The Gibraltar Grand Prix


It was satirist Peter Ustinov who parodied Grand Prix motor racing with his recording of the “Gibraltar Grand Prix” several decades ago.  What Ustinov did not know, was that there really was a Gibraltar Grand Prix.  Yes, I can assure you that there really was, because I was there, and I won it.

Now those of you who have visited the Rock of Gibraltar, famous for its Barbary apes, will know that it is not the kind of place that could host a full blown Eff Wun style GP.  The narrow roads along the bottom of the rock would make passing even more difficult in a Formula 1 car than it obviously is at present, where they can only pass each other in the pits, while stationary!

Interested spectator in Gibraltar.Interested spectator in Gibraltar.

It was 1967, in the days of hardship before ball point pens and the universal use of cling-film, and your Automania reporter had accepted a position in Gibraltar as a Junior Houseman at St. Bernard’s Hospital.

So what has all this got to do with the Gibraltar GP, I hear you ask?  Plenty, really.  Gib was proudly British, and local legend had it that it would remain British unless the apes all packed their bananas and disappeared.  Not much chance of that, so there was a British governor of sorts, complete with 18th century military outfit and ostrich-plumed hat, just to let the Spaniards know who was really in charge.  Along with all this adulation of Mother England, there was a small core of UK style motor racing enthusiasts too.  The concept of a Gibraltar GP was taking shape.

The main street from the airstrip was a two way smooth tarred surface, with a roundabout at the town end.  So there were two straights and a corner.  These were then linked to a circuit with chicanes and tyre markers on the airstrip, and they had a course.  They also had competition vehicles – go-karts!  The die was cast and the Gibraltar GP of 1967 was scheduled for November.

Now I did not have a go-kart, but one of my colleagues at the hospital had a spare old chassis and a Parilla engine if I wanted to put them together.  I did.

It finally fired up on the morning of the race and I took it down for qualifying.  The chassis I found had been relegated to “spares” because it was twisted and only three wheels touched the ground at any one time while travelling in a straight line; however, it seemed to be reasonable in the engine department, so the fact that it was a tripod was glossed over.

As the hour for the race grew closer, the clouds grew closer too, and we were flagged off with the Union Jack in approaching darkness.  By the second lap it was bucketing down, and I felt sorry for the governor, whose ostrich plumes lost all their jauntiness as he stood there in the official box watching spray mixed with go-karts and drivers.

Tripod and I struggled on, braking being impossible in the three wheeled situation but we kept on going, watching the others spinning off or stopping with damp electrics.  Tripod hit the front!

After enough laps to see that there was little chance of the rain easing off, a sodden chequered flag was waved and I acknowledged my win by waving back, applying the brakes and immediately performing a donut on the main street (Sebastian Vettel eat your heart out).  The glory was mine!  The Gibraltar Grand Prix had been run and won.

The following year there was no enthusiasm to run the event again.  The governor’s ostrich refused to donate more feathers, and with Spain and the UK almost at blows over the ownership of the rock, the GP was consigned to history.  But it was run – once!