In 1934 Whitney Straight's Maserati 8CM was finished in plain black, but after Straight’s retirement from racing the car passed to Harry Rose and, in 1936, to Prince Birabongse of Siam, who painted it Siamese blue, as it is today. Picture: supplied

East London - Grand Prix racing in the 1930s was a golden era of gentlemen drivers and spectacularly beautiful cars, and now motorsport enthusiasts will be able to relive those days at the first South African Historic Grand Prix Festival in November and December 2018.

The festival will bring together more than a dozen of the actual cars that raced in South African Grands Prix before the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, with the Maserati 8CM in which American Whitney Straight won the inaugural Grand Prix in December 1934 as the star of the show.

The eight-cylinder Maserati had a three-litre, dual overhead camshaft, supercharged straight-eight delivering about 180kW at 5500rpm, and a top speed on the long straights of the East London Grand Prix Circuit of more than 240km/h. Staright’s car, one of only 18 ever built, had been modified to his specification with a Wilson pre-selector gearbox and custom bodywork featuring a distinctive heart-shaped grille, which it still has.

Other entries for the festival include the ERA that won the 1937 race and the Riley Ulster Imp which finished second that year, which finished second in the same event. Also entered are a number of cars that were raced in South Africa before the Second World War but didn’t compete in the Grands Prix.

Racing for real

Whitney Stright on his way to winning the inaugural SA Grand Prix at East London. Picture: GrandPrixHistory.org

The original East London Grand Prix Circuit was a 17 kilometre street circuit, much of which is till there, so the race cars will parade around the original track before racing for real around the current 3.9 kilometre circuit on 25 November.

During the following week those of the cars that are road-capable - note, we didn’t say street-legal - will tour down the Garden Route to the Western Cape for a two-day garden party on 1 and 2 December, which will be open to the public, at Val de Vie Estate between Franschhoek and Paarl.

There they’ll be joined by local classic car clubs and a selection of modern luxury sports cars in a classic salon privé setting  - but more importantly, the ‘star cars’ will parade on on a short road circuit inside the estate, so the public will be able to see and hear them actually running.

To pre-register for tickets to both the East London race and the garden party, visit the SA Historic GP website and, for more information, follow the festival on Facebook.

IOL Motoring