The Half Litre Car Club played a significant role in the development of Brands Hatch from a grass track for motor bikes to a fully fledged racing circuit.
In 1926, a group of cyclists stopped to investigate a mushroom field near West Kingsdown in Kent and quickly appreciated the natural bowl that they found there. With the farmer's approval the land at Brands Hatch Farm soon became a popular venue for cycling and pace-making. By 1928 motorcyclists, who had been using surrounding woodland for scrambles, took the first steps towards transforming the area into a racing circuit. In 1932 the Bermondsey, Owls, Sidcup and West Kent clubs joined forces and staged their first meeting in March 1932.
The start of a grass track event with what is now Paddock Bend to the left and, to the right, markers which would eventually become the Cooper Straight . Photo courtesy Steve Philpott.
Brands Hatch was occupied by the army during the War but quickly resumed racing thereafter and in 1947, Brands Hatch Stadium Ltd was formed with Joe Francis as managing director. Joe persuaded the BBC to televise a grass track meeting at Brands Hatch, the first motorcycle event to be seen on British TV.
The original layout of Brands
Stan Coldham checks out the new circuit while it is still being prepared! This is Paddock Hill Bend and Stan's Cooper is running anti clockwise.
The Half Litre Club was well established by 1950 and keen to find new venues. With a significant overlap with the bike racing scene and its proximity to London, it was almost inevitable that Brands Hatch would be considered. Ken Gregory, then Secretary of the Club as well as working for the Competition Department of the RAC, was instrumental in organising the inaugural event.
In 1950, "Inspecting the new circuit" seemed to consist of Stan and others blasting round for a bit. Happy days......
Racing on tarmac began at the circuit on 16th April 1950, with 500cc Formula 3 racing anti-clockwise round the one-mile kidney shaped oval, now known as the Indy Circuit. The first victory went to Don Parker in his Parker Special who easily won the 10-lap event for amateur built cars. Other winners that day were Ken Carter and Bill Whitehouse. Two months later a young Stirling Mosswon all five races that he started and set a new lap record.
Iota's Report on the inaugural event
The following year, in order to stop reckless driving, the Half-Litre Club devised a "no spin" rule for the meeting held that September. It led to automatic disqualification of anyone who spun or left the track. One of the first victims of the rule was Bernie Ecclestone! Through 1950 and '51, the Club organised the majority of events at Brands, firmly establishing it as a national centre for motor racing. The natural bowl of the original layout proved a hit with spectators with good viewing from almost anywhere and attendances grew rapidly to number unheard of today. From the start, the Club and the circuit's owners had plans to extend the track, the target being the minimum length required to hold a full Grand Prix. Originally published in the Club's Annual at the start of 1952, here is one version of how things may have turned out.
Four shillings and a bus ride from the Old Kent Road for a day's entertainment.
In 1953, a new loop was added which extended the circuit to 1.24 miles and introduced the new Druids hairpin.
A racing school was formed and one of the first to sign up for the four lap course at 5 shillings a lap was Graham Hill.
A spin at the new Druids Bend in 1954. Photo by Ian Frost.
In 1954 it was decided to reverse the direction of the circuit and drivers began racing clockwise for the first time creating Paddock Hill bend, a daunting downhill sweeping right hander.
The circuit was widened so that larger cars could compete, including Formula Libre, and a grandstand, erected in 1955, became the first permanent one built on a British circuit. There followed a telephone system linked to Race Control and marshals' posts and a modern trackside hospital, complete with operating theatre. Boxing Day meetings "the Yuletide Trophy" became a feature at Brands Hatch and, in 1954, this final race decided the Championship in favour of Les Leston by half a point from Don Parker.
The pack stream through Paddock in October 1955. Note the packed grandstand. Photo courtesy Roy & Phillip Mayne.
The start in 1958 in a clockwise direction.
Ten years after car racing started at Brands Hatch, it was given permission for an extension to double the length of the track, offering a choice of long or short circuits. The Grand Prix Circuit opened in 1960. Jack Brabham won the first race on the new 2.65 mile track with Graham Hill 4.4 seconds behind in second place. In 1964 the circuit staged its first Formula 1 World Championship event, which was awarded the status of European Grand Prix and won by Jim Clark. Thereafter Brands Hatch alternated with Silverstone for the British Grand Prix until 1986. In 1980, Desire Wilson became the first woman to win a Formula 1 race.
Brands as it is today