Racing Car New’s Editor Max Stahl chats with Vern Schuppan in the paddock ahead of the 1972 Singapore Grand Prix.
“It was lovely and fast-flowing, a wonderful and challenging circuit, and so gratifying when you manage to put it all together. You never ever thought, ‘‘Ooo’, what if I go down there?’”
Australian Vern Schuppan, the last winner of the Singapore Grand Prix, unfazed by all the hype about the treacherous monsoon drains, bus stops and concrete markers which ran along the Upper Thomson Road street circuit.
First run in 1961, the original Singapore Grand Prix was an annual street race usually held over Easter weekend. The road circuit remains as it was during the 13 years of the Formula Libre races, save for the removal of Circus Hairpin and the addition of a dual-carriageway on Upper Thomson Road. The best way to enjoy the circuit is on a bicycle, but watch out for monkeys and the few remaining wild boars.
The first Singapore Grand Prix, held in 1961 on Upper Thomson and Old Upper Thomson Road, consisted of a Grand Prix for sports and racing cars and just eight support races, including a Grand Prix for motorcycles. By the last Grand Prix in 1973, the weekend featured main events for both motorcycles and single-seater racecars and 14 support races. Imagine hosting 14 support events and two Grands Prix today!
New Upper Thomson Road was barely run in before it gained a reputation as an ideal stretch for racing on the island. The first Grand Prix held in 1961 had an incredible range of machinery such as Jan Bussell’s Ferrari Monza, Peter Cowling’s Cooper T51 FPF Climax, Saw Kim Thiat’s Lotus Eleven Climax and Ian Barnwell’s Aston Martin DB3S, all pictured above.
Negligible prize money was paid out in the first Grand Prix. By 1973, the first place Grand Prix winner received SGD10,000 (~£1,700), while the winner of the Motorcycle Grand Prix took home SGD7,000. Then newly-established Singapore Airlines (title sponsor for recent Formula 1 Grand Prix in Singapore) had forked out SGD120,000 worth of complimentary tickets for the international competitors, to the dismay of local drivers.
The inaugural 1961 Singapore Grand Prix, run for sports and racing cars, was an exciting race that featured duels such as this one between a Lotus 15-Ferrari (The Ferratus) and a Double-Knocker Cooper.
Another Hong Kong-Macau import into Malaya was this Ferrari, a 500 Mondial Spyder with Scaglietti Series II coachwork raced by aviator Jan Bussell. The engine had been replaced by George Baker in Hong Kong some years earlier and the car now sported a 750 Monza 3-litre motor.