When racing cars drove through central Birmingham in the “Monaco of the Midlands”

Once upon a time, for five short years, race cars blasted through central Birmingham on a circuit we like to call the “Monaco of the Midlands”. Thousands of people flocked to the tight street circuit for each race, in an event that took more than 20 years to come to fruition.

Yes, it’s the Birmingham SuperPrix, the most exciting sporting event ever held in Brum city centre. So much so that calls for the return of motorsport have never gone away.

They were Formula 3000 cars – the step below the monsters that were Formula 1 cars. It was no less hair-raising though – these racers averaged around 170 kilometers per hour around this course, that is over 100 miles per hour.

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The drivers lined up on Bristol Street at the start of the race, then accelerated into the Belgrave Middleway and through the interchange. The fastest part of the circuit followed, blasting through and around the Haden Circus and back on their way.

A left turn at the interchange and a right turn brought them to Sherlock Street. A quick turn into Pershore Street, a sharp left into Bromsgrove Street and a final deft right-left turn led to the return line into Bristol Street.

See more photos in our gallery below

It was one of four British courses used for Formula 3000 at the time. The others were Brands Hatch, Donington and Silverstone – so we were in prestigious company.

The races took place at a time of heavy investment in marketing Birmingham to the world. A Birmingham Mail article from 1986 says the council budgeted £1.5m to ‘promote the town’ in schemes to persuade industry to come back and stay in the town, and talks about the SuperPrix in the same breath.

The idea for the race track could have been around 25 years old when the first flag fell on the circuit. An adviser, Peter Barwell, claims to come up with the plan while watching the Le Mans 24-hour endurance races in France.

He was certainly a big proponent of it when street racing projects came to fruition. More than 2 decades later, the “Birmingham City Council Act 1985” was born, allowing racing on public roads.

But nervous opponents managed to secure their own break clause. The racing program was to turn a profit after 5 years – 1990 – or it would be cancelled.

At that time, things weren’t going well. Crowd sizes had apparently hit a wall at 50,000, still respectable, but rising costs made it unattractive.

The council hoped to sell the event to private hands, but no bids were ultimately made. The SuperPrix was dead.

Even 32 years later, there’s still a small but passionate part of town that misses the thrills and spills of street racing. But as the laws, track standards and safety requirements have accumulated over the years, it will be very difficult to pass it.

If you were to design a new street circuit in Birmingham, where would it be? Comment below, or tell us about it our nostalgia Facebook group.

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