Team Connaught:
Remembrance of Things Fast

By Thomas O'Keefe, U.S.A.
Atlas F1 Senior Writer

Part 2: Connaught on the March in England and on the Continent

In 1953, Rodney Clarke and Mike Oliver adopted the American Hilborn-Travers fuel injection system and used nitro-based fuel to boost the performance of the Connaughts and it seemed to work, particularly in the shorter non-Championship F2 races in England. On April 6th 1953, for the Easter Monday Goodwood races, in the 7 lap Levant Cup, Roy Salvadori qualified A7 on pole amongst the Cooper-Altas and Cooper-Bristols and a Maserati and Salvadori was leading until his throttle linkage failed at the close of the race, barely permitting him to finish second behind Swiss Baron Emmanuel de Graffenried's winning 1952 Maserati A6GCM (Chassis No. 2038). By now, the ex-Downing A3 had been acquired by Rob Walker and was being campaigned by Major Tony Rolt who finished third in this race behind Salvadori's A7; McAlpine in the vintage A1 was fourth behind Tony Rolt, overall a stout showing for Connaught - second, third and fourth place.

At the Ulster Trophy race at Dundrod, Northern Ireland, Stirling Moss was leading until gearbox problems meant taking second to Duncan Hamilton's HWM-Alta. Throughout 1953, a multiplicity of Connaughts ran well in these lesser UK-oriented events - at the Levant Cup no less than 7 A-Types, virtually the entire Connaught line was in the race - and by the end of 1953, the omnipresent Connaughts had turned in a solid report card: 21 firsts, 12 seconds and 10 thirds.

Tony Rolt and A3, sporting what would later become famous in the Sixties in Formula One as the Rob Walker midnight blue and white paint scheme, were the standouts in 1953 non-Championship racing and had 10 wins. Most notably at the newly- opened Crystal Palace in A3 for the Coronation Trophy on May 5th 1953 amongst the best and the brightest - Stirling Moss, Peter Collins, Lance Macklin, Peter and Graham Whitehead - and again at Crystal Palace later on in the season on November 7th 1953. Rolt also won at Snetterton twice in 1953 and at Thruxton and Oulton Park; showing his and Connaught A3's consistency and reliability at all the great old English tracks. Connaught Patron Ken McAlpine in A1 also won a race in the 1953 season at the West Essex CC F2 race on June 27th 1953 amongst some significant competition from John Combs in the newer A8 and Roy Salvadori in A7.

On September 9th 1953, Tony Rolt finally lost a race in the Crystal Palace to Stirling Moss, who was driving the Cooper-Alta T24. Rolt did finish second in A3. Another notable driver finished in fifth place overall in the original works Cooper-Bristol T20 prototype previously raced by Reg Parnell (CB/1/52): Bernie Ecclestone, making a comeback as a driver after a shunt in 1951 at Brands Hatch in an F3 500cc Cooper.

On the Championship Grand Prix level, Connaughts 1953 season was less stunning but it was not for lack of trying as a Connaught of some kind or other competed in six of the seven European races that counted for the Championship. But the Ferrari 500 and its crew of drivers that year - Alberto Ascari, Giuseppe Farina, Mike Hawthorn and Luigi Villoresi - dominated the 1953 season, with Ascari taking the World Championship and Juan Manuel Fangio finishing second in a Maserati A6GCM.

With the Italian cars so preeminent, the Connaughts simply filled out the field for the most part, but they were driven by a Who's Who of racing drivers. Stirling Moss finished 9th in a Connaught at the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort in his one Championship race in the Connaught that year. Prince Bira finished 7th in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone (eight laps down to winner Ascari!), Connaughts highest finish in the 1953 Grand Prix season. Johnny Claes in his Belgian Yellow Connaught A4 campaigned tirelessly in four Grands Prix but never once finished anywhere near the points; Ken McAlpine also raced in four Grands Prix and was similarly unsuccessful in A1. Claes did have one good showing that year in his home Grand Prix at Spa, where, in a shared drive with Fangio in a Maserati A6GCM, he finished third. In all then, 1953 was a busy season for Connaught with virtually all of its cars in action at all levels but unable to turn in points-paying performances in the Grands Prix, while being credible players in the non-Championship races.

For Ken McAlpine, 1953 was notable because it was his first encounter with the Nurburgring, "the best course in the world . . . it was fabulous," which he drove to for the 1953 German Grand Prix. In what sounds like every race fan's idyllic weekend, McAlpine made his way to the circuit from England in his Aston-Martin DB2. When he arrived, McAlpine and fellow Connaught driver Roy Salvadori drove around the track in the DB2 to learn the circuit. "It took a bit of learning . . . 167 corners and they were all different and there were no markings there, nothing. You went over the brow of the hill in come cases you went straight on, in some cases you turned sharp right and in others you turned left and you had to know which brow of the hill it was you were going over as there were absolutely no safety precautions at all."

Indeed, at one point McAlpine did have an off at Nurburgring in his Connaught but managed narrowly to avoid tipping the car over. A year later at the 1954 German Grand Prix, Argentinian Onofre Marimon, a friend, protege and countryman of Juan Manuel Fangio, was not as lucky. McAlpine explains what happened: "Marimon was killed at Nurburgring [during practice in his Maserati 250F]. It was a long sweeping lefthand downhill corner with a hedge on the outside and he overdid it and went through the hedge. What no one was aware of was that there was a 100 foot drop on the other side of the hedge. He just went through the hedge and that was that."

Notwithstanding his near crash out on the circuit, McAlpine ended up being the only Connaught to finish the race, finishing 13th after nursing his Connaught around the tortuous 14-mile circuit with a loose rear radius arm which meant he had to crab along at a reduced speed on a track in which a lap takes 10 minutes with a car that was trying to steer itself at the front and the rear. He finished this arduous race two laps down to the winner, Giuseppe Farina in the Ferrari 500. Salvadori, Bira and Claes in the other Connaughts failed to finish the race.

McAlpine also competed at Monza, but does not rate that circuit as highly as The Ring: "There was no banking then. It was alright but it was dull. Essentially, the faster the track, the higher the average speed the duller the circuit. You could have four or five cars behind the Ferrari heading down the straight . . . Because we [in the Connaught] could corner faster than anybody else we could keep up with the faster cars through the corners and then get a tow down the straight, running faster than the power of the car would indicate."

But for all of the furious slipstreaming, the four Connaughts entered for the 1953 Italian Grand Prix (McAlpine, Salvadori, Jack Fairman and Johnny Claes), the last Grand Prix to be held under the Formula Two rules, did not have a good race. McAlpine was driving AL10, the long-wheelbased car that was the last of the A-Type line and it had fitted to it a lever on the dashboard that would permit the driver to control the roll stiffness of the rear suspension. But the cars were forced to make frequent pit stops - sometimes simultaneously - in the 313 mile 80 lap race and were never in a position to challenge during the race.

During practice, however, Roy Salvadori came within six seconds of Ascari's qualifying time in the Ferrari 500, which was considered reasonably close considering the disparities between the Ferrari and the Connaught. In the end, Claes was out after 7 laps with fuel line problems, Salvadori retired on lap 34 with throttle problems and although Fairman and McAlpine were still running at the finish they had not accumulated enough laps to be classified, a quiet end to the Grand Prix portion of the 1953 season.

Notwithstanding the disappointing race results, the quality of the engineering and road holding of the Connaughts did not go unrecognized by the Italians, according to Connaught Scholar Anthony Pritchard, who reports in his profile entitled "The A-Series & L-Series Connaughts", on the following interesting bit of cross-fertilization between the Connaught A-Type and the soon-to-be-famous Maserati 250F:

"While in Italy [for the 1953 Italian Grand Prix], the team took part in the Modena Grand Prix, where they finished 7th and 8th. The most gratifying aspect of this meeting for Connaughts was the attention paid to the very advanced A-series chassis and suspension design by the Maserati design team. One evening after practice they visited the Connaught team who were working on their cars at Stanguellini's Fiat garage in Modena and went away very impressed after a study of the Connaughts. At the time, the current Maserati Grand Prix car, the A6SSG, was still using a rigid rear axle suspended on quarter-elliptic springs, but they too adopted a de Dion rear end for 1954."

But of all the races in the 1953 season where Connaughts could be found racing, there was one non-championship race involving the Connaught and drivers Tony Rolt and Stirling Moss that typified this bygone era. On October 3rd 1953, the Joe Fry Memorial Trophy race - a 20 lap race - was run at Castle Combe. Moss led in his Cooper-JAP twin until Salvadori in a Connaught took away the lead and Moss fell back into the clutches of Tony Rolt in Connaught A3. Rolt nudged Moss into a corner a little too vigorously which rolled the little Cooper and threw Moss out of the car. Moss broke his shoulder in the accident. Major Tony Rolt, a man of honor and duty who had served in World War II with distinction, stopped A3 immediately to help Moss; one wonders what would happen amongst today's Grand Prix drivers in a similar situation.

One further significant race for Connaught was the Curtis Trophy held at Snetterton on October 17th 1953. It was wet and Salvadori retired his Connaught on the first lap and Ken McAlpine, who was driving his trusty A1 slid off the course on lap 8 and overturned A1 into an earthen bank, no doubt adding to the Patron's growing disenchantment with Team Connaught as the 1953 season came to an end.

1954: The Connaught A-Type Hangs On With the B-Type In the Wings

In 1954, Formula One was going to a 2.5 litre standard and Clarke was scrambling to come up with a new engine and considered a V8 engine project being promoted by Leslie Brooks as well as a V8 engine from Coventry Climax. An entirely new car, which had some very advanced design elements (monocoque tub section with the V8 engine and a transaxle gearbox mounted in the rear and attached to the tub in the manner of the later Lotuses), was designed around the hoped-for V8 - it was called the Connaught J5 - but the whole concept fizzled when the so-called Coventry Climax Godiva V-8 project was shelved by Climax.

With the J5 project on the backburner, Clarke and his draftsman turned to work on another front-engined Connaught to be designated the B-Type and the first of that line was up and running by September 1954, too late for the 1954 season. The initial body-style was a streamliner, complete with NACA ducts, whose full-width bodywork covered the wheels, like the Mercedes-Benz W196 Stromlinienwagen introduced on July 4th 1954 at the French Grand Prix. It is fascinating that two companies as disparate in location and resources as Connaught and Mercedes-Benz could come up with the same concept at the same time. In the absence of a V8 being available, Clarke and Mike Oliver arranged for the 2.5 litre twin-cam four-cylinder Alta engine to be supplied exclusively to Connaught. Ultimately, Mike Oliver was able to squeeze about 240 bhp out of these Alta engines. The B-Type was to have Dunlop alloy wheels and servo-assisted disc brakes.

But the only Grand Prix entered that year by Connaught was the British Grand Prix at Silverstone on July 17th 1954, when five of the A-Types, still powered by the Lea-Francis engines took to the grid. Don Beauman in AL9 (the 'L' signals a long-wheelbase version) finished best of the breed in 11th place; Leslie Marr was 13th in A5 and Leslie Thorne was classified in 15th place. Bill Whitehouse in AL10, retired with fuel system problems and John Riseley-Prichard in A3 went out in an accident.

This was the drizzly race where Jose Frolian Gonzalez and Mike Hawthorn finished 1, 2 in their Ferrari 625's and Fangio, uncharacteristically, had trouble with the streamlined Mercedes-Benz and kept hitting the marker barrels on Silverstone's corners, ultimately finishing fourth behind Onofre Marimon in a Maserati 250F (Chassis No. 2506) who placed third. Ken McAlpine told me he had experienced the same problem with the Connaught B-Type streamliner as Fangio had that day at Silverstone with the Mercedes-Benz streamliner, saying, "in theory we were going to go faster, in practice, we couldn't see the wheels!"

In the 1954 non-Championship and club races, the Connaught A-Types, which by now were a bit long in the tooth, turned in modest results. On April 19th 1954, at Goodwood for the Levant Cup 7 lap race, Reg Parnell won in a Ferrari 625 with Roy Salvadori in the new Gilby Engineering Maserati 250F (Chassis No. 2507) in second place. Ken McAlpine, still driving Connaught A1 did well to finish in third place and Leslie Marr in A5 was fifth. Tony Rolt in A3 was in the hunt in the early stages but developed ignition trouble and finished seventh.

The Connaughts were busy at several venues of the Whitsunday weekend of June 5th-7th 1954. On June 5th 1954, at the 10 lap Curtis Trophy race at Snetterton, Bill Whitehouse in Connaught AL10 placed second, almost a minute behind Salvadori in the Gilby Engineering Maserati 250F. In fifth place was Charles Boulton in Connaught A7.

On the same weekend in Chimay, Belgium on June 6th 1954, the Grand Prix des Frontieres was run and in a race marred by the death of 2 spectators in the course of an accident involving the two Gordini Type 16's, Prince Bira won in a Maserati A6GCM; Don Beauman in Connaught AL9 finished in third place. On June 7th 1954, at Goodwood for the Whitmonday BARC Formula 1 race, the Connaught A8 of Michael Young finished fifth, as Reg Parnell's Ferrari 625 finished first and Roy Salvadori's Maserati 250F in second were in a class of their own.

On June 19th 1954, at the Crystal Palace Trophy race, the Connaughts went well as they always seemed to do at that venue. By this time, Peter Collins was driving the ex-Downing, ex-Rolt Connaught A3 and finished second in the final race, five seconds behind Reg Parnell in his Ferrari 625. With Salvadori's Maserati 250F absent, the Connaughts swept most of the top places with Don Beauman's AL9 in third and Bill Whitehouse in AL10 in fourth behind Beauman.

On August 7th 1954 at Oulton Park for the International Gold Cup, Stirling Moss was first in his Maserati 250F (Chassis No. 2506) after beginning dead last because he missed practice and Reg Parnell finished a distant second in the Ferrari 625. The Connaughts filled out two of the points-paying positions: Don Beauman's AL9 in fourth and Bill Whitehouse in AL10 finishing sixth.

A week later on August 14th 1954 at Snetterton for the RedeX Trophy race, Reg Parnell's Ferrari 625 lapped virtually the whole field and Beauman finished third in AL9 and Charles Boulton finished sixth in A7. On August 28th 1954, at Castle Combe for the Joe Fry Memorial Trophy race, another of the venues where Connaught often turned in good results, Horace Gould won in a 2.0 Cooper-Bristol T23; behind him in second was Bill Whitehouse in Connaught AL10, John Riseley-Prichard was third in A3 and Michael Young was fourth in A8.

On September 9th 1954, the Goodwood Trophy race was run and the Maserati 250F's of Moss and Salvadori finished first and third; Peter Collins in a Vanwall finished second. Don Beauman in Connaught AL9 finished fifth, practically a lap down to the leaders, demonstrating conclusively the desperate need for the new B-Type Connaught that was about to roll out of the factory at Send.

Next Week: Connaught Makes History

In addition to thanking Ken McAlpine, Mike Oliver, Alain de Cadenet and Martin Stretton for their gracious cooperation in the preparation of this series, the author wishes to express his gratitude to Sam Evans, Assistant Curator of the Science Museum's Transportation Collection, and to Rhiannan Sullivan of the Science Museum's Picture Library for access to the Museum's Technical File and permission to use pictures of Connaught Chassis B6 in this article. The Science Museum is on Exhibition Road in London.

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in This Series:

  • Part I (June 6th)

    Volume 7, Issue 24
    June 13th 2001

    Atlas F1 Exclusive

    Interview with Trulli
    by Roger Horton

    BMW-Williams-Michelin Q & A
    by Roger Horton

    Atlas F1 Special

    Team Connaught Part II: Remembrance of Things Fast
    by Thomas O'Keefe

    Canadian GP Review

    The Canadian GP Review
    by Pablo Elizalde

    Reflections from Montreal
    by Roger Horton

    The Strongest Virtue
    by Richard Barnes

    Fishing for Future Designers
    by Karl Ludvigsen


    Elsewhere in Racing Special Edition: Le Mans Preview
    by Mark Alan Jones

    The F1 Insider
    by Mitch McCann

    Season Strokes - the GP Cartoon
    by Bruce Thomson

    Qualifying Differentials
    by Marcel Borsboom

    The Weekly Grapevine
    by the F1 Rumors Team

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