Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Motor Racing in Singapore - by guest blogger Peter

I came across mention of the Heritage Fest’s Vintage Car Showcase which went on parade around Connaught Drive recently. And with the F1 coming to Singapore in 2008, my memory went back to the days when motor racing was very popular. There was of course the Singapore Grand Prix races at the Old Upper Thomson Road course (between 1961 and 1973); which I would add was the first time street racing took place in Singapore. 2-wheeler “factory works” teams from Yamaha, Kawasaki, Honda and Suzuki attracted the Ah Bengs and Mat Noors. Those who got deep pockets went for the cars. I can remember international participants like Vern Shuppan, Albert Poon, Motohashi, Tanaka and Chris Korn.

After 1973, motor racing went dead until 1977 when an international motor rally event came to Singapore. No lah, I am not referring to the motor shows at the Singapore Expo with those mini-skirted girls. I am not referring to karting either. Guess what? The National Stadium Car Park B was the venue. This was unusual because it was sponsored by none other than SINGAPORE AIRLINES. It was the 1977 London-to-Sydney Rally. It was in September 1977 when all the participants arrived in Singapore overland from Penang.

I had never witnessed so much variety – different nationalities and vehicle types. There were Land Rovers, Peugeot 504s, Citroen Pallas, Mercedes-Benz 300s, a fire engine, Porsches, a Fiat Arbath, and dump trucks. At that time I was in the University of Singapore and my buddies who were also car enthusiasts made the trip to the National Stadium just to watch the drivers and their “flying machines”. Because they were rally cars driving through tough terrains like those you see in the Dakar Rally in Africa, all the vehicles were coated with mud and dust when they arrived in Singapore. I found all the vehicles were specially fitted with extra head-lights, rear and front reinforced metal bumpers, and spare fuel tanks. Inside the vehicle was spartan.

This fired my imagination that one day, I too would like to take-up this hobby; in a small way. I envisaged this hobby for my retirement but in the context of Singapore this was not possible given all the car-ownership policies are set by the government.

Sad to even say when I contacted Singapore Airlines nobody could remember this event, or as I was told “not wanting to talk about it”. The AA of Singapore also never heard about this. I drew a blank stare from the Singapore Tourism Board. Lucky for me, I managed to scramble for some “donated” pictures from one of the participants. Hopefully out there might be some readers who know more about this event.


JollyGreenP said...

I remember a race meeting held at RAF Changi in 1957 where the runways were used. The meeting was held in aid of SSAFA the Soldiers, Sailors Air Force Association a charitable body helping ex servicemen. The scout trooop at Changi turned out in uniform to sell programmes. I can remember being very excited about the idea of motor racing and being able to watch for free as I would be selling programmes. Spectators were sat along the bank below the families club overlooking the runway but it was a cloudy drizzly sort of day and I must admit that after I had watched a few circuits I was pretty bored with the whole thing and actually enjoyed selling the programs more than watching the race!

Anonymous said...

One of the thrilling events that captures my mind in the Singapore Grand prix was the motor cycle races, headed by a Japanese 'kamikaze' dare-devil named Takahashi (name?). This rider gave me an impression of defying death, especially when negotiating the devil's bend at the old Thomson Road. I learnt that this racer died later on in an epic race held in another grand prix oversea. The last grand prix here saw a couple of deaths and the organisers were chickened out, stopping all future races. Now after many years,suddenly a reappearance of formula one, is it because of financial gains that can be squeesed out from this event?

Lam Chun See said...

I also remember the motor cycle grand prix at Thomson Rd. I think very young then - primary school. My friends and I would race around the school on our imaginary bikes.

Victor said...

I am not aware of the Singapore Airlines Rally but I do remember the Grand Prix at Old Thomson Road. In particular, there was one difficult part of the circuit called "the hairpin", named after the shape of the bend.

The races were shown on black-and-white TV in the 1960s (my family was fortunate in that we were one of first few in our block who had a TV then). However, I can't remember if the races were telecast live or not.

Anonymous said...

It was "live" on the radio hosted by a Dicky Arblaster, We used to carry along the portable transistorised radio (until battery konk out)to get first-hand information whilst watching the race. TV telecast was the edited version in the evenings.

There was also a "live" radio broadcast when the races were held in JB; Johore Bahru Grand Prix, one week before the Singapore Grand Prix. In fact the "street racing" in JB took place on the coastal road along Lido Beach and passed the Sultan's Palace and the Jalan Wong Ah Fook areas from my memory. My fmaily used to go to JB to watch the races.

Anonymous said... engine! Partly for emergency right? Ya, i know about the coastal road along lido beach.

Anonymous said...

motor racing is an exciting event and everyone must participate on it.

Anonymous said...

Yes I saw the rally cars in the 1977 SIA LDN SYD Marathon Rally too.
Do you know we had a SIN team in this famous rally? They started from LDN in an AUSTIN Mini fitted with 3 seats. The crew were Vincent Wong / Ho Ah Seng and one other name I forgotten. They stopped in SIN and ended their rally here

Anonymous said...

Hi anynymous
Do u think u can help me? I am looking for the photos of the cars parked at the national Stadium carpark facing the old PA. Do u have contact of the Singapore drivers? U can drop an email to Chun See - he knows my email.

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter
Sorry no pics of that era.
I don't have Vincent's contact, and Ho Ah Seng, regretably, passed on

Bruno said...

Hello Mr Lam Chun,
It's indeed very interesting to read through your Blog. I agree with you that memories of past times get forgotten so fast by the younger generation. Eventhough I am not a Singaporean, I have been living here for the past 10 years ( I am 36 yrs old) and so many places have changed so fast, so i can only guess that people of your generation must have witnessed so much that we can never bring back.
It is quite sad that events like you mention in this post are forgotten by the very ppl who "organised " it.
If you do not mind I will link this post to my Blog because I want as many readers of mine to know that Singapore had some motor-racing history in the past and people like you and your friends should be rewarded for keeping alive the historical context of Racing in Singapore.
Thank you,

Lam Chun See said...

Thanks Bruno for your kind words.

This particular article was written by my friend Peter. I was too 'kampong' at that time to know anything about grand prix. May I recommended another blog which has something of the old grand prix events at Thomson Road.

Singapore Grand Prix Sembawang Circuit

Anonymous said...

I was contracted to Newton Enterprise Racing based at Cairnhill Circle in 1968 running the F.1 Brabham. I remember those wonderful days in the old Singapore.
Was there last year and only familliar items were the street names. I can remember driving the Brabham up the Bukit Tima road amid all the traffic even at that time...Spanner

Anonymous said...

I wont claim I know much about racing and engines. Brabham body rings a bell. Are you Aussie or local like Rodney Seow? Newton Enterprise - was that under Anne Wong's father?

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Anonymous said...

I grew up in Teachers' Estate which is just next to the race track. I still remember to this day the loud roar of the engines and also the smell of the fuel on Sundays where the races took place.

I hope to see more pictures. My dad used to shoot a lot of pictures of the race. Unfortunately, we are not able to find his photo collections after he passed away.

Thanks for sharing the pictures.


Lam Chun See said...

Hi Anon. You can see more photos of the Upp Thomson Grand Prix in this article written by my friend Edward Williams blogged who used to live in Sembawang Hills Estate

Tenanabit said...

In reply to you Peter, Yes Newton Enterprises was atop of Cairnhill Circle in the 60's and P.H.Wong (Ann's Dad) was the owner. I was brought from Australia mainly to prepare the F.1 car but became involved with other successful
cars of that period and now all part of distant history...Spanner

Unknown said...

How lucky were you to watch all the big names like Land Rovers, Peugeot 504s, Citroen Pall as, Mercedes-Benz 300s, a fire engine, Porsche's, a Fiat Ar bath, and dump trucks. Very interesting post.

Unknown said...

I worked for Newtone Enterprise from 70-73 at Thomson Road and workshop at Cairnhill.
Good old day use to sell jets for weber, racing part, minilite wheels for race.

Newton Enterprise's owner Mr PH Wong at that time very famous for building 8 ports mini for race, one of his right hand man is Mr K.K.Wong, he modified all the minis
Met many racers from Manila,HK,Indonesia.

Newton Enterprise was very famous at Macao GP with the 8 ports Mini racing cars.

what an era.

hin teo

Unknown said...

Hin Teo,

My family lived at the foot of the hill and coud hear the grey NE minis come and go on test runs along Clemenceau Avenue during the Grand Prix month.

I was a student then, and it was thrill to meet drivers in person at the workshop, and PH Wong himself.

I remember the Brabham Climax, the Elfin of Mike Cook, The Lotus 7 of Lou De Marco, the minis of Ken Nelson and Alan Davis. All painted in grey/white under the sheds of Newton Enterprises.

Unknown said...

Gee I wish This blog was up years ago. I spent years tracing the history of my Lotus 7 which was owned by Lou De Marco. PH Wong was very helpful, however unfortunately died. A friend also has the Brabham Climax & Ken Nelson has found, restored & is racing his original Newton Enterprises Mini in HSRCA meetings in Australia. Do any of you guys have photos of the time? That would be fascinating. Cheers, Chris