Mike Oliver


Record updated 13-Feb-08

One of the founders of Connaught, Oliver did a little racing with a Bugatti and a Maserati Tipo 8C-3000.

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Mike Oliver and Rodney Clarke, both ex-RAF pilots, set up a used car business called Continental Automobiles in Send, Surrey, specialising in Bugatti. Though Oliver was not formally trained, he was nonetheless described as a "natural" engineer. He also had raced a Bugatti single-seater.

In 1947 'Taso' sold his Maserati Tipo 8C-3000, still unfinished, to Mike Oliver who raced it in the Luton Hoo sprints early in 1948, scoring a modest seventh in class.

When the business from Bugatti dried up when production ceased, Connaught was formed, a pun on Continental Autos, as part of their core business, which was tuning high performance cars for customers.

They had prepared a Maserati for Kenneth McAlpine who was most pleased with their work so when he wanted a special sports car he got Clarke and Oliver to build a car based on a Lea Francis 1750.  Oliver reworked the engine and Clarke did the chassis and bodywork. Thus was born the the first Connaught, the L1.

They first built sports cars, then single seaters after McAlpine wanted a 2 litre Formula Two car. This became the Connaught Type A with a further development of the Lea Francis pushrod engine. Then in 1954-55 to moved up to Formula 1. Their cars participated in 18 Grand Prix, entering a total of 52 races with their A, B, and C Type Grand Prix Cars. They achieved 1 podium and scored 17 championship points.

Mike Oliver acted as team manager as well as chief engineer for the Syracuse Grand prix on October 23, 1955. After a harrowing experience for the mechanics in their ancient bus cum transporter getting the cars to Syracuse, a then young dental student, Tony Brooks, driving a works Connaught, won a major Continental Formula One Grand Prix for the first time since Sir Henry Segrave won the San Sebastian Grand prix for Sunbeam in 1924, defeating the works team of five Maseratis on their home ground.

From that moment on the face of Formula One was changed, leading to the great domination in the years ahead of the British teams and the British motor racing industry.

In 1957 Connaught closed down, having completely run out of money, and Oliver returned to flying, becoming Folland's chief test pilot developing the exquisite little Gnat fighter/trainer which was made famous by the RAF's Red Arrows.