After the Second World War there were no motor racing circuits in operation in Britain, and no venue for the British Grand Prix, which had been held at Brooklands, which had fallen into disrepair after being bombed by the Germans.
It was decided that a street circuit in Jersey could be used for Grand Prix races, although they were non-championship events. However, as international sport recovered from its wartime cessation, some of the top drivers were attracted to race in Jersey. This was seen as a major opportunity for Jersey to show the world that it was recovering from the German Occupation and was ready to play host to a major event and start to attract the tourists who had been a major part of the island's economy before war brought everything to a standstill.
The circuit chosen for the inaugural event in 1947 was from West Park to Bel Royal along Victoria Avenue, only a single-carriage road in those days, returning via St Aubin’s Road, a total of 3.2 miles. In truth, it was never going to present enough challenges for the top level of international motor sport, and its only real attraction was that it was the only circuit at the time able to offer Grand Prix racing in the British Isles. As such, it received enormous publicity during the first couple of years, but the island's tourism infrastructure was not ready to capitalise on this international fame.
By the time it was, the reconstruction of dedicated motor sport circuits such as Goodwood, ensured that Jersey was no longer going to be able to offer the only British Grands Prix circuit, and it was always going to be second best to any other. No longer was a non-championship event going to receive the interest and publicity that the Formula One circuits commanded and Jersey's days as a Grand Prix venue were numbered.
Various suggestions have been put forward for the rapid demise of the Jersey International Road race, but none was the sole factor. It was a combination of circumstances: The Jersey circuit was not sufficiently challenging to offer true Grand Prix racing; cars were developing so rapidly that they were simply too fast for the Jersey street circuit; the costs of shipping cars and their support crews to Jersey for a non-championship event could not be justified as other European circuits opened to offer championship racing; Jersey was not making enough out of the races to justify the expense and disruption they involved.
Jersey's failure to get the publicity that would justify the expense and inconvenience of staging the races is well illustrated by the coverage given by Motor Sport, the pre-eminent specialist publication of the day. The 1947 race had three pages of the magazine devoted to it, but in the two following years, as motor sport got under way again in the UK, the Jersey race attracted only one page at the back of the magazine. In 1950 Motor Sport devoted its main pictorial feature to the final Jersey grand prix event, giving it a total of five pages, but the revived race, for sports cars, in 1952 merited only a few column inches on the last inside page of the magazine.
Remarkably the first race was held on 8 May 1947, a day short of two years after the island was liberated from German Occupation, and this was the first significant British post-war motor race, and the first with continental participation.
The drivers who took part included Britain’s Reg Parnell, who won in a Maserati, and the legendary French driver Louis Chiron. Cars included a range of Maseratis from Italy and ERAs from England, as well as Delages and a Bugatti.
The race attracted enormous publicity in the mainstream press as well as specialist motor racing magazines such as Motor Sport, not to mention international publications which painted an attractive picture of an island which at the time was impossible to reach from elsewhere than the nearby French coast and a limited number of English ports and airports.
The race was held again the following year, over 55 laps of the same circuit. It was won by Bob Gerard in his B-Type ERA, with George Abecassis second and Reg Parnell in third. Another famous name in post-war motor racing who participated in 1948 was Roy Salvatori.
This race was marked by a dramatic accident involving S J Gilbey, driving a Maserati. He skidded under braking at Bel Royal, mounted a kerb, struck a bank and then a low wall. The car somersaulted, throwing its driver from the cockpit. Then the driverless car landed on its wheels, sped across the road narrowly missing two other cars and came to a halt alongside a petrol pump at the corner garage. Gilbey was taken to hospital but was not seriously injured.
Dramatic though this incident was, nobody was seriously hurt and plans were soon in place for a continuation of the event the following year.
- Report of the 1948 road race from ''Motor Sport''
- Stills from a Pathe UK newsreel of the 1948 race Added 2021
In 1949 the race was again won by Bob Gerard in an ERA, with Emmanuel de Graffenried from Switzerland second and Britain’s Raymond Mays third. Kenneth Bears died during practice on the eve of the race, but this did not stop it being held again the following year, when the winner was Peter Whitehead in a Ferrari.
For 1950 the entry list included the works Maseratis of Chiron and Rol, but much to the disappointment of enthusiasts, they never arrived for the race.
The race was won by Peter Whitehead at a record average of 90.94 mph, a lap ahead of Parnell's Maserati. The Delage, Coper and Hampshire's Maserati all retired and de Graffenreid had two lengthy pit stops.
There was then a gap because Grand Prix cars were becoming too fast for the circuit, although a sports car race was held in 1952, at only a slightly slower speed than the Grand Prix cars. There were two heats and a final, which was won by Ian Stewart in an XK120C, with Ken Wharton second in a Fraser-Nash and George Abecassis third in an Aston Martin.
This was to be Jersey’s last road race and, although there has been talk of reviving the event in some format over the following 50-plus years, it was never really a realistic proposition given the speed of modern-day racing cars which would have to race on a circuit where traffic is today restricted to 40 mph, and 30 mph in some sections. In contrast, Ian Stewart’s average winning speed in 1952 was nearly 90 mph and fastest laps approaching 100 mph were recorded in 1948-1950.
Some of the top drivers of the day competed in the races, including Reg Parnell, who might have been one of the top Formula One drivers of his day had the war not interrupted his career. He switched from driving to managing the Aston Martin team, and ran his own Formula One team for a spell.
Jerseyman Frank Le Gallais was also a competitor, alongside some of the more illustrious names, such as Prince Bira, of Siam. He had been a prominent driver on the European circuit in the late 1930s. For the 1947 race season he bought a new Maserati 4CL.
Record price for 1952 winner
The Jaguar C-type which won the last race in 1952 was designed and built to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Just six weeks after its completion, Peter Whitehead and Peter Walker won the 1951 Le Mans race an immense 67 miles ahead of their competition.
Six C-types were retained by the works, but the model was also available for sale at some £1,500 plus purchase tax. Ecurie Ecosse team owner David Murray bought XKC006 for team driver Peter Stewart, who won his first outing — the Jersey Road Race — and recorded the fastest lap. During that first season, he totalled 14 wins, including his only win over Stirling Moss. The winning car was sold at auction by Christie's in 2006 for just under £1 million.
Click on image to see larger picture - pictures mostly from Evening Post and Motor Sport
Raymond Mays passes First Tower on his way to third place, at an average speed of 81.82 mph
Whitehead laps Parnell in front of West Park Pavilion
Amateur photographs of western end of circuit
These four photographs were taken at the western end of the road race circuit, three of them between Bel Royal and Coronation Park, and the fourth on Victoria Avenue
1952 race for sports cars
A set of amateur photographs of one of the early races