Racing cars

When Southamptonians drove race cars to the stadium

Southampton Stadium – bantam car racing – 19th March 1955..

ES were known as “Flying Soapboxes” and in 1955 small racing cars were the latest craze for Southampton people looking for thrills and excitement amid the boring days of post-war austerity.

Officially known as CK’s Bantam Racers, they were designed specifically for the old Southampton stadium where members of the public were expected to compete on the site’s cinder track.

The toy cars were the brainchild of the late Charles Knott, then Southampton’s number one sports promoter and owner of the stadium which attracted thousands to the speedway, stock car races, greyhound races and many other events sports such as show jumping, boxing, exhibition tennis matches and wrestling.

Daily Echo: Southampton Stadium - bantam car racing.  May 19, 1955..

Daily Echo: Southampton Stadium – bantam car racing. May 19, 1955..

It was in March 1955 that Mr. Knott unveiled his last promotion with the arrival of the Bantams. They had a top speed of 45mph and were powered by a standard 197cc Villiers engine with three forward gears and one reverse, which had been built at a workshop in Millbrook, Southampton.

Measuring just seven feet long and four feet wide, the cars, which were controlled by normal vehicle pedals, were designed with flush sides extending almost to the ground, making the wheels virtually invisible as vehicles traveled on the stadium circuit.

The Bantams were created by Mr. Knott and speedway rider Mike Erskine, both convinced that this type of racing, open to the general public, had a bright future. Unfortunately, their plans for this new sport quickly came to a halt.

Daily Echo: Aerial view of Southampton Stadium in 1951. Banister Court Stadium..

Daily Echo: Aerial view of Southampton Stadium in 1951. Banister Court Stadium..

Before the locals, who only needed helmets and driving licenses, got into the cars, there were months of intense testing and the afternoon of Easter Monday 1955 , the first Bantam race drew a huge crowd.

The Daily Echo reported: “This new type of motorsport – it seems a cross between stock car racing and bumper cars – has given spectators plenty of thrills.

“Spills were few. Only one driver was injured and taken to hospital, but bumping and pushing as the Bantam cars finished their laps caused considerable excitement.

“A lot of talent was shown at the event, and with a little more experience there should be a lot of fun in this new sport for drivers and spectators alike.” Two other competitions took place at the stadium but the brakes were soon applied to the fledgling sport as the cars were not considered safe enough for the public to drive and the brief experience was consigned to the history books.