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Homepage. This page: Silverstone opens its doors to Grand Prix & 500cc car racing, October 1948.

Silverstone International Grand Prix, October 1948.

"As a result of Air Ministry confirmation being received that Silverstone Airfield will be available to the R.A.C. as a Motor-racing track for a trial period of twelve months, the R.A.C. is able to stage on October 2nd, the first International Grand Prix Race to be held in England for twenty-one years. It is appropriate that this important R.A.C. International event should mark the official opening of the new British racing track, and the Club is very happy that the race has attracted entrants from so many of Europe's most important motor-racing aces as well as from Britain's own fastest drivers."
This is the opening greeting that spectators attending Silverstone in October 1948, having bought their programme for the sum of one shilling (five pence), received. This was indeed a momentous moment in the re-awakening of top-flight motor racing in Britain, in the tough years that followed the war. The programme goes on to recall the two previous R.A.C. Grand Prix, that had taken place at Brooklands in 1926 and 1927. The 1926 race saw a Delage taking the win, completing 110 laps in the process, averaging 71.6 mph. For 1927 the race distance was increased to 125 laps, with again a Delage taking the spoils, this time averaging 85.59mph. Drivers competing in the Silverstone Grand Prix for Formula One cars, would aim to complete 65 laps, a total distance of approximately 250 miles. In addition, there would also be a race held specifically for the increasingly popular 500cc racing cars.
The programme featured here is an original from that first Silverstone meeting.
Cover of the Silverstone programme
The regulations of the day required that cars had to have engines of up to 1500cc (supercharged), or up to 4500cc (un-supercharged). The spectators were in for an exciting event, as the programme goes on to describe in more detail:
"In view of the distance to be covered in this Race, it is almost certain that all cars will have to stop for re-fuelling, and as high average speeds are expected, the possibility of wheel changing will also enter into the calculations. In fact, with the standard of car and driver entered for this Race, it is more than likely that efficiency during these pit stops will play a very important part in deciding the winner of the race."
"In these days of fuel restrictions for the ordinary motorist, it may be interesting for spectators to know that these racing cars run upon a mixture which is composed mostly of methanol, to which is added several other spirits not normally used in the motor fuel required by the average motorist."
"Each car is allowed a staff of four attendants, of which three only may set foot upon the course when the car is at rest at its pit, to assist the driver in any repairs or replenishments that may be necessary."

Grand Prix teams.

The programme evidently belonged originally to a keen enthusiast, for all over it are hand-written notes regarding the teams entered, their performance, and ultimately their finishing positions (if they made it to the flag). Home-grown motor-cars entered for the Grand Prix are predominantly those produced by English Racing Automobiles, ERA, under the guidance of racer and company owner Raymond Mays. In all, ten ERAs were entered, including R4D set to be driven by Mays himself and the new E-Type, driven by Lesley Johnson. Mays made it to lap 35, according to this spectator's notes, where he then hit piston problems. Johnson, in the under-developed E-Type, managed just half a lap before transmission woes ended his hopes prematurely.
Car number 32, the Emeryson, didn't make the start, while reserve entry G. Watson in the lone Alta only made it to lap 8 before crashing.
The entry though is dominated by Italian-built machines, with Maserati, Ferrari, and privateer Tony Rolt's lone Alfa-Romeo, making up most of the field, accompanied by a number of Talbot-Lagos.
Car 18, the Scuderia Ambrosiana Maserati piloted by Villoresi, went on to win the race, followed home by car 11 (Ascari - Maserati) and 16 (Bob Gerard - ERA).


In addition to notes scribbled into the programme itself, the spectator kept detailed records of all the retirements as they happened, first being Johnson in the E-Type ERA, followed by Parnell in the Maserati. Parnell was particularly unlucky it seems, as his retirement is recorded as being due to a "... flying stone [that] ripped drain plug from petrol tank ...". The remaining woes tended to relate to engine parts letting go, transmissions packing up, and the occasional un-planned exit into the scenery. Race positions at lap 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 and 70 for each driver are also recorded. There also appear to be a few jottings relating to another meet, as drivers such as Fangio - who didn't race here in 1948 - are mentioned. Two envelopes, dating to 30th September and 1st October 1948, have pencilled notes upon them and were addressed to a Mr L Walters of Greville Road in Cambridge, presumably the original owner of this paperwork.

The R.A.C. 500cc Race.

Preceding the Grand Prix was a race for the 500cc cars, a class of car that rapidly gained in popularity in the late 1940s. A wide variety of cars were entered. Coopers were understandably well represented, but mixing it with them were many one-off creations that would have been well known to racing enthusiasts in the day. These included specials such as Tiger Kitten, the Strang, Marwyn, the Aikens, Fairley, Joseph Fry's Freikaiserwagen, Buzzie II, Grose, and many many more - in all there were 35 cars entered. Stand-out names include a certain Stirling Moss (Cooper), Ken Wharton (Wharton), Laurie Bond (Bond Type C) and John Cooper (Cooper). Winner though was Spike Rhiando in his Cooper J.A.P., followed by John Cooper, and Sir Francis Samuelson - also in a Cooper.

Elsewhere in the programme.

Bill Boddy, long-term Editor of "Motor Sport" magazine, provides a brief bio on each of the Grand Prix drivers set to take part, following on from a description of the newly-created circuit, bearing in mind that corners such as Becketts, Chapel, Stowe and Club were all new to the attending public and drivers alike.
Slipcotize car polish
Numerous advertisements are spread throughout the programme's 24 pages. These include a full-page plug for car polish Slipcotize, and another for Autourist, a facility offering accommodation for those wishing to venture overseas and combine a holiday with spectating at other Grand Prix.
Autourist travel service
Original (silent) footage of this first meeting can be found at the following Youtube location:
Return to the main Race Programmes page to read about other event guides, from the 1930s to the 1950s.

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