On the outskirts of Edinburgh, the A8/Glasgow road to be more specific, used by thousands daily. A seemingly unsuspecting road taking travelers to and from the Edinburgh Airport, used by Bankers and account holders of the massive Bank of Scotland complex. Also used by masses of the local population going about their busy day. The noise of the airport roars to life every few minutes as the air traffic ferries people all round the planet. It is indeed a hub to a metaphor for modern life. There is however a long forgotten gem buried amongst the hustle and bustle of life around it. In years gone by that road heralded a different roar, a roar of internal combustion.
Pre race grid, bet it sounded as nice as they looked
In the mid 60's a patch of land that was used for agricultural show was looked upon with a close eye. The ground was owned by the Royal Highland Agricultural Society. The Scottish Motor Racing Club was on the lookout for a new venue for racing as the circuit at the time, Charterhall would not be re-licenced over major safety concerns.There was originally an idea to use Polkemmet but that proposal wouldn’t proceed. Secretary of SMRC Ian Scott-Watson then looked to Ingliston as he was a member of the Royal Highland Agricultural Society as well as the SMRC. It was thought that if certain roads within the grounds grid system were connected and made a bit wider, that would make a pretty nifty racing circuit. The result of this, on 11th April 1965 saw the first ever Motorsport event staged at Ingliston Racing Circuit. A 1.03 mile long circuit that would be attended by some of Scotland's biggest names in racing, even world champions to be. It would even precede Scotland's main surviving circuit to date, Knockhill, which wouldn’t open until 1974. The only section of the track added to the original grid routes was the Esses section, a snaking stretch of around 200 meters.
Pushing hard and sending smoke signals
Though the circuit was widened, it was still pretty narrow by modern standards. It’s incredible to think of the caliber of cars that would attend on such a small circuit. One such attendee that sticks out in my mind was David Leslie in the Ecurie Ecosse C2, the equivalent today would be an LMP3 car. The Ecosse C2 appeared at the Leman 24 Hours and Ingliston. By today's standards an LMP3 car would drive on pit lanes of a similar size. The recipe was a short and narrow track where incredible cars and drivers would battle it out, it was certainly exciting for all who attended
Ingliston would attract some of Scotland's highest achieving drivers. Jim Clark, Dario Franchitti, David Coulthard, David Leslie, even Noel Edmonds had a go. The now defunct Formula Vauxhall Junior Championship would see a great many of the fore-mentioned drivers begin a prosperous career in these humble surroundings.
In my previous article about the Bo'ness Hill Climb, I mention chatting to Eddie Labinjoh. Eddie had great memories of Ingliston but he did say something very profound. He said, "Ingliston was a track that taught you how to drive in a way, the circuit was only a mile or so long and you only had 6 feet run offs at any point on the track. This gave you a short track with no room for error. You needed to be quick but it had to be right. This made you a better driver, you had to be". With that in mind, how much of this aided our future champions?
Back in the cattle paddock days
Ingliston brought some incredible racing, one championship that sticks out more than others is the long forgotten Special Saloon Championship or Superloons as they were sometimes referred to around the paddock. These cars would be silhouettes of normal road saloon cars, Hillman Imp, Ford Escort, VW Beetle even. Beneath their swollen exterior was the heart of a monster. High displacement, high horsepower engines that would rocket their drivers around the track and could be heard anywhere in the local area. It was a fantastic championship with some really inventive cars. Mick Hill's Beetle being one of the most notable cars, a Beetle body that was made around 2 feet wider with a Formula 5000 Chevy V8 engine and chassis, lunacy!
The Beetle was latterly bought by Border Reivers driver and cousin to Jim Clark, Doug Niven. If you get a chance, look up Micks back catalogue of monstrous cars.
Incredible creations that show you the depth and extent of Motorsport creativity in a golden age of racing. Throughout its brief existence, the circuit was an incredible hub for club Motorsport. It was a time where the cars were just as famous as the drivers who would compete in them. Mick Hills Beetle, Ian Forrests Drambuie Imp, Kenny Allens Mallock to name just a few, all were referred to in the same reference as a star drivers attendance. These days, this is somewhat of a rarity owing to mass produced racing cars and restriction son building a unique car for racing.
Finding the limits
To this day, I still can't hear Fanfare for the common man by Emerson, Lake and Palmer without thinking of Ingliston. Commentator Chris John would play it as cars formed up, the anticipation building as cars lined up on the curved starting grid in front of a packed grandstand that would hold a good few thousand people. Those who attended Ingliston will know what I mean. I have many fond memories of this circuit that i’ll not soon forget. Playing as a boy under the grandstand. My parents had a model shop called Lemans Models that they would sell all manner of model cars from on the circuit grounds, next to the paddock area and behind the grandstand. The pits in those days were the cattle shed used for the agricultural shows, straw lined the floor and would be used by the mechanics to soak up and spillages. Truly a different time for Motorsport, one that was eventually its own undoing. The expense of circuit along with safety concerns would spell the end of the circuit. In 1995 the circuit would be decommissioned and all its infrastructure removed. There is still various small reminders of what was once there. To be honest if you didn’t know they were there you would miss them. The grounds, after its decommission, would return to its main purpose, a show-ground. A sad yet not unpredictable end to a great venue that would help kick start the careers of many and give spectators the chance to see some incredible cars and drivers on their doorstep. I can really get behind the idea that this was the pinnacle of club racing, the invention within the cars and the true love of the sport was ever present. The status of the driver was as important as the cars themselves. It’s a thought to bare but what will kids today remember when they are older and looking back with such fondness of attending their local circuit?
These days there is a small taste of what glories happened there. A Revival event, still in its infancy, takes place on the old grounds. There isn’t any racing but there are cars on track for display purposes, and what a collection of cars they bring. I’d recommend attendance if you can. We will attend the next Revival event, full report will appear in the future.