We have a monthly meeting, on the 4th Monday of the month. These meetings are held at the Arreton Community Hall, Main Road, Arreton, 7.30 for 8.00 p.m. The usual format of the evening is that we listen to a speaker on some relevant topic, view videos, or have some form of quiz, as well as having a general 'noggin and natter'. Visitors to the Island are welcome to come along laughter.
The subject of Nigel Offer's talk was illustrated talk was 'Ladies and the World of Motoring'. Although during the early years, ladies were in the minority in the world of motoring, they were soon to make a great impact. The talk was structured to look at (a) a number of ladies who, in various ways, have left their mark on the world of motoring, (b) the contribution that ladies made in both world wars and finally (c) ladies enjoying themselves in a range of cars, including Austins.
It was Bertha Benz, who in 1886 became the first female driver. Without telling her husband, she undertook a mammoth 65-mile drive with her two sons. This was the world’s first long-distance car trip and demonstrated what a capable vehicle it was. She encountered problems but proved that a woman was every bit as capable of handling one of these new-fangled contraptions as a man.
In 1903, Dorothy Levitt, became the first British woman to compete in a motor race, at Southport. Then, in 1905, she set the record for the “longest drive achieved by a lady driver” for a journey from London to Liverpool and back again, 424 miles in 2 days.
In 1906, driving a six-cylinder 100 hp Napier motorcar, she set a new world speed record for women, of 91mph, at Blackpool. This earned her the nickname, ‘The fastest girl on earth.”
She also wrote a book on motoring in 1909, 'The Woman and the Car': It was to become a valuable handbook for lady drivers.
Another lady who left her mark was Eleanor Thornton, for 13 years Lord Montague’s mistress. At the time, Rolls Royce was concerned that some owners were adorning their cars with inappropriate mascots. The outcome was that the sculptor, Eric Sykes, used Eleanor to model the mascot which became known as 'The Spirit of Ecstasy'. It has adorned the radiator of Rolls Royce radiators ever since.
In 1908 Muriel Thompson, driving an Austin, made a name for herself at Brooklands. Driving her brother’s racing car, she won the first ladies' motor race held there, the Ladies' Bracelet Handicap at a speed of 50 miles per hour. She also won the Scratch Motor Car Race. Later, both she and her brother helped to found the Brooklands Automobile Racing Club.
In 1924, Dorothee Pullinger became the Manager of Galloway Motors, a subsidiary of Arrol-Johnston. She was responsible for the design and manufacture of a car with ladies specifically in mind and one to be made by ladies. Incidentally, in 1918 she was accepted as the first female member of the Institution of Automobile Engineers. Motor engineering was no longer to be the domain of men!
The other ladies referred to were mainly those who made a name for themselves racing on such tracks as Brooklands, rallying, and undertaking adventures. Amongst them,
Mrs Victor Bruce – In the 1920s she was a racing driver, rally driver and record breaker. She broke the 10,000 Mile record at Montlhéry. Later, in 1928, she drove Birkin’s 4½L Le Mans Bentley to set a new single-handed 24 hour record at Montlhéry. She covered 2,164 miles in 24 hours at an average speed of almost 90mph to take the record. That achievement won her life membership of the British Racing Drivers’ Club.
She wrote a book for the woman motorist. It was filled with advice on the art of driving and maintaining one’s car.
Gladys de Havilland – In 1929, she became the first lady to drive an Austin Seven around the world.
Margaret Allan – She was known as the original Bentley girl. Initially, in the 30s, Margaret raced Lagondas before moving on to Bentleys. Competing with them in the Monte Carlo Rally, racing at Brooklands and Le Mans.
In 1936, she became one of just four women to gain her Brooklands 120mph badge at a speed of 122.37mph in the 6.5-litre Bentley, 'Old Mother Gun'.
Kay Petre – Kay was to become one of the most famous lady racing drivers in the 30s, particularly on the Brooklands track. She was only 4’ 10” tall but often drove large racing cars, such as 10.5 litre V12-Delage. In 1935, driving this car, she took the Ladies Land Speed Record at 134.75mph.
She was to race a wide selection of cars including a Wolseley Hornet Special, and a series of Rileys. In 1937, with her Riley, she drove in three Grand Prix races in South Africa. Also in 1937, she raced an Austin 7 ‘Grasshopper’ in the Paris to Nice rally and also drove for the works Austin Seven racing team at Brooklands. In September Kay was involved in an accident which ended her racing career.
Afterwards, she pursued a career in motoring journalism. In the early 1950s, Kay was employed by Austin as a 'colour consultant' to suggest colours and combinations for the new A40/A50 Cambridge. Later she joined BMC, charged with brightening up the Austin image to appeal to women drivers. She also designed fabric patterns for the interior of the Mini.
At the appropriate time during the talk, reference was made to the role of women in both world wars. Many volunteered to drive Ambulances as well as to maintain them in appalling conditions. Those left at home drove buses, trams and tractors and others worked in factories building military vehicles. It is worth noting that in 1945, our Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, graduated to driving an Austin K2 ambulance after training on an Austin 7 chassis and an Austin 10 'Tilly' pick-up truck.
After WW2, a number of ladies made their mark in the world of rallying including Sheila van Damme and Pat Moss, the latter being acknowledged as the most successful lady rally driver ever.
There are also many other ladies who have made their own contribution to the world of motoring since the days covered by my talk, the days when motoring was fun but did provide some interesting challenges.