Rob Walker – Gentleman Racer

Rob and his first car. Photo Courtesy of the Walker Family

Boy Racer

Robert ‘Rob’ Walker Ramsey Walker was born into the wealthy Johnnie Walker whisky family in 1917. His fascination with motor racing began at the age of seven when he saw his first race whilst on holiday in France. On his 11th birthday he was given his first car, a 1924 Morris Coupe. He soon learnt to drive (and race) the Morris along the mile-long drive at the family home, Sutton Veny House near Warminster in Wiltshire.

The 1929 Alvis. Photo Courtesy of the Walker Family. His mother bought him more than one plodding Rolls Royce in attempts to slow him down.

Walker learned to fly at Cambridge, but he was banned from the university air squadron for ‘jumping’ the fences at the Cottenham point-to-point course in a Tiger Moth. He played cricket for his college and became a playing member of the MCC but had little interest in studying.

Rob Walker and his Delahaye. Photo Courtesy of the Walker Family

By his 21st birthday Walker had owned 21 cars. In 1938 he spotted a Delahaye Type 35 sports car in a Park Lane showroom and bought it on the spot for more than his annual allowance. The car achieved third place at the French Grand Prix in the 1940s, after which he sold it. He re-bought it in the 1970s.

The Delahaye at Haynes Museum. Photo Courtesy of Tom Loftus

The Delahaye, now fully restored, is on display at the Haynes International Motor Museum.

Brooklands and Le Mans

Rob Walker (Car no. 10) at Brooklands in the late 1930s. Photo Courtesy of the Walker Family

He raced the Delahaye at Brooklands near Woking, the world’s first purpose built track.

Rob Walker racing at Le Mans in 1939. Photo Courtesy of the Walker Family

In 1939, Rob fulfilled a childhood dream when he entered his Delahaye in the world-famous 24-hour Le Mans sports car race race with Ian Connell as his co-driver. A broken exhaust made the footwell so hot that it burned his co-driver’s feet. Walker took over the driving and completed a 12-hour stint, cooling his shoes in water at pit stops. He crossed the line in 8th place, third in his class, his mechanics feeding him champagne to boost his energy levels during his drive. The Delahaye ran for 24 hours without a change of tyres at an average speed of 78mph. After the race he went straight on to a Paris nightclub.

Betty Walker in 1937 with the Coupe des Alpes Delahaye. Rob was given the car on his 21st birthday. Photo Courtesy of the Walker Family

Walker goes to War

Sub Lieutent Walker with the Delahaye. During the war he flew Gladiators, Swordfish and Hurricanes. Photo Courtesy of the Walker Family

On the outbreak of the Second World War Walker joined the Royal Navy and trained as a Fleet Air Arm pilot. He survived the torpedoing of HMS Cleopatra whilst supporting the invasion of Sicily and saw service in the Far East.

Betty and Rob’s Wedding Day. Photo Courtesy of the Walker Family

When he married Betty Duncan in 1940 he promised her that he would give up racing. But once demobbed he was eager to resume. He honoured his promise and, rather than returning to driving, he became a ‘private entrant’ with his own racing team.