Car (South Africa)
KILLARNEY AT 75 THEN & NOW
As we celebrate 75 years of racing at Killarney, we dig into our archives to find some of the most revealing photographs of the early days at this circuit, and compare them with images taken recently, to show how far we have come since the first sprint races on a disused section of the national road to Malmesbury in 1947.
We also pay tribute to the motorsport enthusiasts who hacked a Grand Prix circuit out of the bush alongside that road and who, over the years since then, have developed it into the complete motorsport facility it is today. Astonishingly, they did it without government funding – and there’s a reason for that!
The first few iterations of the Killarney racing circuit were built in the 1950s, almost entirely by hand. The members of the motor clubs involved simply came out at weekends and cleared the bush, laid out the track and built all the infrastructure themselves, paid for out of their own and club funds.
There’s a lovely story that legendary motorsport commentator Brian Peek met his wife Marie at one of those bush clearing weekends. Despite their different backgrounds (he was from Walthamstow in south London and she was a local farmer’s daughter) love blossomed at Killarney and they were together until she passed away in 1999.
But building a whole new 3.267 kilometre circuit to Grand Prix standards was a much bigger undertaking so in 1960, for the first time, the Metropolitan Motorcycle and Car Club negotiated a £20 000 (R40 000) loan from the Divisional Council. The circuit was ready just in time for the first ever Cape Grand Prix on 17 December 1960, which was won by Stirling Moss in a Formula 1 Porsche, but the southeaster blew and the spectators stayed away.
The same happened in January 1962 and, inevitably, the organisers
defaulted on the loan. The circuit was very nearly lost forever but was saved by the proceeds of a huge and very successful motor show held at the Goodwood Showgrounds (where the Grand West casino now stands). The Mets and three other motor clubs then merged to form the Western Province Motor Club, which took over the management of the facility; its committee vowed never to let it get into debt again – and they never have.
Over the years the WPMC has built a control tower and offices, a twostory clubhouse, three complete pit complexes (the original ‘shop counter’ pits were replaced in the 1980s), seventeen grandstands providing seating for thousands of spectators, a number of bomas alongside the circuit that are hired out as hospitality suites, and workshops for several motorsport-related businesses.
There are now numerous garages where competitors can store their vehicles and work on them between races, in addition to a drag strip, a karting circuit with its own pit complex and restaurant, a short circuit, a tar oval and a skid pan, as well as a 4x4 trail, a motorcycle adventure track and, most recently, Africa’s only World Rallycross circuit - all built without outside funding, paid for either out of Club funds or by the members themselves.
Today’s WPMC members are immensely and justifiably proud of what they and their predecessors have achieved on this dusty, unused piece of waste ground alongside an abandoned road. Killarney International Raceway is the home of motorsport in the Western Cape and Cape Town’s most-used sports venue, hosting up to 200 events a year precovid, as many as 70 of them charity events.
But more than that, it is an enduring monument to the unsung heroes of motorsport, the competitors and their friends who made it happen with ‘sweat equity’ and who are now rightly known as the Killarney family – and that is what these photographs are all about.