OVER THE YEARS
During the initial years of the Grand Prix, reliability of the racecars was a major issue for many of the entrants. The race covered over 180 punishing miles in typical high temperatures and humidity, and often in torrential rain as well. Large-engined sports cars came out tops in 1961 and 1962, with English planter Ian Barnwell winning in an Aston Martin DB3S in 1961 and Singaporean Yong Nam Kee winning in a Jaguar E-Type Roadster in 1962.
The fastest lap of the 3.023-mile (4.865 km) circuit in the first Singapore Grand Prix was 2 minutes 47 seconds, set by popular and debonair car importer and racer Chan Lye Choon in his Lola Mk1 Climax FWE. The Lola was equipped with long-range fuel tanks for the lengthy race. A race of attrition, the overall winner was however Barnwell from Temerloh in Malaysia in his Aston Martin DB3S (that Chan had imported to Singapore in the mid-1950s). When the last race was run in 1973 (circuit unchanged but sans the chicane before the first hairpin), Australian Leo Geoghegan had lowered the record to just 1 minute 54.9 seconds in his Australian-made “light as a feather” Birrana 273. The Birrana would have overtaken the Lola Mk1 in 1961 on every third lap! Over the course of 13 years, engine output had doubled from around 77 bhp per liter for the winning 2922-cc Aston Martin in 1961 to 150 bhp per liter when Australian Vern Schuppan won in his wide-track March 722 in 1973.
The first Grand Prix race was run as Formula Libre for sports and racing cars, permitting all manner of cars. There were Cooper double-knocker Nortons, Austin and Morris Minis, E-Type Jaguars, an ERA R2A, and local Specials such as the Ferratus and the B.B. Special. The first major rule change was implemented in 1971 when engine capacity and valve train were respectively limited to 1600-cc and two valves per cylinder for the Grand Prix. Sports cars were still permitted but discouraged, and limited to a maximum of 2-liters. These rules effectively excluded the big-banger Can-Am and Formula 5000 ground-pounders. The twisty circuit was simply unsuitable for the speeds of these cars and F1 machinery. The only Formula 5000 car, a McLaren M10A Traco-Chevy, that arrived in Singapore destroyed a bus stop during practice in the 1970 Grand Prix.
The poultry was not spared during Grand Prix fever. It was a well-known phenomenon that had the farmers of Upper Thomson Road to throw up their hands in despair when their chickens in the farms dotted along the circuit stopped laying eggs two weeks before each race weekend from the noise of cars and motorbikes doing their test runs before the event.