The Ex – U.S. Grand Prix, Monaco Historic Winning
1957 Connaught C-Type Formula 1
To many of us growing up with the VSCC races at April Silverstone, the distinctive lines of Connaught’s single seaters are firmly etched in the memory. This fondness for the true British race car manufacturer has been shared by many since their day and the fact that they have remained racing for so long is testament to the attention to detail in design and the quality of their build.
Connaught’s crowning moment of glory came on 23rd October 1955, when Tony Brooks won the Syracuse GP in a Type B Connaught. It was Britain’s first GP victory for over thirty years and it is important not to forget what this meant to British motor racing and the ordinary enthusiast. A green car had won at last. It had taken on the might of Maserati and had won in a straight fight.
Connaught Engineering was one of the first of a new breed of racing car manufactures to hail from the UK after the Second World War and few of Britain’s pioneering post-War racing car constructors did more to establish this country’s long-dominant competition car industry. Connaught’s distinctive and well engineered cars were a dominant force in the early post-War racing scene in the UK with numerous victories and podiums at Goodwood. Initially competing in Formula 2, with the new rules in Formula 1, Connaught would also go on to feature on the Grand Prix circuit. Driven by some of the household names of that evocative era, such as Sir Stirling Moss, Peter Collins, Mike Hawthorn, Tony Rolt, Archie Scott-Brown, Ron Flockhart and of course Tony Brooks.
The story of Connaught Engineering starts with Rodney Clarke. Born in 1916, he left school aged 16 and enrolled on a three-year Automobile Engineering course at the Chelsea College of Automobile and Aircraft Engineering, where John Heath, later of HWM, was a contemporary. With his training completed and unable to find a job in the motor industry, he had short stint as a trainee with a firm making radios, before joining the RAF as a pilot on a short service commission in 1935. When War broke out he was a Flying Officer on bombers but severe sinus trouble saw him invalided out in 1940.
In 1943 he set up Continental Cars Ltd. with Leonard Potter. Continental Cars Ltd. bought, sold, and prepared cars, in particular Bugatti. They had aspirations to become agents for Bugatti when production resumed post-War. This never materialised but Clarke himself competed in club events with a Bugatti Type 59 which was converted to road trim with additional styling by Denis Jenkinson.
Towards the end of 1946, the business transferred to premises on the Portsmouth Road at Send, near Guildford. Another defining addition to the story came in the form of one Clarke’s customers, Mike Oliver. Another ex-RAF flier with a love of fast cars, he purchased a Bugatti from Clarke with which he competed. He joined as Service Manager but soon became a major force in the company. Although he had no formal training, Oliver was a natural engineer with a particular sympathy for engines. He would go on to oversee Connaught’s engine development shop.
The final defining factor of what would become Connaught came in the form or another client, Kenneth McAlpine of the McAlpine construction family. McAlpine entrusted the preparation of his ex-Whitney Straight Maserati 8CM to Continental Cars. Not content with just preparing the car, Clarke and Oliver developed the Maserati. Oliver concentrated on the engine, while Clarke experimented with damper settings, steering geometry and weight distribution and as he honed the car, he learned the basics of what makes one really perform.
When the hoped-for Bugatti agency did not materialise Clarke decided to go into the car construction business. Their first offering was the Connaught L series. Based on the short 14hp Lea-Francis chassis, it featured a body of aluminium panels on a tubular steel frame built by Leacroft of Egham. The first production model, the L2 was sold to Kenneth McAlpine who gave it its competition debut the following June at Prescott, where it won the 1,501-3,000cc un-supercharged sports car class.
McAlpine begun to develop a close interest in the project and in the potential of the talent at Send. Like Clarke and Oliver, McAlpine was an ex-flier. Impressed by their results and feeling a need to put his motor racing on a more professional level, he gave financial backing for their development of Connaught’s first Formula 2, the strikingly proportioned A-Type. Powered by a four-cylinder, 2-litre Lea-Francis engine, McAlpine gave it its first competitive outing in July 1951 in the Rufforth Stakes at the Gamston circuit in Nottinghamshire. A month later he raced to second place in the Daily Mail Trophy at Boreham.
Gradually Connaught Engineering took over the facilities of Continental Cars Ltd until, by mid-1951 Continental Cars had ceased to exist except as the freeholder of the premises occupied by Connaught Engineering. Racing success also developed swiftly.
For the 1952 season there were more ambitious plans with a works team and customer cars. The factory cars were driven by McAlpine, Clarke, Ken Downing and even Mike Hawthorn. The cars competed in the British, Dutch and Italian Grand Prix, Mike Hawthorn won at Turnberry and Downing took the first of a number of victories at Goodwood with the Madgwick Cup.
With cars now running in the UK and Europe, in 1953 the factory team entered Roy Salvadori and John Coombs. Customers increased in Britain with the likes of Rob Walker. At the International Trophy, Salvadori finished 2nd to Hawthorn’s Ferrari with Tony Rolt 3rd. Success continued with Rolt racing to a string of victories at Crystal Palace, Snetterton, Oulton Park and Thruxton. Stirling Moss drove one of the cars at the Dutch GP. Prince Bira and Ron Flockhart joined the works team, and cars ventured to Modena for the Italian GP. The year ended with Salvadori winning the Madgwick Cup again for Connaught at Goodwood.
For 1954 Connaught decided to concentrate on customer cars and towards the end of the year Clarke designed the Connaught B-Type, which was fitted with 2.5-litre Alta engine. It was in one of these B-Types that the talented Tony Brooks won the 1955 Syracuse Grand Prix by nearly a minute, giving Connaught the first British victory on the continent since 1924.
Although there were further successes, with a 1st and 2nd in the Glover Trophy and a 4th at the Monaco Grand Prix, the team was forced to withdraw from motor sport in early 1957. Insufficient funds made it impossible to continue the programme of racing. Later in the year everything relating to racing and car manufacture was put up for auction – including two cars that were bought by a young team owner, Bernie Ecclestone.
Amongst the cars in the auction was this car, the only C-Type, Chassis C8. The last car built at Send by Connaught, the chassis was laid down in in 1956 for the 1957 season. Designed to replace the B-Type. It was clear for all to see, in an article by John Bolster in Autosport on February 22nd 1957, that this was a step forward from the already successful B-Type. The C-Type took the already proven mechanical units of the B-Type and housed them in a new lightweight space frame chassis rather than the twin tubed chassis frames of its predecessors. The rear discs were moved in board and the rear suspension comprised of rear strut dampers and a sliding de Dion tube. It was powered by the Alta 2.5-litre, designed to either run with Weber Carburettors or with a Lucas fuel injection (that still remains with the car to this day), and a Wilson pre-selector gearbox. Finally the C-Type was clothed in the new streamline bodywork that been developed on the late B-Types and came to be known as the ‘Tooth Paste Tube’ for obvious reasons. John Bolster commented in his article: ‘it can be stated, straight away, that the C-Type will have considerably greater performance’.
All of the cars, including C8, were tested at Goodwood by Mike Oliver before the auction. C8 did not make its reserve and was returned Alan Brown who had taken over Connaught’s assets. C8 was sold to Paul Emery (of Emeryson fame) and keen amateur racing driver John Turner. They entered C8 into the first US Grand Prix being held at Sebring in 1959. The car was to be driven by Bob Said. An American amateur racer, he was the first American to win a European race after the war. He had secured the entry to the Grand Prix subject to finding a car and as such struck a deal with Paul Emery to drive C8.
Sadly the car did not arrive at Sebring until a few days before the event. With the ship carrying it from England had to be re-routed leaving them some 1,000 odd miles short of Sebring. A rental car and trailer were hastily sourced and John Turner and Paul Emery set off on the arduous journey to Sebring. Once there, Emery had great difficulty making the fuel injection work. However Stirling Moss reputedly commented the car was faster than his Cooper! Suffering with a clutch problem before the start, Said eventually crashed out due to the erratic action of the fuel system.
C8 was returned to the UK to be repaired by Emery at the factory in Send, which was now being used to produce Emeryson Cars. With the repairs done, C8 was sold to consortium of 750 Motor Club members Worral / Densham and DeVilliers who entered it in the 1962 Indianapolis 500, with the intention of DeVilliers to drive. In the end it was BRDC member and prior Connaught B-Type driver Jack Fairman who drove the car (bottom two pictures).
In preparation for Indianapolis the wheelbase was lengthened by 6” to meet Indianapolis rules, a roll hoop was fitted, the top of the tail was cut down and a push bar was fitted at the rear. The engine was still running with the fuel injection giving 260bhp at 7,200 revs, using a methanol/nitro mix. Sadly the Indianapolis authorities could only supply mineral oil, not Castrol R that the car was running on, with no spare oil they had to use mineral oil which caused problems, in particular, with the fuel infection, and C8 did not manage to make the final qualification.
In 1962, C8 was advertised in Race & Track and was sold, still in its Indianapolis colours, to a Californian for his private museum. In 1974 Rodney Clarke repatriated C8 back into the UK, still in its Indianapolis colours. He also bought back a number of the B-Types at that time. Clarke sadly died in the summer of 1979 and C8 was eventually rebuilt by well known historic racer Martin Morris for Mrs. Hartley, Clarke’s sister, in 1981 ( as seen in Martin’s workshop above). The top of rear tail remained cut down and it was repainted from its Indianapolis colours. Martin Morris can then be seen racing the car, presumably on behalf of Mrs. Hartley.
In 1983 John Charles purchased C8. He was issued with FIA Papers the following year in 1984 and he continued to race the car successfully in club racing. By now the engine was running on carburettors. The chassis was still at the Indianapolis length.
In 1992 C8 was sold to Cedric Brierly who had Rick Hall race the car for him. The combination was very competitive indeed, with Rick winning most of his races. When you look at the results he beat all of the competitive Lotus 16, Ferrari Dino, BRM P25 and Maserati 250F of the time. Rodney Clarke would have been proud.
This fabulous car’s success certainly did not stop there. In 1998 it was purchased by the current owner, himself a keen racer. He had been impressed by its performance and wanted a front running, front engined Grand Prix car, to race with the HGPCA, Goodwood and of course at the Monaco Historics. Upon purchase he was instructed by the HGPCA to return the chassis back to its original US Grand Prix length, which he duly did.
In 2002 Martin Stretton won the Monaco Historic Grand Prix race in C8. He would also go on take multiple podium places at the Goodwood Revival in the car. Again against considerable competition. Clearly there was no denying the performance of this car.
The current owner has also raced C8 with success often mixing it up with the leading front engined Grand Prix cars like the Lotus 16, Scarab and the TecMec. A regular feature on the HGPCA grid as well as the VSCC, he has raced at Monaco on a number of occasions and during his ownership and C8 has been invited to the Goodwood Revival every year except 2016 and 2017, when the car was under restoration.
For over a decade now, C8 has been meticulously prepared by Spencer Longland of Longland Hart. A great deal of time and effort has gone into developing the two engines that the owner has for this car. Running on a methanol/petrol/acetone mix, the engine is giving 250 BHP at 6,150 revs, with a peak torque of 214 ftlb at 5,100 revs. The time and effort put into understanding these engines, has increased the performance some 20bhp since the car won at Monaco and has reputedly made it much more drivable as a result of the increased torque.
The car as you see it now is fresh from a two year restoration by Spencer Longland and is impressive to behold. It is clear he really knows these cars back to front. The engine and gearbox were also both rebuilt. Upon completion it was shaken down by our own Ben Mitchell who was impressed by its performance and the way it handled.
Further to this unique and exciting Grand Prix car, there is also a very impressive and extensive spares package available equating to nearly £100,000 in value. This includes a second engine, recently rebuilt and just about to go on the dyno, two spare gearboxes, a case of drop gears, 4 spare wheels, very rare spare Lea Frances stub axles, new anti-roll bars and a spare nose cone. C8 can be purchased with or without the spares and there is a separate sale price for the two options.
It is not everyday the opportunity to acquire a competitive 2.5-litre front engined Grand Prix car comes around. A multiple race winner at both Monaco and Goodwood, a regular feature of the busy HGPCA and VSCC grids, C8 is freshly restored and accompanied by a very impressive spares package. With the pre-1961 grid at next years Monaco Historics remaining for front engined cars only, this is a very exciting and unique chance to race a true British racing car and carry on the mantle laid down by Rodney Clarke and his talented team at Connaught.