Connew – the last of the Grand Prix “privateers”

Formula 1 in the modern era is almost a business rather a sport, due to the huge amounts of money required to build, test and maintain highly technologically advanced cars, as well as paying for all of the personnel required to run a team, along with the transportation costs as the teams travel around the world from race to race.

However, there was a time when the spending required was not as astronomical, and teams could enter Formula 1 racing at a reasonable cost. One of these teams, and arguably the last of the true “privateer” entries in Formula 1, was Connew. Here is their story.

The Connew story starts with Peter Connew, who in 1969 was an apprentice draughtsman. A friend asked him if he would like to go with him to watch the 1969 Italian Grand Prix at Monza. When Connew asked his employer for time off for the trip, and they refused, Connew resigned on the spot. He attended the Grand Prix, and while the actual racing didn’t interest him, the sound of the engines and the design of the cars certainly did. Upon returning to England, Connew needed a job, and through a contact landed a job at the Surtees Formula 1 team. Team manager John Surtees won the 1964 Formula 1 World Championship, and after having driven cars for Lotus, Cooper, Lola, Ferrari, Honda, BRM, as well as driving a privately entered McLaren, had decided to build his own Formula 1 car, which was due to compete in the 1970 Formula 1 season. After seeing a Formula 1 car at such close quarters, Connew decided that he wanted to have a go at designing his own Formula 1 car. He resigned from Surtees and with a blank piece of paper, started work.

A lock-up garage in East London was hired as the team’s workshop, and work began in earnest making Connew’s drawings a reality, with the deadline being the opening round of the 1972 Formula 1 season, the South African Grand Prix. Connew were lucky in one respect – they were right in the middle of the “kit car” era of Grand Prix racing. Key components, such as a Ford Cosworth DFV V8 engine and a Hewland gearbox, could be bought “off-the-shelf”. The overwhelming majority of teams that competed in Formula 1 at this time used the DFV engine and Hewland gearbox, as they were reliable and could be easily fixed or replaced if there were breakages. The tub of the car could be machined out of aluminium, and other mechanical parts could either be machined or bought. As well as Connew, his cousin Barry Boor and friend Roger Doran built the car, which was named the PC1. Several benefactors and friends also gave financial support.

connew_f1_13
Connew PC1 outside the workshop in East London, 1971.

 

One unusual design feature was the radiator setting, which offered an ingenious solution to cooling problems. It was front-mounted at a very slight angle of five degrees, enabling air to pass through upwards and come out through a vent on the top. This also prevented turbulence underneath the car. The thin chisel nose was also similar to the Surtees TS7, possibly due to observations made by Connew when he was working for Surtees.

Despite everyone putting in long hours to get the car ready in time, the team realised that they wouldn’t be ready for South Africa, and instead decided that the 4th round of the Championship, the Monaco Grand Prix, would be the debut of the PC1.  The small team then received a setback – due to a change in regulations, the team would have build a new tub, which they did, and which was not surprisingly called the PC2.

Now that the car was complete, the team needed to find a driver, which they did in the form of Frenchman François Migault, who had some promising results in the French Formula 3 and Formula 2 championships in the early 1970’s. Migault was signed up for 5 races – Monaco, France, Great Britain, Germany and Austria. As well as providing his driving talent, Migault also brought something else to the team – a Ford truck. In the rush to complete the car, Connew and his friends had given no thought as to how they would get the car to the races! Migault’s Ford was converted into a transporter, though by this time they had missed the Monaco Grand Prix.  They then travelled by ferry across the English Channel to Clermont-Ferrand, the site of the French Grand Prix, but 60 miles outside of Le Mans the transporter broke down. Unable to make the Grand Prix, the team decided to do some testing at Le Mans, but it was discovered that part of the rear suspension had been damaged in the trip across France.

The Connew finally got onto the track at the British Grand Prix, but suffered suspension problems during Thursday practice. Upon closer examination at the team’s garage, one of the rear uprights was found to be badly damaged, so Connew withdrew to fix the problem. As to be expected from such a small team with limited testing funds and testing time, the Connew recorded the slowest time in qualifying – 1 minute 30 seconds, 3 seconds slower than the second slowest car in the field.

Despite not filing an official entry, the small team arrived at the German Grand Prix, but the organisers refused their entry – claiming that the fearsome Nurburgring circuit was not the most suitable circuit for a new car with teething problems and an inexperienced driver to be competing on.

ConnewGermanGP
The Connew PC2 in the pits at the 1972 German Grand Prix prior to its exclusion from the meeting by race officials.

 

After all of these disappointments, other people might have thrown in the towel, but the Connew team were determined that they would start a Formula 1 Grand Prix. At the Austrian Grand Prix they finally achieved their goal – Migault was the 25th and slowest qualifier, but he was going to start the race! By steady driving, Migault had picked up 4 places, but on lap 22 the rear suspension failed on the main straight, with Migault being able to bring the car to a safe halt on the side of the track.

Here is a video of the 1972 Austrian Grand Prix, with a couple of fleeting glimpses of the Connew in the opening laps:

The car’s final appearance for 1972 was in the World Championship Victory Race at Brands Hatch, with David Purley behind the wheel. Another example of the misfortune or bad luck which plagued the team now occurred. Purley had requested that an engine “kill switch” be fitted to the steering wheel, but on the warm-up lap the switch was pulled out, thus stopping the engine. There was insufficient time before the start to fix the problem, so the Connew failed to start its final race.

And that was it – the car was modified to accept a 5 litre V8 engine to enable it to compete in Formula 5000 in 1973, but results were poor, and at the final meeting of the season, Tony Trimmer crashed the car, damaging the chassis beyond repair.

For many years the two chassis (PC1 and PC2) sat covered in weeds in Connew’s garden, but in 2015 Barry Boor and several friends started the ardous task of restoring one of them to either a rolling chassis or even a fully running car.

Migault raced Formula 1 in 1974 and 1975 for BRM, Hill and Williams but with very little success. He continued to race in sports cars up to the early 2000’s, before retiring, and passing away in January 2012 of cancer.

Connew retired with his wife to the Essex countryside in 1976, where for the past 30 or so years he has been a foster carer for hundreds of displaced children.

Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, the team were probably very naive in thinking that they could successfully compete with the major teams in one of, if not the biggest and most competitive motor racing series of the time. The persistent problems with the rear suspension would suggest that the team lacked the finances to build parts properly, as well as being able to extensively test them.

On the other hand, they achieved their goal, taking part in a Formula 1 World Championship Grand Prix, and probably had a lot of fun along the way, which is what life is supposed to be about. It is just a shame that the Connew adventure will never again be repeated in Formula 1.

The following sources were used for this blog post:

Mattijs Diepraam, Felix Muelas DIY heroes, Forix.com

Anthony Pritchard, “Directory of Formula One Cars 1966 – 1986”, Aston Publications, Bourne End, England 1986

Steve Small, “The Guinness Complete Grand Prix Who’s Who”, Guinness Publishing, London, 1994

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Connew – the last of the Grand Prix “privateers”

  1. Thanks Jennie!

    Yes, the “privateer’ has become an extinct species in all top-level forms of motorsport, due to rising costs and the need to find major sponsors to meet those costs.

    I like the “failures” as the Connew – their stories are often more interesting than the successful cars!

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