Tony Rolt

16/10/1918 - 6/2/2008

Record updated 08-Feb-08

Anthony Peter Roylance Rolt was born in Bordon, Hampshire. He is a former Formula One driver from England. He participated in 2 grands prix, debuting on July 18, 1953. He scored 0 championship points. Rolt was a POW in Colditz Castle during the Second World War and was involved in the audacious glider escape plan.

Tony Rolt
Anthony Peter Roylance Rolt was born in Bordon, Hampshire. In 1938 he won the British Empire Trophy at Donington driving an ERA, but his racing was interupted by the outbreak of World War II.

In May 1940, aged 21, Rolt was sent to France to help hold back the German advance. He was a lieutenant in the Rifle Brigade in charge of one of the reconnaissance platoons. Caught up in the fighting around Calais, for three days they held back the 10th Panzer Division and so vitaly delay their attack on Dunkirk. This meant that large numbers of British soldiers were able to evacuate, but Rolt and many of the other fighters were taken prisoner. He dedicated himself to escaping from Germany and after seven escapes he was finally sent to the maximum security German prison at Colditz. It was there that Rolt dreamed up the famous idea of building a full size two man glider in the attic of the castle to fly to freedom. The castle was liberated by the Allies before the glider was finished. It is widely acepted that it would have flown and a replica was built many years later to prove the point. Rolt was awarded a Military Cross for his conduct in the Battle of Calais.

When peace returned he was soon back in action with an Alfa Romeo, a Delage and a Nash-Healey. Although he shared Peter Walker’s ERA at the 1950 British GP, in the main Rolt restricted himself to national racing, enjoying himself with Rob Walker’s Delage in 1951 and, in his only HWM drive, taking second place in the 1952 International Trophy behind team-mate Lance Macklin.

One of the other project he worked on after the war was the development of four-wheel drive. Along with his mechanic Freddy Dixon they formed Dixon Rolt Developments which pioneered the viscous coupling. With backing from Harry Ferguson, they became FF Developments.

Rolt was also 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. The popular legend goes that, as they had been disqualified after practicing in the wrong car, they went to drown their sorrows in a local bar. However, the Jaguar team manager persuaded the organisers to let them race, so they were located and sobered up with showers and black coffee. However it appears that there was absolutley no truth to the story. They also took second place the following year at both Le Mans and the Reims 12 Hours.

Between 1953 and 1955, Rolt raced Walker’s dark-blue Connaught with great succes in national events, winning numerous Formula 2, Libre and handicap races.

He entered the British Grand Prix twice, in 1953, when he retired with a broken halfshaft and in 1955 when he was forced to retire again, this time with transmission problems.

In 1954 Tony expressed his concern about the narrowness of the pit straight at Le Mans, but still participated in the tragic 1955 race, driving for Jaguar. He had filled out a questionnaire about safety in 1954, in which he wrote "The section past the pits is definitely too narrow, and every year there are near accidents here." Rolt had seen as how average speeds had increased and in 1953 he had become the first person to break the hundred mph barrier. He recognised the need for increased safety measures, however the organisers, the Automobil Club de l'Ouest, either overlooked or ignored his warnings.

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. This became the Ferguson P99 car, which 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 also proved successful in America and in 1966 was used in the Jensen FF road car. The company was a huge success and Rolt retired a wealthy man.

He was the last remaining member of the British Racing Drivers' Club to have been elected before the war and the last surviving starter of the very first World Championship Grand Prix, the British Grand Prix in 1950.