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Tony Rolt

At 21 Tony Rolt was a lieutenant in the Rifle Brigade when in May 1940 his unit was ordered to France to help try to hold back the German advance. Rolt was in charge of one of the reconnaissance platoons and soon found himself in the thick of the fighting as the defenders of Calais fought for three days to hold back the 10th Panzer Division and so delay its attack on Dunkirk. This was of vital importance as it meant that large numbers of British soldiers were able to evacuate, but the defenders of Calais were not so lucky and Rolt was taken prisoner. He then 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 amazing idea of building a glider in the attics of the castle and flying two men out. The castle was liberated by the Allies before the glider was ready to fly. Rolt was awarded a Military Cross for his conduct in the Battle of Calais.

He returned to Britain and began working with his mechanic Freddy Dixon on an idea that they had considered before the war: four-wheel drive. They formed Dixon Rolt Developments which pioneered the viscous coupling. This later attracted backing from the tractor magnate Harry Ferguson and became known as 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.

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 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.