Bernie ism’ to get Silverstone to tidy up, lay some nice hard standing car parks and sort out the traffic etc?
    BTW, I’d love to see a GrandPrix around London in theory….

  7. Joe the Under Secretary of State for Transport Mike Penning is heading a comitte trying to get this changed. He doesn’t want it to be a free for all but just much easier. You are right on the single car at a time point – Kop Hill climb (amoung many others) close a public road every year. There is also a requirement for cars to be road registered and an F1 car could never do that!

    Mike is on the comittee with Nigel Mansell and others – Mike was also part of the group responsible for the exemption of Vintage cars from the new MOT.

    1. Which means he’s generally a good bloke, but a bit mental when it comes to allowing old cars out on the road.

      1. Not really Nicko it’s a different subject but a vintage car of which I have several could NEVER pass the new MOT… I assure you that our vintage cars are much better looked after than my 10 year old Peugeot !

  8. But for the fact that there is a Street Race being planned in Britain – in Cheltenham: http://www.cheltenhammotorsports.com it has been in the planning since 2008. We have been assuming we would need an act of parliament as you say, but we have learned this week from The Dept for Transort that the MSA campaign to ammend Highways legislation to allow local authorities to temporarily suspend the Highways kegislation to allow Motorsports events on the highway has been successful and there should be such ammending legislation appearing in the 2013 Queens speech for process in that Parliamentary session.

  9. I still think we’re more likely to see Bernie’s rug fall off than see a London GP.

    Not only would there have to be an Act of Parliament, but the streets comprising the circuit would have to be re-surfaced, then closed while the barriers and stands get put up – the congestion would be insane; shops would want compensation for loss of business; pits would have to be built; and so on. The cost would be a great deal more than £35 million (some estimates put the figure at £200m), and the net rewards would be tiny. More chance of Bernie’s rug growing wings and *flying* off.

    This is distraction, diversion, froth – a bit of glitter to hide a series of problems: not only the possibility of German (and British) legal action against BE, but also the F1 floatation issue, the Singapore GP contract issue, the disappearing Russian GP issue, the New Jersey issue, the Australian GP issue, (see the pattern here? Numerous GPs want to re-negotiate their fees). We’ve had dodgy financial scandals in football (more news on this today) as well as the Olympics, and I doubt that motorsport is as clean as a whistle. A bit of razzamatazz and hopefully people will stop asking awkward questions.

  10. As regards Olivers Mount at Scarborough I think the roads are privately owned by the local council which gives them a different status.

  11. Perhaps the London GP will be a Tooned event?

    And/or could all the noise be at the behest of a computer games company?

  12. Fascinating peek into history Joe, thanks.

    As an aside but relevant, does anyone know how much Monaco spends on set up and tear down costs for the F1 race each year?

  13. I was at the launch of this idea at the Royal Automobile Club in London, and I don’t think I was the only one in the room to think it all it bit of silly fun and a PR stunt for Santander.

    My thoughts are that the costs to London business and infrastructure would so far outweigh any perceived benefits as to render the concept a only pipe-dream. The Olympics is going to cause havoc as it is, but as a ‘once in a lifetime’ event with wide general appeal, will be tolerated and hopefully even enjoyed, if we leave aside the issues of cost to the taxpayer. Just imagine what a GP right in the heart of the capital city would do, and how locally unpopular motorsport would be as a result of it.

    Separately, it is exciting that moves are currently afoot to make the changes necessary to current legislation which would allow motorsport events on the UK highways. The two issues should not be confused however.

  14. Joe mentioned (apart from the history lesson which is always a welcome reminder of how we got here) Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.

    How they get away with almost no safety measures during the TT. in IOM. is amazing. I mean have you watched onboard footage of bike racing/time trials?

    It’s like GP or Le Mans in the fifties, BBC showed the prog about the Le Mans disaster in 1955 the other night 190mph and you stop on the track where your pit is adjacent! (which was a large part of the cause of the accident) It strikes me that even the current level of safety is almost non-existent in both NI and IOM events. (the IOM was used extensively for internment camps) during WW2. It features heavily in “The work house to Vienna” a book by a PPA survivor, not as colourful as TMWCC by Joe but still a true tale of note)

  15. With regards to Olivers Mount in Scarborough, the roads used form part of a park that is owned by the Local Authority. Therefore, although open to the public, they are not ‘roads’ for the purposes of the Highways Act. The same also applies to Madeira Drive in Brighton (where an annual sprint is held). Although Birmingham was successful in gaining an Act of Parliament, it was limited to a set number of days, dates and times which, if applied to London would limit flexibility to fit in with F1’s requirements.

  16. Hi Joe

    Brilliant post as usual

    You truly are like a human motor racing encyclopaedia. Have you ever thought about going on mastermind.

  17. The Australian Grand Prix costs $27m to set up and pull down every year. The government has spent a total $427m on the GP and nothing to show for it. Our real circuits are dying and the taxpaying public is not happy.

    I was deputy mayor of the city surrounding Albert Park – a popular inner city park – and can assure you the majority of local businesses do not make money from the GP. Quality tourism is disrupted by a temporary event. It’s the well documented “go away, stay away” effect.

    Our government may now have lost public support for taxpayer funding of a replacement, permanenet track, so motor racing is the loser. Thanks Bernie!

    Peter Logan

    1. This is not correct. The Grand Prix has had a spectacular effect on the image of Melbourne and has paid for itself over and over in tangible and intangible benefits. To portray it in any other way is wrong, thoroughly misguided and/or playing politics.

  18. The Birmingham Superprix ran for five years beginning in 1985 and was held during the August bank holiday every year.

    The first year was a wash out but a win for Jean Alesi. Since then many other Formula One drivers have raced on this circuit in F3000, and the racetrack has witnessed many other motor racing categories during this time.

    That was over twenty years ago and since then Birmingham has undergone a tremendous renaissance and developments at the Eastside part of the City are of importance to the Council.

    For anyone who knows Birmingham the suggestion is to have the start finish straight on Digbeth High Street as this is a very wide six lane carraigeway with plenty of land either side for pitlanes and paddocks. The race track would progress upwards towards the Bullring past Steelhouse Lane Police station, turning right at St Martins Church and snaking past the futuristic Selfridges building.

    The circuit continues past Matthew Boulton College before joining the A38 Aston Expressway. This is a long straight and racing cars can drag race at over 200mph before the ultimate hairpin of Spaghetti Junction, (there is the opportunity to have Formula Ones first double helix hairpin bend…imagine the aerial tv camera shots) the cars then head back onto the A38 returning to the city and past the new Snowhill development with sparkly, shiny new buildings as a backdrop before plunging into the underpass tunnel and emerging in China town, and at a part of the old superprix circuit. From here it’s onwards and past Bristol Street Motors with a left hand turn uphill and past Central Mosque to the old Halfords Hairpin with another turn to connect to the top end of Digbeth High Street and commence the lap again.

    This is a spread out circuit which provides easy access for spectators evenly distributed for efficient crowd control. Birmingham has the ideal infrastructure to support an event such as this.

    As a previous post correctly commented, London doesn’t need any more promotion. There is life outside the M25

        1. They can travel on the roads underneath the A38 expressway,
          there are a number of ways into the city from the M6.

    1. The Superprix ran for five years from 1986 to 1990. The winners were Luis Perez-Sala, Stefano Modena, Roberto Moreno, Jean Alesi and Eric Van de Poele in that order.

  19. will each driver need his mobile to pay the congestion charge while waiting for the lights to go out?

  20. I see Bernie has grabbed the newspapers this morning…. ‘London GP not a joke, says Ecclestone….I am determined to have this race’.

    Is there something happening again in Germany?

  21. Errrm, the City of London is a private corporation, fact – go check companies house website. Does this not mean that all roads within the city come under different legislation.

    1. Wrong. The City of London is a Municipal Corporation, not a private one. Most British cities used to have a Corporation model of civic administration, but with reorganisations, particularly the 1972 act, many of them were converted into councils. As such the City of London is something of an anachronism, but one that covers local administration, not national legislation like the Road Traffic Act.

      1. It always amazes me that two ‘posters’ state ‘facts’ that are indisputable……… & 180 degrees at variance. They can’t both be right – or maybe they’re both wrong. 100% or 50% ? Will we ever find out?

  22. It is more to do with public rights of way. You can prevent vehicles from using a road under present rules but you need an act of parliment to overturn a right of way to prevent a pedestrian walking up the middle of your racetrack.

  23. We’ve had a street race in Toronto now for over 25 years and aside from the voodoo economic impact estimates (which I have never bought into) the race is generally held in high regard as ‘something to do’ during mid summer heat waves. The setup-tear down costs are no where near what has been quoted for either London or 0Z – something closer to $5M per season. The initial paving was done in 1986 and there have been continual updates to the surface/track since then. As the roads are in use by the public, the cost of repaving / repairs can be amortized over several years city road repair budgets. What started out as a great event has sort of petered out over the last few years – mainly due to the current quality of open wheel racing on our side of the pond. Like London, we also have a high hotel occupancy rate and certainly based upon restaurant wait times – that segment of the economy doesn’t need a once a year street race to help the till. The Government of Ontario and the City of Toronto currently ‘donate’ $1M per year over the current 3 year contract to the organizing group. Is it money well spent? No in my opinion – not in this day and age. Our city has changed in 26 years and we no longer have only a few events to entertain ourselves with – every weekend there is something to do and there seems to be a road closure for festivals at the drop of a hat. Gay Pride beings is 10x the dollar valve as the Honda Indy does with little public funds going to them. Obviously we have different laws in regards to ‘street racing’ – as we have had several street racing events in Canada, many in fact and we have no need to change laws to hold races on public motorways. But even if it were ‘easy’ and cheap to hold a race in London, I would council against it based upon two reasons; the racing generally is lousy and you simply don’t need a race inside your city from an economic or entertainment viewpoint.

  24. Great insight into the historical aspect of a great sport. I have to say having recently read Grand Prix Saboteurs how intersting it was. My thought went to the cuurent crop of drivers and I couldn’t imagine any of them putting their necks on the line in similar circumstances. Great read thanks Joe for giving us such an amazing insight into these real heros.

  25. The legal status of london is quite complicated as to who controls what. But I think i am right in saying that the proposed race will be held in Westminster not the city, therefore the status of the city does no come into the debate. It will be upto Westminster council with help from boris. The corporation of London, which basically looks after the old roman area of the city (approx liverpool st to st pauls and the river to barbican) is unlikely to have a say.

    After the wireless festival has turned Hyde park into the Somme, and noise pollution from festivals in Hyde park being clearly heard two miles away, I expect local residents to lobby the royal parks commission to stop the commercialisation of the parks. So another potential obstacle.

    However as the local residents have fantastic cars and include the rac club perhaps not.

  26. Bob, I can temporarily close my local road with permission from the council as long as I put up diversion signs, police close roads to pedestrians all the time, concerts shut off rights of way etc so i am not sure how your pedestrian right of way fits into this?

  27. Hi Joe

    As the person leading the ‘Closed Road’ project for the Motor Sport Association (MSA), thank you for providing the platform to discuss this potentially significant issue.

    The simple legal position is that under Section 12 of the Road Traffic Act it is illegal to organise a motor race or a trial of speed on the public highway on mainland Britain.

    Furthermore, while it is possible to physically ‘close’ a road (for example utility works, road works, etc) it is not possible to suspend the Road Traffic Act except by another Act of Parliament; there are currently three events with this permission – the Tour of Mull, the Jim Clark Rally and the Brighton Speed Trials. The Birmingham Super Prix did have the relevant legislation, but that also contained a ‘sunset’ clause which has now lapsed.

    The MSA is proposing an amendment to the Road Traffic Act that would make it possible for Local Authorities to temporarily suspend the Act for an event that was deemed to be in the interests of the local community.

    Two years ago we commissioned an independent study by the Sport Industry Research Centre (SIRC) at Sheffield Hallam University to evaluate the case for ‘closed road’ motor sport events. The report found that up to £40m of economic benefit could be delivered to local economies over a five year period if 20 properly organised and regulated motor sport events were permitted on public roads in Britain per annum.

    From a sporting perspective bringing motor sport to the population, rather than asking the fans always to take themselves into the forests or to permanent circuits, would be a significant boost to the sport, particularly at a grass roots level.

    At the higher profile end of the scale, the same legislation could potentially enable events such as the Regent Street demo or the various F1 team demos that have taken place – all of which have technically been illegal. It follows that the legislation would also remove the legal obstacle to a Grand Prix in London – but in truth the legal position is possibly the least of the issues facing this proposed event as you have made clear elsewhere.

    The MSA is now making good progress with the Department of Transport on this subject and we are optimistic that there will be a consultation period announced before the end of the year. At that point, we need every motor sport fan to write to their MP and express their support for the cause to ensure that we are successful.

    Finally, it is just worth pointing out that closed road motor sport will not provide a rival to the current permanent circuits. It is much more likely to enable hillclimbs, sprints and stage rallies than full-on motor racing, simply because of the risk management requirements of modern day motor sport and the great facilities that are already in place at the UK’s permanent circuits.

    There is more information from the launch of the original campaign on the MSA website at:



      1. All the sceptics out there only need to look at Ben’s post above to see just how right Joe is about this. To be honest I wouldn’t even bother to give the time of day to the reports about a Grand Prix in the middle of London. It is just ludicrous! By writing piece after piece on it you are just drawing attention to the articles about this and driving people to look at them. It’s bucks in the bank for newspapers, websites and TV stations which churn them out because more traffic means more money in the bank. I have noticed that one of the websites which is none too kind to your analysis doesn’t even mention your name when it runs down your work. I don’t know if it is due to a lack of guts or something else but what I do know is that it isn’t going to get people clicking here as much as you are helping them out by writing about them and tipping off people about where to go to find their stuff. Why give them a helping hand? There was some weird sh*t I read recently and I had to copy out the quotations from it (a feat in itself) and search for them on Google to find out who they referred to which is when I found out it was you. Notice that I haven’t mentioned the name of this offending publication as I don’t want to draw any more people there than you have already. Worth remembering maybe and keep up the good work. Don’t let the b******s grind you down! 🙂

  28. The law, as it stands, still means that an Act of Parliament would be required for a street race in Britain. This was the case with Birmingham, which began to discuss holding street races as early as 1966, when the first proposal was made to the City Council. It was not until 1984 that the council sent the Birmingham Road Race Bill to Westminster and the Members of Parliament did not approve it until the Spring of 1985. It did not come into force until it was given Royal Assent in the autumn of 1985. A circuit was laid out on closed streets near the city centre and the first Birmingham Superprix took place in August 1986, for Formula 3000 cars.

    direct quote from you joe…….so road racing in the uk is not illegal then, otherwise there would be a blanket nationwide ban, but, seeing as an application to hold a race can be made its hardly illegal is it…just regulated. sorry but i have no time for dressing spurious mis-informed opinion as fact. if an application is made, they COULD race on the streets of london.

    1. Wow, how the uninformed like to preach. A new Act of Parliament means that the law is being changed. As the Road Traffic Act stands, racing on the public highway is illegal. For it not to be illegal the Act must be changed and that requires an Act of Parliament. Acts of Parliament are not something you just pick up an application form for down at the local Post Office. Do you not get that? Next time you feel like unleashing a vituperative outpouring of moronism, please don’t.

        1. May I please direct those of us who can access it (by whatever means) to the excellent, and much overdue, BBC 4 series: The Strange Case Of The Law.


          the last episode I watched was searing in indictment of the profligation of statute, largely not enacted. But it failed to note that most law is not not enacted by Parliament by by functionaries. Que sera, for democracy. Long gone. It appears the art is to compliment who you condemn, especially when you are a doyenne.

  29. Good post Joe!

    Laws of the land aside, can you really imagine any racing driver wanting to give way to an opponent before they ‘squeeze’ through Admiralty Arch??

    Think a London GP would be great but not at the cost of Silverstone. Which means that it would be two races in the UK, which apparently is a no-no. However, the US will be having two (Austin & New Jersey), and Spain has two… Valencia under the guise of the “European” GP.

    If London is a no-go then scrap Valencia as the ‘permanent’ European GP host and use the European GP event to tour around other circuits that don’t regularly hold F1 racing… Jerez, Estoril for example, and of course Donnington & Brands Hatch.

    I think street racing would be great for the sport and more importantly… the fans. London of course would be awesome, but would love to see the Birmingham race come back – they were really great and too short lived.

  30. Joe, I have just read your reply to Peter Logan (22. July 12)re the Melbourne Grand Prix.
    I like a lot of your posts, but you are not always right and here you are dead wrong. We live here and know far more than you do about this event. The State Auditor-General and many other mainstream economists have established that the Melbourne Grand prix is a bad economic loser for the citizens of Victoria. We are totally unaware of any ‘spectacular’ effect on the image of Melbourne, and of any real tangible or intangible benefits (except to the casino and some city hotels). This is not a political issue (both main parties here support the race); it concerns the gross abuse of public parkland, and ordinary civil rights. Joe, you are the misguided one here.

    1. You are utterly misguided if you think that the Grand Prix has not been worth it for Melbourne. Sorry, but it has clearly been good for the city and to believe otherwise is just ignoring realities. You can dredge up all the figures you like on the subject but the fact remains that the city has got billions of dollars of free advertising and the intangible benefits (that DO exist contrary to the silly views of the Auditor-General) in addition to the tangible benefits which, in nay case, pay for the race. To argue otherwise is just not realistic.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s