Ian Connell was a gentleman driver who started racing in the 1930s when cars were driven by enthusiastic amateurs and raced on tracks that lacked the facilities and safety features of today.
<font face="Tahoma" size="2">Ian Ferguson Connell was born in Singapore to an Australian mother and a Scottish father. His father died when he was four and he sent to England to attend a prep school before going on to Marlborough. While there he and his friend, Derek Hall, paid many visits to Brooklands.
Together they used to play at entering the Monte Carlo Rally, going through the whole process on paper from entry form to the finish. Planning their strategy down to the smallest detail.
From Marlborough, Connell went up to Caius College Cambridge to read engineering. However before taking his place at Cambridge he went to France to learn French. Staying in Versailles, close to the circuit at Montlhéry, was too much of a temptation and Ian aquired a D-Type MG Midget with money from his father, and proceeded to race there.
Back at Cambridge he joined the University Automobile Club, competing with his MG in a number of the rallies and trials, including the first Scottish Rally. He also built a trials special with another udergraduate, Kenneth Petter, which they called the WAGN (Wolsey engine, Amilcar chassis, GN chain transmission).
In 1934 he aquired an Austin Ulster from Hugh Conway and first raced it in a 1934 Brooklands Mountain Handicap. Later that year he enter the Alpine Trial with Hall in a Singer Nine Le Mans winning a Glacier Cup. He also had a Special built for him at Vale Engineering in Maida Vale, London, powered by a 1.5 litre Coventry Climax OHIV engine with a Centric Supercharger.
In 1935 he drove the Vale in Irish races as well as Brooklands and Donington with varying success. He also entered Le Mans that year driving a Singer Nine with Nevil Lloyd. Unfortunately the Singer's clutch expired after just 17 laps.
At about this time he was working at University Motors demonstrating MGs and was offered one of the new MG single-seater 'R'-Types at a very advantageous price. He drove it in several races at Donington as well as hillclimbs and speed trials, but unfortunately, mainly due to it's poor handling, the car was not competetive. He was also the spare driver with the MG team of NE Magnettes in the Tourist Trophy race on the Ardes circuit near Belfast.
He joined up with Peter Monkhouse that year at the Monaco Motor and Engineering Company in Watford, and the garage became the base for his racing as an independent, entering events all over Europe. They modified the Vale and had some success in sprints and hillclimbs.
In 1936 season he acquired the ex-Benjafield 2.6 "Monza" Alfa Romeo which he drove mainly in Irish races, winning the unlimited class in the Leinster Trophy race. He also drove it that year with Kenneth Evans in the Donington Grand Prix. He also bought the ex-Evans TT Magnette which he took to many class wins in sprint races.
For 1936 he bought the ex-Benjafield, ex-Briault ERA R6B and was invited to compete in the Swedish Winter Grand Prix, the Flatenloppet, an ice race run on a small lake 7km South of downtown Stockholm, finishing 2nd. He took part in another ice race on the 21st of February, the Fredenloppet run on Lake Freden, Västerås, Sweden in two parts. Connell won the first race and Bjørnstad the second in his 2.3 Litre Alfa Romeo Monza.
Later in the year he drove in a number of long and short races at Brooklands and Donington where, due to retirements, he could only manage one 2nd place. At Crystal Palace, however, in the London Grand Prix, he finished 2nd to Raymond Mays.
In 1937 he had a twin vane supercharger fitted to R6B but though the performance was impressive, reliablity suffered and it was soon removed.
In 1938 he raced R6B in 17 events, coming in eighth at the Donington Grand Prix, which was dominated by the Mercedes and Auto-Unions and won by Nuvolari in an Auto Union. He set a course record for the Syston Speed Trials and had several other good finishes in long and short races at Brooklands. That year he co-drove with Tom Lace in his 4.5 litre Talbot Darracq 150C, finishing 5th in the Tourist Trophy at Donington. This brought about a switch for Ian, changing from racing single seaters to sports cars. He also married a young film-actress.
Impressed with the Talbot, late in the year he acquired the Talbot from Lane. The car was modified by Monaco Motors and Ian raced it very successfully in 1939 at Brooklands and Donington. At the first race of the season, the Brooklands Open Meeting in March, he won on the Outer Circuit in the wet with an average speed of 111.49 mph. The car was re-handicapped but went on to finish second and third in the next two races, with a fastest lap of 118 in full road trim. During the year he scored many wins and took records at Shelsley Walsh, Syston Park and Poole as well as lapping the Outher Circuit at Brooklands at 129.4 mph and being awarded the BRDC Gold Star for track racing.
That year he issued a challenge, through the pages of Autosport, to Hugh Hunter and his Maserati. “I am willing to challenge Mr Hunter" he wrote "or any other owner of a fast sports car to, say, five laps of the Campbell circuit for a wager to be decided upon, driving the 4-litre unsupercharged Darracq that I am now running on the road. This car carries full touring equipment, including windscreen, hood and headlights and runs on normal pump fuel.”
His challenge attracted a number of takers. The event was raced over two heats on the Brooklands’ Campbell and Mountain circuits. Overall honours in the wager were contested between Connell’s Darracq and the 3.5-litre Delahaye of Count Heydon, who bet Connell a dinner on the result.
The Darracq was third on the Campbell and second on the Mountain, but came in second, 10.4 seconds behind the Delahaye, on the overall timing. What Heydon had not told Connell was that Arthur Dobson would be at the wheel of the Delahaye. Thus the count enjoyed his dinner at Connell’s expense at the Berkeley Arms Hotel afterwards.
However Heydon did invite Connell to drive his Delahaye with Rob Walker in the 1939 Le Mans 24-hour race. Walker and Connell finished 8th, after trouble with the exhaust manifold, in a race won by the Bugatti of Jean-Pierre Wimille and Pierre Veyron.
He also took the sports car record for Shelsley and came second in the Fastest Sports Cars challenge.
By now war was iminent and Connell’s last pre-war outing was on the three Brooklands circuits in his Darracq. He lapped the Outer circuit at 129.36mph, the Mountain at 72.37mph and the Campbell at 66.68mph.
During the war, he was commissioned into the Royal Army Service Corps and served as a workshop officer as part of the 7th Armoured Division (the Desert Rats) in North Africa and Italy. Later he took part in the campaign in North West Europe, ending his war in Germany.
After the war Connell continued to race for several years. He bought the famous ERA “Remus” from Tony Rolt and entered it in the 1946 Grand Prix des Nations at Geneva, but failed to make the final due to trouble with the gear selector. He had better luck with the ERA in this country in hillclimbs and speed trials as motor racing had not restarted. He was well placed in the Brighton and Cofton Hackett speed trials.
Whilst the BRDC was getting going again he sat on the Committee under the chairmanship of Earl Howe that was involved in negotiations with the Daily Express for the running the Empire Trophy Race at Silverstone, and which ultimately led to the acquisition of the Silverstone circuit by the BRDC.
After selling the ERA in 1947 he borrowed Raymond Sommer's Maserati 4CL for the Grands Prix at Rheims, Pau, Nice and Albi. Mechanical problems prevented good results but he did finish 7th in the French Grand Prix at Lyons driving with Sommer in his ERA.
Connell returned to sports cars for his final season, 1948, in the 2-litre Aston Martin in which Richard Seaman had contested the 1936 Tourist Trophy. This he entered for the Spa 24-hours, driving in harness with Dudley Folland. They were leading after 21 hours when Connell slid off the mud-covered road surface into a ravine, fracturing the fuel tank and compelling him to retire.
He was invited by Dudley Folland to drive his 2 litre Aston Martin, which Richard Seaman had contested the 1936 Tourist Trophy, with him in the Spa 24hr race. After 21 hours of racing Connell took over for the final spell. They were leading the race but he ran out of road in the pouring rain, splitting the fuel tank and having to retire. A few weeks later he took part in his last race, the Paris 12-hours at Montlhéry. There, again driving with Folland, he managed a very creditable third in the nine-year old car, behind a Ferrari and a Delage.
The amateur era was drawing to a close and Connell decided to retire from racing. Selling the Monaco garage after the death of his partner, he started a boat business at Walton-on-the-Naze in 1950.
Next, and very much in the have-a-go spirit that informed his life, Connell and his second wife, whom he married in 1950, moved to the tiny village of Umberleigh, on the River Taw in North Devon, where for several years they ran a salmon fishing pub-hotel while he studied for his chartered secretary exams. After he had qualified, they moved, in 1956, back to the London area where Connell had several accountancy jobs. Eventually moving to Chiswick, he retired as Chief Accountant of Decca Radio and Television in 1978. In retirement he and his second wife lived first in Essex before settling in Wiltshire.