Lights, camera, fiction

Retracing the route of a Grand Prix that never happened lights, camera, fiction

What, you don’t remember the Salisbury Grand Prix? You lot are meant to be the best-informed enthusiasts any magazine has ever had. Shame on you. It was all reported in the press in 1927…

Mind you, it did happen entirely in the imagination of Humphrey Symons of The Motor. Inspired by his frustration that the law prevented a Le Mans or road Grand Prix in Britain, he turned his fantasy into print, mapped out and illustrated by the great motoring artist Bryan de Grineau. His triangular 10½-mile circuit, thoughtfully planned for transport and traffic, lay north-east of Salisbury between Old Sarum, Amesbury and Porton and he hinted at a 78mph lap. Did he achieve that in reality, wondered WB when he drove a lap in 1959?

As I recently had to pass Amesbury to collect my new racing bicycle (I say new – it’s 110 years old) I diverted, camera in fist, to follow the Bod’s actual tyre-prints and the mythical ones of Strümpfelmeyer in his Blitzen, “grizzled veteran” Dufour in a Vilbrequin-Manette and Barr’s all-enclosed mid-engined Highbury Special – which De Grineau depicts as eerily close to a cabined Auto Union, five years before Porsche’s P-wagen.

WB found the course “practically unchanged, and it could easily be used for racing today”, but 55 years on the traffic lights and industrial blocks of Old Sarum and its aerodrome, putative site of pits and paddock, don’t look quite so vintage. Here Symons’ contenders had to tackle a hairpin after the two-mile Roman Portway straight; we queued for a roundabout. Then the long pull up busy Four Mile Hill (the A345) cresting at High Post and a swing right past Boscome Down MoD airfield which has chopped off Symons’ fast Amesbury Corner, where plucky Brit Payne overturns his Browning Special. The Bod mentions “high wire fences” by the airfield and they remain, adorned with “No Stopping – No Photographs” which kept me moving to a 90-right onto Porton Road. Finally here was a view that almost let me drift back to 1927 as it plunged between flowery hedgerows to Porton crossroads, turning west and winding through trees along the brink of the River Bourne.

Through these esses perhaps the agile ItalianChotti could make up ground on Tex Mersey’s Orinoco Flier as they sprint onto the Roman straight – only for him to spin braking for the hairpin. Symons ‘wakes up’ before his dream race ends, but not before wily Strümpfelmeyer has used a cart track to cut a corner and nerfed a rival into the bank for which he will later be disqualified. Such national stereotyping – that would never happen.

Nor could a Salisbury GP, despite WB’s remark that “the problems of racing through the village would be no more severe than [at] Newtownards and the IoM”. I finished my lap thinking nervously of its narrow banks; then a Caterham passed me chasing an Ariel Atom and I thought “the perfect weapons…”

Gordon Cruickshank