Saturday 23rd September 1972
The famous Crystal Palace racing circuit in London held its final meeting, ending a 45-year racing tradition. The closure had been announced a few weeks before the beginning of the 1972 season, prompted by noise complaints and safety concerns.The circuit opened in 1927 and the first race, for motorcycles, was on 21 May 1927. The circuit was 1-mile (1.6 km) long, and ran on pre-existing paths through the park, including an infield loop past the lake. The surface had tarmac-covered bends, but the straights only had hard-packed gravel.Improvements begun in December 1936 increased the circuit to 2 miles (3 km), and tarmac covered the entire length. 20 cars entered the first London Grand Prix on 17 July 1937, a race eventually won by Prince Bira in his ERA R2B Romulus at an average speed of 56.5 mph (90.9 km/h). Later that year, during the International Imperial Trophy meeting also won by Bira, the BBC broadcast the first ever televised motor racing. With the outbreak of World War II, the park was taken over by the Ministry of Defence, and it would not be until 1953 that race meetings could take place again. The circuit had been reduced in length to 1.39 miles (2.2 km), bypassing the loop past the lake, and pressure from the local residents led to an injunction which reduced motor sport events in the park to only five days per year. A variety of races took place, including sports cars, Formula Three, the London Trophy for Formula Two, and non-championship Formula One races.
Average speeds continued to rise over the years, with the first 100 mph (161 km/h) lap average set in 1970 by that year’s Formula One world champion, Jochen Rindt. Also in 1970, the injunction limiting race days expired and racing was increased to 14 days a year. However, driver safety was coming into focus in the early seventies and it became clear that racing around a park at 100 mph (161 km/h) was not safe. Expensive improvements were undertaken, but it was not enough to save the circuit. The last International meeting was in May 1972, the final lap record going to Mike Hailwood at an average speed of 103.39 mph (166.39 km/h).
The circuit’s location within Greater London made it a popular venue for both film and television settings, The Italian Job filmed on the startline at Crystal Palace for the scene showing initial testing of the Mini Cooper getaway cars and in the paddock area for the scene where a security van is “blown-up”. The Crystal Palace transmitter tower can be seen in the background of this scene. The circuit was also used in Ron Howard’s film Rush, to recreate the last corner accident between James Hunt and Dave Morgan, and for parts of the UFO (TV series) episode The Responsibility Seat.
Although the circuit no longer exists (as an actual racing circuit), it can be driven virtually in the Grand Prix Legends historical motor racing computer simulation game, for which it was recreated in detail. It was later converted to several other racing simulation programs, including the popular rFactor. The circuit was used for the prologue time trial of the Tour of Britain cycle race on 9 September 2007, and is used regularly for summer road race league events, normally held on Tuesday evenings.