Photo: Courtesy of Pikes Peak International Hill Climb Historic Photographic Archive
Robert Donner Jr., whose interest in cars began as a toddler while his father was an Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg dealer in northern New York, passed away on January 13. It was after his family moved to Colorado that Donner got his first taste of road racing, driving his father’s MG TC on the streets of Estes Park in June 1953. Service in the Marine Corps interrupted his racing, but upon discharge he bought a Porsche 1500 Super coupe from John von Neumann’s Competition Motors in L.A. The purchase included informal driving lessons from Richie Ginther, which Donner put to good use at legendary California venues such as Bakersfield, Palm Springs, Pomona, Santa Barbara, and Torrey Pines.
Returning to Colorado in late 1956, Donner continued racing with an increasingly potent succession of Porsche Spyders until 1962. In 55 races at long-forgotten tracks throughout the Mountain West he finished 1st in class 32 times—1st overall 11 times—between 1956 and 1963, while doing most of his own mechanical work. He also tackled the Pikes Peak Hillclimb from 1959 to 1962, winning his class three times, including 1962 when he took the sports car class over Ak Miller’s much more powerful Devin-Ford V-8.
His last “serious” race before stopping to focus on family and business, was also the last race for the space-frame, front-engine Chaparral he shared with Ronnie Hissom at Sebring in 1963. Thirteen years later, his businesses settling down and his family grown up, Bob couldn’t resist the red mist and went racing again, opening a long association with Ferraris. He ultimately closed out his 17-year racing career in an A Sports Racing 512 BB/LM at an SCCA regional on the La Junta airport course in May 1983.
During the mid-1980s Donner was active with his Prancing Horses in vintage racing, and with wife Joan drove their 1958 Ferrari 250 GT Cabriolet on many of the 1,000-mile Colorado Grand events, being selected as the event’s Prime Motoring Fools in 1994, in recognition of their spirit and passion for automobiles.