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NOTICE OF DEATH - KENNETH MCALPINE OBE DL (1920 - 2023)

It is our sad duty to inform Members that the BRDC’s oldest and longest-serving Member, Kenneth McAlpine, passed away on 8 April at the age of 102. He was also the oldest living Grand Prix driver. Kenneth was originally elected to Full Membership in 1948, the same year as Sir Stirling Moss. His racing career as a driver began shortly after World War 2 with the ex- Earl Howe Maserati 8CM #3013 with which he enjoyed some success in the mixture of sprints, hillclimbs and occasional race meetings which were the staple diet of motor racing in mainland Britain at the time. Kenneth became involved with Mike Oliver and Rodney Clarke in a flourishing motor business in Surrey, Continental Cars, which specialised in Bugattis and Maseratis. When the Siamese Princes ‘B Bira’ and Chula decided to dispose of their 2.9 litre 8CM Maserati Kenneth acquired the car shortly before Easter 1948. For the next two years or so Kenneth campaigned the big Maserati resplendent in black and chrome just as it had been when originally owned by Whitney Straight in the 1930s. Kenneth won a five-lap handicap at Goodwood in September and was often well-placed in other events.

Kenneth invested generously in Continental Cars, joining Mike Oliver and Rodney Clarke as a director of the company in 1948. Named Connaught by combining the first three letters of Continental and ‘Automobiles, the first project was a Lea Francis-based sports car with which Kenneth notched up wins at Blandford in Dorset and at Goodwood together with several other good placings in races and hillclimbs from 1949 to 1951. He also dabbled in the popular 500 cc Formula 3 with a JBS-Norton, achieving third place in a race at Boreham and in a heat of the 500 International Trophy at Goodwood in 1951. Another competitor in that Goodwood race was a certain Bernie Ecclestone who finished second in the heat behind Alan Brown, both of whom would have involvements with Connaught several years later. Kenneth and Bernie retired early in the final at Goodwood which was won by Stirling Moss ahead of Alan Brown.

The first Connaught single seater, the A type, appeared at Castle Combe in October 1950 with Kenneth as the driver. It was an encouraging debut for the beautifully conceived and engineered Formula 2 car, Kenneth finishing second to Stirling Moss’s HWM in the 1500 to 2500 cc Racing Car event. Further second places followed, and the first race victory came at Ibsley in August 1951 with more to follow at Snetterton which proved to be a happy hunting ground for Kenneth and his Connaught. However, it was the East Anglian circuit which was to prove the undoing of Connaught A1 when in October 1953 Kenneth sustained a hefty accident which wrecked the car but happily Kenneth was unscathed. The car had served Kenneth well, enabling him to enjoy competitive races in numerous non-championship F1/F2 races and to start the British and Italian Grands Prix in both 1952 and 1953 in addition to the Dutch and German GPs in the later year. His best result was 13th in West Germany.

The demise of A1 came at an opportune time in that a new Formula 1 was introduced for 1954 for which Connaught created the B type using an Alta engine and a spectacular, streamlined body for the faster circuits. The new car was not ready to race until the 1955 Easter Goodwood meeting when Tony Rolt gave it its debut. The second B-type appeared in Kenneth’s hands at the BRDC International Trophy at Silverstone a month later, only to retire, as it did in the British Grand Prix at Aintree which proved to be Kenneth’s last single-seater race. By now Kenneth was concentrating on an aerodynamic sports-racing car, also fitted with all-enveloping bodywork. First raced in 1954, this potent 1.5 litre sports-racing car brought Kenneth some very good results including a strong second place in the 1955 British Empire Trophy at Oulton Park to Archie Scott-Brown’s 2-litre Lister-Bristol. At Le Mans, where Kenneth shared with Eric Thompson, the car was running third to two Porsches in the 1500 cc class when forced to retire with piston failure just after midnight.

Tragically the streamliner was written off later in 1955 in a multi-car accident at Dundrod during the RAC Tourist Trophy which cost the life of its talented young driver Bill Smith. A fortnight earlier it had been driven to a strong second place at Aintree by Tony Brooks, a performance which impressed the Connaught directors so much that the dental student was invited to the Connaught hierarchy so much that Tony was invited to drive a B-type in the Gran Premio di Siracusa a month later. Never having driven a Formula 1 car previously, Tony won the race, defeating a full-strength Maserati works team amongst others in the process. It was a historic milestone in the progression of Great Britain towards a dominant position in Formula 1 thanks in no small part to the generosity of Kenneth McAlpine in providing the financial backing to enable Mike Oliver and Rodney Clarke to pursue their dreams. It would be two more years before Vanwall, with drivers Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks at Aintree, defeated the Italian teams in a World Championship Grand Prix by which time Connaught had had to shut up shop for lack of support. Kenneth’s last race was in the little sports-racing car in the Goodwood 9 Hours; with Eric Thompson as co-driver they finished fifth in class.

After his motor racing days, Kenneth raced yachts and developed various business interests including McAlpine Helicopters and a vineyard on the Kent Downs. He was High Sheriff of Kent in 1973/74 and was awarded the OBE for services to the building industry. To Kenneth’s wife Patricia, sons Richard and James and to his wider family and friends the BRDC extends its deepest condolences. Funeral details will be circulated when known.

The Club regrets to report on the death of Neville Hay, who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1993
The Club regrets to report on the death of Alan Minshaw, who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1984
The Club regrets to report on the death of Ray Thackwell who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1957
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