The First to Succeed
The B-Type Formula One Connaught holds a very special place in British motor racing history. It came at a time when Britain, newly re-committed to Grand Prix racing, was still struggling against the established Continental constructors. Enthusiasts had lived through the frustration of the failed V16 BRM programme, and then the unfulfilled promise of the newer British contenders in the two years when the World Championship was run to Formula Two regulations.
But the 2-1/2-litre formula which came into operation in 1954 seemed to hold more promise, and the B-Type Connaught was one of three British contenders which might, it seemed, at last come to grips with the Ferraris, Maseratis and lesser Continental lights.
Connaught lacked the financial resources of even the other British teams, but it won a Grand Prix in 1955, before Vanwall and BRM did, and the following year it gained more places in World Championship Grands Prix than its rivals, taking a third place, a fourth and a fifth. And this in spite of an economic policy which prevented it from contesting more than two Grandes Epreuves that year.
The Connaught name had been established in the late 1940s when Rodney Clarke and Mike Oliver began building sports cars and later Formula 2 single-seaters at Send in Surrey, with backing from Kenneth McAlpine of the construction company family.
Their B-Type was intended as a stop-gap for the company (and its customers) to use until the V8 Coventry Climax engine became available and a radical new rear engined semi-monocoque design could be completed. It never was, and Connaught plugged on with a 2470cc (93.5 x 90mm) development of Alta’s four-cylinder F2 motor, which produced 240 bhp at 6400 rpm.
This was fitted to a simple ladder frame of large-diameter tubing, with a smaller-diameter tubular superstructure. Suspension was by double wishbones and coil-spring/damper units at the front and a torsion-bar-supported De Dion rear. Dunlop alloy wheels and disc brakes were employed, the power being transmitted by way of a pre-selector gearbox.
Most unusual feature of the car, designed by Clarke and chief draughtsman Johnny Johnson, was fully-enveloping bodywork. Although it appeared in public after the similarly-equipped Mercedes-Benz W196, the Connaught had been developed independently, the factory even building their own wind-tunnel for the purpose. Design work had begun in July 1953, and the prototype B-Type was shown to the Press in August of the following year.
The B-Type Connaught first raced at the beginning of the 1955 season, at the Easter Goodwood meeting. It was not very impressive, and retired with a broken fuel-pump. Driver was 1953 Le Mans winner Tony Rolt, who had been most successful of the Formula 2 Connaught drivers.
The car showed more promise at its next appearance, in the International Trophy at Silverstone, when two examples were fielded. In one of them experienced test driver and sports car man Jack Fairman was in third place after 20 of the 60 laps, with director McAlpine in the other car fifth. Within ten laps though both cars were in trouble, McAlpine’s developing a problem in its fuel system, and Fairman retiring with a broken throttle linkage.
The first Grand Prix for the new design was at Aintree in July, and by now two more B-Types had been completed as replacements for private owners’ A-Types. One of these was Leslie Marr’s car, which he had already taken to victory in a small libre race at Davidstow. The other was Rob Walker’s, which differed from the others in that it had open-wheel bodywork.
This car, driven by Rolt, was in fact fastest of the four in practice, lining up 14th on the grid for the British Grand Prix, but although it got up to 11th place in the race, it had a long stop and was out with a broken throttle linkage before 20 laps were up. Marr gave up with no brakes, and then McAlpine retired the works streamliner when its clutch went on lap 31; Fairman had been a last-minute non-starter.
Rolt took the Walker car to a second place at a Silverstone club meeting in September, but Peter Walker was more successful with it, beating Roy Salvadori’s Gilby Maserati 250F to win the libre race at Snetterton. He was not so successful in the Oulton Park Gold Cup race however, and managed only eighth in the Avon Trophy race at the end-of-season Castle Combe meeting. Marr in the other private car was fifth in a race at Charterhall in Scotland, but crashed at Oulton Park. In the works car, Fairman had taken sixth place in the Redex Trophy race at Snetterton, with Mike Oliver having one of his occasional drives and coming in one place further back. Fairman retired in the libre event at this meeting however and then crashed in the Daily Telegraph Trophy race at Aintree.
His car was then rebuilt with open-wheel bodywork, and given to the incomparably experienced Reg Parnell for the Gold Cup race. Parnell had joined the team at Aintree, and led the Maseratis of Moss and Salvadori until a last-minute problem dropped him to sixth at the end. At Oulton Park, in spite of magneto trouble, Parnell took fourth place in a first-class field which included factory entries from Maserati, Ferrari (with V8 Lancias), Vanwall and BRM. Fairman was 11th.
Even without straying from Britain, the development of the new car had almost exhausted the factory’s meagre resources, and there was talk of withdrawing from racing. But then came an invitation to contest the Syracuse Grand Prix in Sicily on 23 October. It would be an expensive journey, but the offer of £2000 starting money for a two-car entry was too good to miss.
And so two cars were dispatched, and to save money two drivers with absolutely no experience in such events went with them. One was Formula 3 and small-sports car ace Les Leston and the other Tony Brooks, who had been showing considerable promise in minor home events with a Formula 2 Connaught. Both had also driven 1-1/2-litre Connaught sports cars with some success.
As a further cost-saving measure, practice lappery was limited, but Brooks created a stir by placing the open-wheeled car alongside Maserati stars Musso and Villoresi on the front row of the grid. What the British car might have lacked in power it more than made up for in handling, and Brooks was able to lap faster in practice than the third and fourth factory Maseratis.
Musso, Villoresi and Schell moved their red cars into the first three places at the start, but Brooks and Leston in the Connaughts were next at the end of the long opening lap. These positions were unchanged on the second lap, but on the third Leston spun the streamliner and dropped to 12th place.
At about the same time, however, Brooks moved ahead of Schell and after another four laps was past Villoresi as well, so that only Musso remained ahead of the Connaught. Then after seven more laps, Brooks calmly passed Musso. The Maserati driver fought back, and retook the lead on lap 21, but the Connaught simply passed him again, and that was that. A disbelieving Musso had no answer.
Brooks carried on to score a historic win from the works Maseratis, Musso being almost a minute behind and Villoresi having been lapped twice. The Connaught also smashed Marimon’s Maserati lap record. Leston had made three stops for new plugs, his combined problems leaving him ninth and last at the end.
The Syracuse success was universally hailed as being the first time a British car had won a Grand Prix since Segrave’s 1924 San Sebastian victory for Sunbeam, though in fact Leslie Brooke had taken the 1946 Grand Prix des Frontières at Chimay in an ERA. True, that was a very minor event, but then so too was the 1955 Syracuse race. And it’s only nomenclature that prevents HWM bidding for the honour, for the 1952 International Trophy race at Silverstone which Lance Macklin won for the Walton outfit was as much a non-championship Grand Prix as any of the Continental events which happened to use that title.
Syracuse was, however, the first Continental Grand Prix race since 1924 in which a British car had won against opposition from another factory team.
There was one more outing for Connaught before 1955 was over, the Syracuse-winning car (B1) being entered for promising sports car star Archie Scott Brown in the libre race at Brands Hatch on Boxing Day. It was Scott Brown’s first race in a Formula 1 car, but he was a comfortable winner, against admittedly negligible opposition.
Over the winter Marr fitted his private car, B3, with a D-Type Jaguar sports car engine for the New Zealand libre races, and took a third place and a fourth from four starts.
The factory meanwhile built three new cars for 1956, all with the exposed-wheels “Syracuse” bodywork, whilst retaining the two 1955 machines. As team drivers they signed on Scott Brown and Leston and also obtained the services of another promising sports car driver, Desmond Titterington, as well as keeping Fairman on their books, Brooks having been snapped up by BRM.
The European season opened with the Easter Goodwood meeting on 2 April, when Scott Brown took the lead on the second lap from Hawthorn, who was in the latest BRM. For 15 laps the Connaught held off the opposition, until fading brakes dropped him behind Moss (Maserati). The Connaught blew its engine spectacularly a lap later, but team-mate Leston finished third, followed by Bob Gerard, who was having a one-off drive in a works Connaught, and Parnell, who was to be the regular driver of the Rob Walker car this year.
Connaught then set off for the Syracuse Grand Prix, scene of the famous 1955 victory. In practice Titterington lapped only a second slower than Brooks’ time six months before, but the fastest Ferrari and Gordini were both considerably faster. In the race Titterington retired with ignition problems, the second car having lasted two laps less before it succumbed to a broken gearbox. This was being bought by Italian sports car driver Piero Scotti, who was handling it here for the first time.
Back home Scott Brown was fastest in practice for the Aintree 200, lapping 2.2 seconds better than Hawthorn could manage in the BRM. When the race started he flung the Connaught into the lead, extending his advantage until, after 14 of the 67 laps, he suffered another engine failure. Titterington in the streamlined car ran in third place but then had to pit for a new set of plugs before leaving the road and crashing on lap 54. Parnell had retired the Rob Walker car early on with overheating problems.
There was more opposition in the International Trophy at Silverstone on 5 May, but Scott Brown kept going this time to take a distant second behind Moss (Vanwall), with Titterington third and Scott seventh; Parnell, Fairman and Mike Oliver had all been early retirements.
This was the biggest turn-out of Connaughts until the British Grand Prix two months later. Between the two Silverstone meetings Scotti ran erratically at the tail of the Belgian GP field before retiring with no oil pressure, Scott Brown retired the single works entry in a minor Formula One race at Aintree, and Parnell rolled Walker’s car at Crystal Palace when it hit a bank after a brake locked.
This meant only three works entries for the British GP. Scott Brown made a fine showing, working his way up to seventh by lap 16 when the Connaught broke a hub and shed a wheel. Titterington was in ninth place at that stage but had a troubled race and eventually retired with a broken con-rod on lap 75. Fairman in the third car had been markedly slower than the others but circulated like clockwork, getting up to eighth place by half-distance and eventually finishing a good fourth, albeit three laps down.
A week later Scott Brown retired in the Vanwall Trophy race at Snetterton, but then won both heats of the two-part libre race at Brands Hatch on 6 August, with Leston second.
Last Championship race of the year was the Italian GP on 2 September, at which Connaught’s guest driver was BRM team member Ron Flockhart, winner of the Le Mans 24 hour race in a Jaguar five weeks earlier. He had been brought in as a replacement for Scott Brown, whose entry the organisers would not accept.
The Connaughts were hardly competitive on this demanding high-speed track, only Fairman breaking three minutes in practice, compared with Fangio’s pole time of 2:42.6 in the Lancia-Ferrari. That did however leave him about the middle of the grid, the other two cars being nearer the back.
Fairman and Flockhart both made storming starts, and at the end of the first lap were in 10th and 15th places respectively; Leston was 16th but was soon out with a broken torsion-bar.
Fairman lost seven places when a tyre burst on lap ten but by half-distance in the 50-lap race was back up to ninth, two places behind Flockhart. Flockhart carried on to take a heartening third, a lap behind the winning Moss Maserati, with Fairman fifth, three laps down.
On 14 October Brands Hatch staged a Formula One race, which enabled the Connaught team to have their last fling of the year, and to give Formula 3 star Stuart Lewis-Evans a try-out in one of their cars. The only opposition came from Salvadori’s Maserati, and Scott Brown won from the very promising Lewis-Evans, who, in his first race in a Formula 1 car, beat Salvadori, Leston and Fairman.
All seven B-Types were raced in 1957. The factory, as ever hampered by financial restrictions, had taken back B6 from Scotti, and also had on its inventory B3, the ex-Marr car which had not appeared since its New Zealand sortie 12 months before. For drivers this year they had called on Formula 3 ace Ivor Bueb (who had also won the 1955 Le Mans 24 hours), Scott Brown, Lewis-Evans, Fairman and Leston.
First outing of the year was the Syracuse Grand Prix, for which Fairman and Bueb both qualified with the same sort of times as Brooks had managed in 1955. By now however the latest Ferraris were 10 seconds faster. Leston was a non-starter, his car (B1) having burned out in practice when a driveshaft broke and punctured the fuel-tank. Peter Walker drove the Rob Walker car but spun and stalled on lap 64, Fairman having gone with fuel-injection trouble 30 laps before; Bueb finished fifth (and last).
Easter weekend saw the factory splitting its effort, two cars going to France for the Pau Grand Prix and two others running at Goodwood. This would seem to be a sure recipe for disaster, but in the Continental event Bueb and Leston circulated smoothly and crossed the line at the end of the race in third and fifth places, though three laps and more behind Behra’s winning Maserati.
The Glover Trophy result at Goodwood was even better. In practice Scott Brown returned third fastest time with Lewis-Evans, whose car (B3) had been fitted with an odd dart-shaped body, fifth and Fairman, in the Rob Walker car, seventh.
In the race the three Connaughts took up position behind the leading Vanwalls, Scott Brown ahead of his team-mates until he went out with no oil pressure on lap 7. And when the Vanwalls expired, one by one, Lewis-Evans came home to give Connaught an unexpected success, with Fairman bringing his private entry home in second.
For a while the following weekend’s Naples race looked as if it might produce a similar result, as Lewis-Evans ran strongly in second place for much of the distance. This time, however, it was not the leading car, a Ferrari, which struck trouble, but the Connaught, which ground to a halt with a broken front hub after 44 laps.
Both Connaught entries in the Monaco GP on 19 May qualified, Lewis-Evans 13th and Bueb 16th on the 16-car grid, though a last minute problem with the latter car meant Bueb took over the spare for the race. This ran at the tail until going out with a split fuel-tank just after half-distance.
Lewis-Evans in the “Dart” was up to eighth by lap 50 however and, taking advantage of the high rate of attrition, crossed the line in fourth place.
This was not a good enough result, though, to keep the little team afloat, and a few days after the race Connaught announced that they were withdrawing from racing. Later in the year the cars were offered at auction.
The factory withdrawal did not quite end the B-Type’s career in international racing. An entrepreneurial young ex-driver called Bernard Ecclestone bought two cars and sent them to New Zealand for the series of international libre races there the following January. Lewis-Evans ran strongly in the New Zealand Grand Prix at Ardmore before retiring, while Salvadori finished fifth in the other car. Only one car started at Wigram, and Lewis-Evans brought it home to another fifth.
Back in Europe Scott Brown took sixth at Goodwood and ninth in the Aintree 200 before his tragic accident at Spa, while Lewis-Evans was fifth at Goodwood and Paul Emery 14th at Aintree.
American Bruce Kessler optimistically attempted to qualify for one of the 16 available places on the grid for the Monaco Grand Prix, but was only 21st fastest; Emery was slightly slower again.
The final Grand Prix appearance of a B-Type Connaught was at Silverstone on 19 July 1958 when Ecclestone’s cars were driven by Bueb and Fairman. They qualified near the back of the 20-car grid but neither car lasted, Fairman’s going out with ignition trouble and Bueb’s succumbing to gearbox problems.
The other buyers had included keen amateurs Ken Flint and Geoff Richardson, who graced the tail-end of the following spring’s British international Formula 1 races and picked up a few club race placings.
Very few years passed before B-Type Connaughts were competing regularly in historic racing, where the same good handling and sufficiency of power enabled them to compete on even terms with the 250F Maseratis. Several of the cars passed back into Rodney Clarke’s hands in the 1970s, and he built a new one up incorporating parts from several cars.
The years between the factory’s withdrawal and the present have naturally led to some confusion about the provenance of various of the existing B-Types, but by a fortunate quirk of fate the two most successful cars in 1990s historic racing are also among the most original. Best-known of them is Peter Hannen’s B2, the 1955 works car which Rodney Clarke bought back and ran, with a variety of drivers, in the early Seventies. After spending several years in a Belgian museum it was brought back to Britain and has been raced regularly by Hannen and Alain de Cadenet over the past two or three years and has shown itself to be faster than all but the very best Maseratis.
Hannen pushed the 250F of eventual winner Willie Green in both the last two HGPCA 100-mile races, at the Nürburgring in 1989 and at Silverstone last year, finishing second in the 1990 race.
Third in that event was David Duffy in another B-Type, the one built up by Clarke in the 1970s from parts of a number of cars and called B5. Duffy prefers to call it B4, which is probably equally valid, and he races it in the blue and white Rob Walker colours in which B4 originally ran. Connaught experts agree that, whatever its identity, the parts are all genuine and the car is as “pukka” as any.
B1 was supposedly destroyed in Leston’s 1957 Syracuse crash, but the frame was saved and a complete car subsequently built up on it in recent years. This car has been seen over the past season or two in the hands of John Harper and Chris Mayman. Ean Pugh’s ex-Langton car is a reconstruction of B5 on an original frame.
Harper had achieved a number of placings in the earlier 1980s with B3, which he raced with Jaguar engine and both “Dart” and streamliner bodywork. It was burnt out in a fire in New Zealand in 1988, though the salvaged parts are now back in Britain and it will doubtless be reconstructed one day.
The other two cars have been on public display for many years. B6 at the London Science Museum and B7 in the Donington collection. — KHRC