“When we got there, he gave me a drink, and offered to show me a video of the previous year’s race and when it got to the end, and they were interviewing the winner, it turned out to be my host! That was Neil Bonnett, and although he’d introduced himself at the track, his name didn’t really register at the time. Awfully embarrassing, but he thought it was very funny. Delightful chap. I was very sad when he got killed at Daytona.” It pleased me that Rob’s study was a touch chaotic, not unlike my own. There were paintings and photographs of his favourite drivers and friends, and magazines all over the place, and on a top shelf two items of headgear, a helmet worn by the lamented Mike Hailwood, and a policeman’s helmet of some vintage.
Any devotee of PG Wodehouse will know that it was de rigueurin the 1920s and ’30s, on an occasion such as Boat Race night, for young blades to remove and steal a bobby’s helmet.
“We were down from Cambridge for Guy Fawkes Night in London,” said Rob. “A friend and I worked out a scheme: I knocked the policeman’s helmet off, which was caught by my friend, who ran as fast as he could, and then did a rugger pass to me with it. Although the policeman couldn’t keep up, someone else did a terrific tackle on me, which brought me down on the pavement I was unconscious briefly, but fortunately had managed to pass the helmet back to my friend.
“As a result, I was gated for weeks, which was rather a bore, but I suppose I was lucky not to have been sent down. And I’ve still got the helmet!”
Life, not surprisingly, seems to have been idyllic for the privileged young man. By the time he was 20, in 1937, Rob reckoned he had been through as many cars as he had years. He would speak with particular fondness of his Mercedes-Benz 300SL, but his real passion always lay with racing. “When people ask me about my life, I always say motor racing’s all I’ve ever done — that and the war.” He served as a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm.
The problem with relating ‘Rob stories’, one after another, is that their cumulative effect is to give the impression of a complete dilettante, which was not the case, as Stirling Moss — or anyone else who ever drove for the RRC Walker Racing Team — will tell you. It is true that Rob spent a good deal of his own money on racing, but he was not a man to waste it, and went about the running of his team very conscientiously.
“There really was no-one quite like Stirling,” said Rob. “For me, he was the perfect racing driver. And the other great thing about having him was that in those days there was no FOCA to do a financial deal for all the entrants; we all made our own arrangements. There was very little prize money or starting money — appearance money, in effect, was what mattered. And the driver every organiser wanted far more than any other was Stirling. One was thus in a position of strength, and that was very enjoyable — particularly with the Germans.”
“I loved going racing with Rob,” Moss said. “A small team, very relaxed, yet very professional. It meant buying cars from another company, of course, but that really appealed to me — trying to beat the factories. And quite a few times we did.” True enough. Between 1958 and ’61, the Walker team’s cars won eight Grands Prix.
For 1962, the plan was for Stirling to race a Ferrari, prepared at the factory, but operated at the races by the Walker team, whose blue-and-white colours it would carry. It was an astonishing concession by Enzo Ferrari. But everything came to nought when Stirling crashed at Goodwood on Easter Monday.