Few racing cars are restored forty years later by the very people that built it in the first place, but that’s exactly what’s happened to the little-known Connew F1 car, which will be on display at Race Retro, powered by Motor Sport, held 23-25 February at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire.
The car, featuring in the Motor Sport Hall of Fame Live, was built in a time when F1 was possible for those with big ambitions and small budgets, and not just a pipe dream.
Peter Connew was a designer at Team Surtees who decided to build his very own F1 car and in 1970 set out to do just that. The first designs were drawn up by Peter early that year, and although the car was completed by spring 1972 what’s truly amazing is the team comprised just three people working on a tiny budget.
Connew looked after the design work, Barry Boor – cousin and woodwork teacher by trade – made the bodywork, and friend, Roger Doran, was chief mechanic.
Based around an aluminium monocoque chassis and with glass-fibre bodywork, it was powered by a second-hand Cosworth DFV engine sourced from McLaren driving through a Hewland gearbox.
But its Formula 1 history would be chequered to say the least. In 1972 it failed to enter the French GP, the British Grand Prix was a non-start after a problem in practice, and the team was then refused permission to race in the German GP.
As Connew explains, Austria proved more successful: “We made it to Lap 22 before retiring with suspension failure.” The last appearance in Formula 1 was the 1972 season finale World Championship Victory race held at Brands Hatch where David Purley was due to drive.
“David had paid for the engine re-build,” says Peter. “He’d asked for an engine ‘kill switch’ to be fitted to the steering wheel but when its electrical wiring failed on the warm-up lap he had to retire the car.”
With no more money available, the Formula 1 dream was over. For 1973 the car – now with Chevrolet V8 power – was entered in a few Formula 5000 events but unreliability and accident damage saw the Connew laid up for good, first at a workshop in Essex and then at Peter’s home.
Remaining untouched for four decades, the original team of Peter, Barry, and Roger set about restoring the historic machine and the result of more than two year’s work is sure to get plenty of attention in the Motor Sport Hall of Fame Live.
Echoing the original project, the restoration benefitted from the enthusiasm of the racing fraternity with celebrated motor racing historian, Doug Nye, donating a DFV engine and race specialists, Hall & Hall, providing the gearbox. As Peter himself says, “We really were one of those garagistes that Enzo Ferrari talked about.”