The divide between club driver and world championship competitor was narrow back in the 1950s. The son of a wealthy brick maker, Ken Downing took part in the 1948 Eastbourne Rally before finishing second in the very first race held at Goodwood later that year with a Healey.
With money no object, Downing was a successful club racer during the coming seasons and his moment in the international spotlight came when Formula 2 was chosen as the Grand Prix formulae for 1952. He had been driving Connaught sports cars for a couple of seasons by then, winning 15 club races in 1951 alone.
Grand Prix debut for Connaught
It was with that Surrey marque that Downing made his world championship debut in the 1952 British GP at Silverstone and he proved to be one of the surprises that day. He qualified an impressive fifth and ran fourth in the early stages although a fairytale result was not to be. Downing spun while avoiding a backmarker and eventually finished in ninth position.
He retired from that year’s Dutch GP and almost won the non-championship GP des Frontières at Chimay before half spinning in a downpour. He still led out of the final turn on the last lap before caution prevented his highest profile success. With spectators crowding the track, Downing lifted too soon and local star Paul Frère stole victory on the line.
Downing acquired an Aston Martin DB3 for 1953 but a win at Silverstone was a rare success before he quit the sport mid-season. He later lived in South Africa and then Monte Carlo. His daughter married Allsport Management’s Paddy McNally, Bernie Ecclestone’s commercial cohort in Formula 1.