Britain By Car - A Motoring History

Gransden Lodge Circuit

Lightbox Image

The venue for England’s first post-War closed circuit motor race meeting.

Location
Gransden Lodge Airfield, Longstowe Rd, Little Gransden, SG19 3EB.  

Date
1946 - 1947

Commentary    
On the 14th June 1946, the Biggleswade Chronicle announced that a race meeting for cars and motorcycles was to be held the following day at Gransden Aerodrome.

RAF Gransden Lodge opened in 1942 as a bomber base.  The last squadron departed in February 1942, but the base was retained by the RAF until 1955.

Lightbox Image

The meeting was organised by the Cambridge University Automobile Club and comprised twelve races: six for sports cars, five for racing cars, and one for specials. The track for the 1946 race was 2.13 miles in length, broadly triangular in shape, using the main runway and two sections of the airfield perimeter road.  Unusually, the start and finish were at different points on the track.

Although doubts were expressed beforehand about using runways for motor sport, the day itself - despite atrocious weather - seems to have been a great success.  Described by Motor Sport as ‘a grand meeting, proving that disused aerodromes can offer excellent motor-racing facilities’.

The entrants at this event read like a motoring ‘Who’s Who’, including: George Abecassis, John Bolster, Tony  Crook, Bob and Joan Gerard, Thomas “Cuth” Harrison, Alec Issigonis, Reg Parnell, Alec Rivers-Fletcher, and Roy Salvadori.

Lightbox Image

It was another year before a second motor race took place at Gransden Lodge; organised once again by the Cambridge University Automobile Club, in collaboration with the Vintage Sports Car Club.  The race was advertised in aid of the RAF Flood Victims Relief Fund, set up to help the thousands of people in Britain affected by the great flood of March 1947.

The race organisers continued to use the main runway, but this time opted for the other half of the old perimeter track, with cars running in the opposite direction, again forming a triangular circuit, 2.23 miles in length.  

On Sunday 13th July 1947, an estimated 15,000 people gathered at the Cambridgeshire airfield to watch the racing.  The event was heavily over-subscribed, and this time the weather was kinder, giving spectators the chance to watch a great range of cars, from Italas and Hispano-Suizas in the Edwardian category, to Bentleys, Bugattis, 30/98 Vauxhalls, and the newly developed Allards, plus the emerging 500cc racing class.

Despite the success of both meetings, no further racing took place at Gransden Lodge, and it appears that this second race was the only British race meeting of the year; a casualty of the withdrawal of the petrol ration for private motoring.  

Today, most of the runways and perimeter track have been removed and grassed over.  In the early 1990s, Gransden Lodge became the home of the Cambridge University Gliding Club, now the Cambridge Gliding Club.

With many thanks to Gordon Brooks for his help in the preparation of this article. 

Further details    
• Motorsport Explorer, Julian Hunt, Haynes Publishing, 2012.  
• Motor racing circuits in England: then and now, Peter Swinger, Ian Allan, 2001.
• Sixty Years Ago: Gransden Lodge 1947, Richard Strange-Hall, VSCC Bulletin, Winter 2007.