Last updated: Mon 25 Aug 2014

Rob Walker and Nunney – The racing years

Sir Stirling Moss and Ginger Rogers are just two of the famous names associated with Nunney Court.

Rob Walker

Rob Walker driving his Delahaye in the 1939 Le Mans 24-Hours classic.

Nunney has a long-standing association with Formula One, boasting a former lord of the manor who was one of the most respected personalities in the world of motor racing in the 1950s and 1960s. Rob Walker was not only the first private team owner to secure victory in a Formula One World Championship-qualifying Grand Prix, but also the last ever to do so.

As heir of the Johnnie Walker whisky fortune, he was able to follow his passion for fast cars and employ legendary racing drivers such as Sir Stirling Moss, Graham Hill and Tony Brooks.

In 1939 he co-drove his Delahaye in the Le Mans 24-Hours classic with Ian Connell, taking over at 8pm suitably dressed for dinner in an impeccable dark blue pin-striped suit and tie, then opting for informal Prince of Wales check for the Sunday morning stint.

His crew flagged him in for a pit stop because they were down to the last bottle of champagne and they knew he wouldn’t want to miss that. “Oh absolutely, quite right.” He helped finish the bottle and went back out to finished the race ninth. And drove back to England in the car.

Nine Grand Prix wins

Sir Stirling Moss wins the 1958 Argentinian Grand Prix.

Sir Stirling Moss wins the 1958 Argentinian Grand Prix.

He started his own team in 1958, after he had given up racing himself. His Rob Walker Racing Team had a total of nine Grand Prix wins. Moss secured an historic victory in Argentina in a Walker-entered Cooper in 1958. It was the first victory for a rear-engined car and, two years later, the British driver took another famous win at Monaco, driving a Lotus.

These included the first-ever World Championship-qualifying Grand Prix win for a modern-style rear-engined car; this was when Moss won the 1958 Argentine round in Walker’s tiny Cooper-Climax, with an engine 20 per cent smaller than the opposing factory Ferraris.

There was also the only F1 race victory ever scored by a four-wheel drive racing car, at Oulton Park in 1961 with Moss in the experimental Ferguson P99. During the 1959 World Championship series, Moss won the Portuguese and Italian Grand Prix in Walker-entered Coopers; in 1960 the Monaco and United States GPs fell to their Lotus-Climax cars; and in 1961 they took the Monaco and German GPs, still with the Lotuses.

Not immune from disaster

Sir Stirling Moss and Rob Walker

Rob Walker (right) with Sir Stirling Moss

Born into substantial wealth, Rob Walker was, nevertheless, an astute businessman. Long before Bernie Ecclestone organised collective bargaining on behalf of all the formula-one teams, Walker’s contract with Stirling Moss guaranteed that race organisers had to meet his financial terms if they wanted Britain’s top driver to grace their starting grids.

But Moss was not the only winner in Walker’s distinctive dark blue and white racing cars. The veteran French driver Maurice Trintignant scored victories in the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix, at Cordoba, Argentina, in 1960 and at Pau, France, in 1962.

Walker Racing was not, however, immune from disaster. Both the Mexican Ricardo Rodriguez and the Rhodesian former racing motorcyclist Gary Hocking were killed in his Lotus cars in 1962. Then his first 3-litre Lotus 49 caught fire while being stripped down, totally destroying Walker’s racing workshop at Dorking. Yet his team came back barely three months later when Jo Siffert won the British Grand Prix in a fresh Lotus 49 B at Brands Hatch.

Retirement

The Rob Walker Racing Lotus 18 which Stirling Moss drove to victory in the 1961 Monaco Grand Prix.

The Rob Walker Racing Lotus 18 which Stirling Moss drove to victory in the 1961 Monaco Grand Prix.

Walker’s most successful period came to an end when Moss was forced to retire after a crash at Goodwood in 1962. However, he celebrated one of his greatest wins when Jo Siffert drove a Lotus 49 to victory in the 1968 British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch. Walker’s team continued into the 1970s under the Surtees banner.

Rob Walker bought Nunney Court in 1947. In 1950 he obtained the title of Lord of the Manor of Nunney when he bought Nunney Castle at auction to safeguard it for the local community.

It was at Nunney Court that he and his wife Elizabeth entertained friends such as Sir Stirling Moss and Hollywood legend Ginger Rogers. He died in 2002 aged 84 and his collection was moved to Haynes Motor Museum. Under ‘occupation’ his passport said ‘Gentleman’.

Nunney Castle sold, 1950

Western Daily Press, Saturday 19 August 1950

Rob Walker and the Golden Age of Motor Sports were celebrated at the 2011 Nunney Street Market and Fayre with an exhibition and a display of classic and vintage cars.

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