Montjuïc, a ‘retro’ circuit


There was the smell of petrol and the deafening roar of engines coming from the trees along the winding road cut into the magical mountain of Montjuïc. This is how racing aficionados remember the venerable circuit of Barcelona that hosted the Spanish Formula 1 Grand Prix in 1969, 1971, 1973 and 1975. The urban circuit of Montjuïc is much more than a simple racetrack for Spanish lovers of motor sports. It is a legend.

This is why the 31st edition of the Auto Retro show, which is being held at the Montjuïc site of Fira de Barcelona between the 4th and 8th December, is paying homage to it with its official poster. The organiser of the show, Fermín Sulé, explains that “as Auto Retro Barcelona is an event that is centred on historic vehicles, and that we have been holding our exhibitions in Montjuïc for many years, we felt that it was time we paid our respects to this much loved circuit in all its glory”.

80 years of history

The poster is the work of the Argentine painter Juan Carlos Ferrigno, and shows the Lotus JPS-Cosworth driven by the Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi taking the La Rosaleda curve on the Barcelona racetrack during the 1973 Grand Prix, with the image of the Palau Nacional in the background.

30-03-02cThis history of the Montjuïc track goes back much further, though. It was used in the 1930s for trials organised by the Penya Rhin Grand Prix. After the Civil War, the car races were moved across town to Pedralbes, and stayed there until 1955. After a long period of absence, in 1968 Spain finally recovered the capacity to hold a Grand Prix that formed part of the World Formula 1 Championship. The circuits of Jarama in Madrid and Montjuïc in Barcelona took it in turns to hold the Spanish Grand Prix every year.

Lack of safety

In 1975, the Grand Prix drivers protested about the dangers of the Catalan circuit during the training sessions, and argued for the race to be cancelled. They were not successful, but Emerson Fittipaldi, the reigning champion and star of the Formula 1 competition pulled out of the race in protest after the first lap.

30-03-03 After a number of minor accidents, a tragedy occurred that finally put an end to the circuit of Montjuïc. The car of the German driver Rolf Stommelen was on its 26th lap when it lost its fin and leapt into the air, crashing into a stand of spectators. Five people were killed. The race was stopped and the 3,790-metre Montjuïc circuit was eliminated from the Formula 1 calendar. See video

After this, the track was only used for some motorbike events such as the famous Montjuïc 24-hour race until 1986, when the sports authorities decided that the circuit of Barcelona could no longer satisfy the safety conditions required for racing events.

After more than 30 years without holding any racing competitions, a ‘Martini Legends’ event was organized in 2007 to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the circuit’s opening. This event brought more than 80 vintage vehicles along with notable drivers including Emerson Fittipaldi, who drove around the circuit at the controls of the car which gave him victory in the Grand Prix of 1973 and which is the official image of the 31st edition of Auto Retro Barcelona… one of life’s little ironies.

The montaña del motor

Fans refer to Montjuic as the ‘montaña del motor’. The circuit was renowned as being one of the most demanding and difficult in the world. It is a sinuous track full of bends in which the only really straight section is that of the Avenida de Rius i Taulet in front of the magic fountain.

Curves such as La Pérgola, Poble Espanyol or the long bend of Sant Jordi were famous, as was the change in the slope in front of the Olympic Stadium which allowed the cars to reach 250km/h and the switch at Miramar where they had to drop from 250 to 80 km/h in less than 300 metres, then there was the Font del Gat or the Teatre Grec… They form part of the historic legacy of motor sports.