“Speed - the Secret of Civilisation”: Politicising Grand Prix Racing in 1930s Germany and Great Britain

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference presentation/ephemera


“Speed is important, not for its own sake, but because it is the very basis of civilisation” advocated Prof. A.M. Low in the British Racing Drivers Club’s magazine Speed in August of 1935. The very notion that a nation’s degree of civilisation could be measured by the manufacturing of the fastest cars encapsulated the discourse surrounding automobile racing during the 1930s. The interwar period marked a turning point in the meaning and value of automobile racing for European nations. Fascist governments in Germany and Italy injected significant funds into developing racing cars and breaking speed records. On the other side of the channel, British racing drivers and enthusiasts failed to convince a resistant government of the necessity of automobile racing and the soft power afforded to the victor.

This presentation will analyse the interwar period through the lens of Grand Prix racing (and the aspirations to race at that level) in Germany and Great Britain and how motor racing became increasingly connected to politics and nationalism. The interconnections of politics and nationalism in motor racing will be shown through examples such as drivers chosen to race (including Bernd Rosemeyer and Richard Seaman), the symbolism of the car, the 1938 Donington Grand prix and the Berlin Motor Shows (1935 and 1936). This will also showcase the complex relationship between Germany and Britain at the time. Primary sources including magazines, newspapers, committee minutes and government documents will highlight the British and German perspectives and usages of motor racing in the 1930s. As the perception of civilisation rested on speed, motor racing in the 1930s became entangled with the politics and rising tensions of the period.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 5 Nov 2022
Event6th Annual Argetsinger Symposium - , United States
Duration: 4 Nov 20225 Nov 2022


Conference6th Annual Argetsinger Symposium
Country/TerritoryUnited States


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