Cork Motor Derby 1938

As many archivists will tell you, there is nothing like the feeling of discovering a new item or collection in the archive that really excites you.

My latest such example of this professional rush came when I was formally accepting new collections into the Library Archive Service in late 2017. The title of one of the new additions, “Cork Grand Prix” caught my eye, and being a fan of the modern Formula 1 circuit, I was immediately intrigued.

The small collection consisted of 20 black & white photographs and an accompanying information sheet which identified them as being from 1938. It was surreal to view these images depicting vintage Mercedes Benz, Maserati, and Bugatti cars racing down the Carrigrohane road, on the west side of the City. I had not previously been aware of this gem of Cork cultural history, and was quite excited to discover the story behind the images.

Research

As I began my research into the history of the Cork races, I discovered that the city actually played host to a series of racing events from 1939-38. It was during the 1938 Racing Derby that the first, and only, Grand Prix race was held in Ireland under the new F1 regulations. It formed part of a weekend long event held in April 1938- The Cork Motor Derby.  Three big races were held as part of the itinerary:

  • The Cork National Motor Handicap, a 50 mile handicap for racing and sports cars from Ireland & Britain.
  • The Cork International Light Car Race, a Formula Free race of 75 miles for cars under 1.5 litre.
  • The new International Grand Prix, known as the Cork GP, the only one to be run in Ireland to GP rules.

The 1930’s races were the direct equivalent of a modern day Formula 1 Grand Prix with many top international drivers of the day taking part. Alfa Romeo, Bugatti, Maserati, ERA, Frazer Nash, MG, Délahaye, Riley, Delage and Ford were all represented, and drew 70,000 spectators to the roads of Cork. The circuit for all of the 1930’s Races is still intact – the only major change being the roundabout at Poulavone, where there was a hairpin bend in the 1930’s.


The Cork Grand Prix was the most important of all, in the context that it was the only race ever held in Ireland to the then current International Formula regulations and was attended by many of the leading teams and drivers of the time. It was the second race ever to be held to the new F1 Regulations of the time.

The National Motor Handicap race, held on the Friday was won by Dudley Colley of Dublin in a 1,496cc Frazer Nash.

Colley crossing the finishing line

The Light Car Race on Saturday 23rd April was won by Prince Bira driving his 1,488cc ERA R12C, ‘Hanuman’.

B.Bira in the winner’s circle

The Cork Grand Prix, also on Saturday, was won by René Dreyfus of France in a 4500cc Délahaye 145, averaging 92.95mph, with Prince Bira second in a 2992cc Maserati 8CM and Louis Gerard third in a 2984cc Delage.

René Dreyfus, Cork Grand Prix Winner

Whilst the weekend event largely came off without issue, any hiccups were dealt with in typical Irish fashion. Competitor B. Bira, the Siamese (now Thailand) Prince, had an accident on the circuit which rendered his car undriveable.  He was forced to pull into a nearby house’s driveway, whereby the occupants were quick to rush to his aid with the offer of a cup of tea!

Additional photos are on the Cork Grand Prix Website.

Munster Vintage Motor Cycle & Car Club

In 2013, to mark the 75th anniversary of the Cork Grand Prix race, the Munster Vintage Motor Cycle & Car Club held a re-enactment of the race, on the original route, and using some of the original cars.  It caused quite a stir to normally tranquil Sunday morning in Cork!

Additional information on re-enactment race is here.

The club has been instrumental in promoting vintage motoring in Cork, and has been an extremely valuable source of information for me when I was researching the Motor Derby Collection, and this blog. All information regarding the drivers and cars is available on their web page.

Collection

The UCC collection comprises images taken over the course of the weekend of the 22nd and 23rd of April 1938, and provide comprehensive view of the event. In addition to the cars participating in each of the three races, there are images of the start/finish line, the pit stop, and the paddock where the cars were kept. Handwritten notes on the back of each photograph has enabled me to positively identify numerous drivers, engineers, and other individuals involved in the event. It provides insight into a unique event in Cork’s history, and enables more fans of the sport to discover it. With this week in April 2018 marking the 80th anniversary of the races, it was extremely timely that I am officially opening the collection to the public to mark the occasion.

Racing Paddock

B.Bira pit stop

Do you know this man? Contact us if you do!

Access to the collection is by appointment with the archivist, via email to libraryarchives@ucc.ie

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