Tony Rolt, racing driver and engineer, died yesterday
7 February 2008

Tony Rolt, who drove the Jaguar C-Type to Le Mans victory in 1953 and helped design Sterling Moss' 1961 Grand Prix-winning F1 car, has died aged 89. Rolt was born on October 16th 1918, and was not only a well-respected racing driver and engineer, but was also a prisoner of war in Castle Colditz during WW2, and masterminded the famous glider escape plan. His most successful achievements after the war included development of the four-wheel drive system which was then used in the Jensen FF, as well as being a celebrated racing driver in both Le Mans and Formula One. He was the last surviving driver to have taken part in the world championship GP at Silverstone in 1950, and had been a member of the British Racing Driver's Club since 1936.

Join the debate

Comments
2

8 February 2008

"He was the last surviving driver to have taken part in the world championship GP at Silverstone in 1950".

What about José Froilán González?

8 February 2008

Military Cross and Bar in addition a life of adventure and achievement.

Superb.

Tony Rolt has died at the age of 89. The former Grand Prix driver had a spectacular career both as a soldier and later in racing and in business.

At 21 he was a lieutenant in the Rifle Brigade which was part of the British Expeditionary Force in France when the German invasion occurred. Rolt was trapped in Calais where the small British force helped to hold back the advance of a Panzer Division that was bound for Dunkirk. This was of vital importance as it meant that large numbers of British soldiers were able to evacuate. The defenders of Calais were not so lucky and although Rolt was awarded a Military Cross for his actions, he was taken prisoner. He dedicated himself to the task of escaping and after seven different escapes was sent to the high security prison at Colditz where he dreamed up the amazing idea of building a glider in the attic of the castle and flying two men out. The castle was liberated before the glider was ready to fly.

After the war Rolt returned to Britatin and began working with Freddy Dixon on the development of four-wheel drive systems. They formed Dixon Rolt Developments which pioneered the viscous coupling and later attracted backing from the tractor magnate Harry Ferguson. It became known as FF Developments. At the same time Rolt was busy racing with ERAs and other interesting machinery. He and Peter Walker shared a car in the first F1 World Championship race at Silverstone in 1950. This led to a works drive with Jaguar and in 1953 Rolt and Duncan Hamilton shared victory in a C-Type Jaguar in the Le Mans 24 Hours.

By the early 1960s FF Developments had decided that it would build a 4WD racing car to demonstrate the value of four-wheel drive technology and Rolt drove the Ferguson P99 F1 car. This later became the only 4WD car to win a Formula 1 race when Stirling Moss drove it to victory in the Gold Cup at Oulton Park. The 4WD concept was also quite successful in America and in 1966 was built into the Jensen FF road car. The company ended up being a huge success with its technology being used throughout the motor industry and Rolt retired a wealthy man.

A member of the British Racing Drivers' Club, Ront was the last surviving member to have been elected pre-war.

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Lexus LC500
    Car review
    20 October 2017
    Futuristic Lexus LC coupé mixes the latest technology with an old-school atmospheric V8
  • Maserati Levante S GranSport
    First Drive
    20 October 2017
    Get ready to trade in your diesels: Maserati’s luxury SUV finally gets the engine it’s always needed
  • Jaguar XF Sportbrake TDV6
    First Drive
    19 October 2017
    The handsome Jaguar XF Sportbrake exhibits all the hallmarks that makes the saloon great, and with the silky smooth diesel V6 makes it a compelling choice
  • Volkswagen T-Roc TDI
    First Drive
    19 October 2017
    Volkswagen's new compact crossover has the looks, the engineering and the build quality to be a resounding success, but not with this diesel engine
  • BMW M550i
    First Drive
    19 October 2017
    The all-paw M550i is a fast, effortless mile-muncher, but there's a reason why it won't be sold in the UK