While the "new" circuit at Killarney is now in its Golden Anniversary year, to say that we are 50 years old this year is not quite the story of the Western Province Motor Club really began with the formation of the A.A.R.C (Amateur Automobile Racing Club).- one of the senior partners in the eventual coalition of the four clubs that formed the W.P.M.C, was founded in 1938. The Mets (Metropolitan Motorcycle and Car Club), was formed even before that, in 1928.
Killarney - our spiritual and physical home -- first saw action in 1949. And no history of the W.P.M.C., brief and incomplete as it may be, can be written without reference to its development.
It all began when the Divisional Council bypassed what was then a section of the main road to Malmesbury, at the Potsdam Outspan. This discussed stretch was then acquired by the Mets for sprint events. A section of the original road, picturesquely flanked by bluegums on both sides, still does duty today as our number one access road running from the new main gate to the subway.
A major breakthrough came about shortly afterward when a link was built to transform the strip into a very basic circuit. Shaped much like a narrow triangle, it incorporated a tight hairpin, the remains of which can still be seen in the spectator area next to the Coppe Shoppe. It then linked near the subway before rejoining the original stretch.
In 1952 the Tower Bend and the Big Sweep were built. The potholed remains of these corners are today incorporated in the stretch of tarmac which circumnavigates the clubhouse, from the subway to the infield area. Billy Kay, the then chairman of the Mets, painstakingly measured the new circuit with a dressmakers tape measure and proclaimed it to be 5 562 ft. X 9 ins. long, which translated into modern idiom becomes 1.65 kilometers.
Killarney was raced in this form for several years before the final addition to the "old" track, a loop down towards what is now the Cape Town Corner, was constructed. Before this was completed there was considerable discussion as to where the Start/Finish should be located. It was finally agreed that this key position would be sited pretty close to where it is today, although all events on the original circuits were raced in an anti-clockwise direction.
In 1959/60 the club negotiated a loan of R40 000.00 with the Cape Divisional Council for the purpose of building a new circuit to the then Formula One International Standard (1500 cc cars such as Lotus 18 and 22, that were slower than a current Formula Ford). Raymond Reider was Chairman of the Mets Club at the time, the circuit was designed by Edgar Hoal who also supervised its construction. Most of the negotiation with the Divisional Council was conducted by the Club President, Mr. C. Stanley Damp.
The Western Cape then had its first taste of international Formula One Grand Prix racing when the Cape Grand Prix was run at Killarney on December 17 1960.
The following year the Grand Prix was promoted and organized by the Tex Kingon Racing Committee (a committee drawn from all of the Cape Town motor sports club). Drivers like Stirling Moss, Jo Bonnier, Jim Clark, Taffy von Trips and Trevor Taylor competed in those events with spectator attendances of between 15 and 20 thousand people. Unfortunately the promoters and organizers in both instances over-extended themselves, ran at a loss and were unable to pay anything to the Mets Club for the hire and preparation of the circuit. In consequence the club could not meet its annual loan repayments to the Council....
On 30th November 1964 the Mets Club was informed that the Divisional Council had cancelled the lease and loan agreement and would retain ownership of the land and any improvements that had been affected.
Realizing that they would have to somehow find the resources to repay this loan, the Mets formed a new committee to firstly find the money and then to invite the existing clubs in Cape Town to bury their differences and their individual identities in a new, strong, unified club for the good of motor sport.
The committee comprised Adrian Pheiffer (Chairman), Ted Lanfear, Denis Joubert (Secretary), Charles Byron, Dave van Schoor, Ronnie Scullard, Ronnie Hare, Neville Clark, Barry Loftus and Cecil Barata, and with the enthusiastic support of many other club members they successfully organized a major eight day Motor Show Extravaganza at the Goodwood Showground's. The event was a huge success and raised enough money to repay the debt. It incidentally also introduced modern stock car racing to the Cape Town public..
Thereafter amid some die-hard opposition from some older Club members the Metropolitan Motor Cycle and Car Club, the Amateur Automobile Racing Club, the Cape Rally Association, the Kape Kart Klub and the Motor Sports Marshals Association combined to form the Western Province Motor Club. The first Chairman was Adrian Pheiffer, who was followed by Ted Lanfear, Ronnie Hare and Denis Joubert.
Over the years facilities were added and improved. Benefiting from their unfortunate experience in the early sixties the club never again overreached itself and an ultra-conservative finance committee always ensured that the money was available to meet any commitment.
During this period the moto-crossers who had begun on the beach and in the dunes at Noordhoek and Sandvlei, also joined the club. Finally with the formation of an active Drag section, Killarney has become the only true motor sport complex in the Republic.
THE BRIDGE HAS GONE
That’s right. After spanning the main straight at Killarney for over 45 years, the renowned Goodyear (nee Dunlop) Bridge was finally consigned to the cargo hold of a tramp steamer on its way to a port in China. Once there, the remains were due to be melted down, before resurfacing somewhere, probably as a selection of burglar bars or braai grids.
A somewhat ignominious end to a landmark that has dominated the local circuit’s skyline since the days when the only other feature higher than the tops of the open ended pits of the time, was a line of young bluegum trees along the back straight. When its reign ended the structure had starred in more photographic background roles that any other single item at the complex.
On reflection, extend that claim to any circuit in South Africa.
Strategically situated, just past the start and near the entrance to the first corner, it also became a traditional brake mark. So much so that complaints from disorientated competitors after it was removed, led to metre boards indicating the distance to the bend, being placed near where the structure once stood.
Originally sponsored by Dunlop Tyres, it was constructed to coincide with the final redesign of the track, before the first Caltex Cape Grand Prix in 1960. At the time it was an unashamed replica of the even more historic Dunlop Bridge at Le Mans.
Although the original job description had it filling the role of a pedestrian link to the clubhouse, it later became a unique commentary point that enabled the mike-men to observe cars and bikes coming straight at them before passing under their legs, as it were.
Unfortunately it was also associated with several less pleasant motorsport incidents over the years. The first, and certainly most bizarre of these, occurred in January 1972, only seconds after the start of a national Cape South Easter meeting.
The Formula Atlantic McLaren V8’s, driven by Paddy Driver and John McNicol slewed off the line after McNicol attempted an impossible passing manoevre and the two collided during the initial pull-away.
Heading straight for the base of the bridge, the wheels of Driver’s single seater climbed over McNicol’s, launching his car sideways and almost two metres into the air before they both slammed against the structure. Fortunately, although visually horrific, neither driver was seriously injured.
And while the covering was repainted and refurbished more than once since that day, providing you knew where to look, the head high indentation left by Paddy’s flying McLaren remained visible until the breakers delivered the last rites.
Sadly, as speeds increased and competition – especially among the steel caged saloons --became fiercer, the bridge was soon the scapegoat for almost every accident that occurred in its proximity. But regardless of what drivers said in their reports, many of these were due to impetuosity and errors of judgment that had nothing whatsoever to do with its perceived menace. Despite that, it was decided that as part of the comprehensive safety upgrade currently under way at the circuit, that the structure would have to go.
The commentators now ply their trade from a luxurious new studio atop the control tower, almost 40 metres above the track. Meanwhile, calls for a new bridge with its supports further from the edge of the track, are being studied by the wise heads at the Western Province Motor Club.