Ian Raby

Ian Raby was born in September 1922. He was a garage owner from Brighton and began trading in second-hand racing cars. He was a hugely popular figure in the Paddock, and not only for his ability to source a suitable car for the prospective racer. There are some reports that Ian started in trials (with the Puddle Jumper name coming from this), but certainly in 1953 he acquired his first race car, an early-model Cooper-JAP, making his debut at Brands Hatch, 3rd May. Some reports suggest the car was a Cooper Mk IV, but others indicate a Mk II, and this leads to one of the problems with defining his career. With so many cars in stock at the business where he was sales manager, Car Exchange (Brighton), he undoubtedly made proving runs of new stock, and cars were also provided to prospective customers – without photographs it is impossible to be certain what he actually drove! Conversely, cars sold by his company would be fitted with a plate of authenticity, and might be described as “Ian Raby cars” although he might not have actually driven them. He achieved some respectable results with this car or cars, including a third place in the Junior race and a praiseworthy second in the JAP race at Brands Hatch in October.

For 1954, Ian built his own car, the IER Midget (seemingly using much of the suspension from either his Cooper or another Car Exchange chassis), however this was for sale before the end of the year, having only achieved placing in the heats. Certainly this car established the Puddle Jumper moniker (due to its low ground clearance), which would grace all Ian’s future cars. For 1955, Ian decided to upgrade to the premier league of Formula III purchasing a Cooper Mk VIII with Norton power, and employed ex-Cooper man Jeff Elmes as his mechanic.

Ian and mechanic Jeff Elmes pose with his new Cooper Mk VIII. Photo from Jeff Elmes’ collection.

The results started coming, first with a popular win in the Petit Prix at Crystal Palace in May and the Junior race in July then a fourth at Snetterton in August, a fastest time at the Brighton Speed Trials and a second in the Handicap race at Cadwell Park in October and finishing the year with a third in the first heat of the Yuletide Trophy.

Brands Hatch, 4th September 1955. a classic shot of Ian in his trademark checked shirt and white crash hat. He won his heat in the Francis Beart Trophy, but was unplaced in the Final Photo from Jeff Elmes’ collection.

For 1956, the Mk VIII was replaced with a brand new Cooper Mk X. He won the Consolation race at Brands Hatch in April and two wins Silverstone in June and October. 1957 was a year of change. He ordered a new Cooper Mk XI, and posted a second place in the Senior Final at Brands Hatch, on 31st March and another second in the Sporting Record Trophy race three weeks later. But that was to be the last run for an official “Puddle Jumper” in British Formula III. By July, the car was in Maryland, USA, and would be raced by John “Willie” Gadwa well into the 1960s.

Brands Hatch, 22nd April 1957: Ian takes second place in the Sporting Record Trophy race, in his new Cooper Mk XI. Note how “Puddle Jumper” is just visible on the side of the front bodywork, along with the nose marking and crossed flags. If he was acting as an agent, why did he specify the full Puddle Jumper livery? Photo from Jeff Elmes’ collection.

It is not clear why Ian abandoned 500s. Maybe he could not maintain his 500 programme, given that he would act as a Cooper works driver and focus on sports car racing with Cooper and Elva machinery and shared a Cooper with Jack Brabham in the 1957 Le Mans. In the Summer of ’57, he also left Car Exchange and started his own business, first in Peacehaven, later (as Empire Cars and Ian Raby Racing) back in Brighton, and this must also have taken a lot of his effort. Another theory is that we was merely acting as an agent for Willie Gadwa (apparently a common trick for getting better service from the Surbiton works was to get a known British driver to put their name to the order), and the races were for sorting the set up.

Ian’s Cooper Bobtail would be seen around Britain and Europe, still carrying the “Puddle Jumper” name. Incidentally, Willie Gadwa and his team kept the livery on the Mk XI and an offshoot group of “Puddle Jumpers” were travelling the Eastern Seaboard. Ian reappeared in a 500 at the end of the year, driving Albert ZainsFlash Special at the Boxing Day meeting. When Albert was badly injured, Ian made several guest appearances through 1958, but effectively his 500 career was complete.

Ian returned to single-seaters in occasional Formula Libre outings in 1959 with various Coopers and the Hume Cooper, and then joining Formula Junior that was beginning to establish itself in the England. Empire Cars acted as a distributor for the Envoy, and Ian drove the car on several occasions in 1960, then in 1962 driving a Merlyn before buying the Gilby-BRM competing in Formula 1 in 1963. He scored few good results and in 1964 ran a Brabham BRM instead.

Ian in his Formula Junior Merlyn

When F1 changed to 3-litre regulations in 1966, Raby turned to Formula 2 racing, again with a Brabham chassis. The 1966 season ended with a big crash at Brands but in 1967 he undertook a full F2 season with a Lotus engined Brabham. In July he crashed badly in the Zandvoort Trophy and was seriously injured. It is said that he was recovering, but may have received infected blood. He died on the 7th November 1967.

With thanks to the family of Jeff Elmes for information and images. Additional information courtesy of the Atlas F1 Nostalgia Forum.

If anyone has more information on Ian or the IER, please get in touch.

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