Epreuves Feminine!

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by Betty Haig

Many people are asking: what has happened to all the women drivers since the war? Where have they all vanished to and why have so few of the younger generation appeared in competitions? At the moment there seem to be less than half a dozen who enter and drive their own cars in events in this country. When one thinks that, pre-war, one would have found a list to fill half a page, this does seem rather hard to explain. This situation does not seem to be confined only to England, either; when I talked to Madame Germaine Rouault before the Monte Carlo Rally recently, she was also lamenting the lack of new blood. She told me that she had been trying to establish a Rallye Feminin, but that it was surprisingly difficult to collect enough entrants. When she wrote to the Swiss Automobile Club, they were only able to produce one prospective entrant! (Pre-war Switzerland had an active women’s automobile club, but this seems to have died out like our own. Members of it used to run in the Rallye Paris–St. Raphael. I remember that in 1986 the Swiss Madame Couedellot, driving her streamlined “Balilla” F.I.A.T. saloon in one of the speed trials, managed to tie with Mlle. Lamberjack on the big Hotchkiss, for second fastest time! Upon this dramatic feat le Journal commented: “Si la performance de Mlle. Lamberjack est déjá bien belle, celle de Madame Couedellot nous a litteralement stupéfiés!”)

France has always produced some excellent women drivers, but the general motoring situation in that country to-day has even more difficulties than England.

Madame Rouault agreed with me that the present lack of new drivers is largely due to this. Madame Augelvin, whom I talked to later, took a somewhat more caustic view! However, personally, I think that the financial difficulties, added to the lack of suitable events — like the pre-war rallies — are enough to put off any possible beginners. Most girls prefer something not too alarming, when they take the plunge and enter for their first event. What chance have they indeed, in our highly-specialised speed events, where even the more experienced sports-car drivers may find their entries unaccepted?

In France there are several projects afoot to organise again some women’s events. Over here, we have had nothing of the kind since the demise of the W.A.S.A. I think that an event (speed or otherwise), open only to women drivers, would be a good idea and quite fun. With a little encouragement, no doubt a few people would reappear. At present the Ladies’ Cup is too often won in a walk-over by a solitary feminine entrant — a sorry state of affairs! To return to France: Madame Itier is still talking of her France v. England Ladies’ Race. She now has in mind a race of about 150 kilometres on Montlhèry road track, taking in part of the Bowl, between teams of women driving cars of under 1 1/2-litres. (She was thinking in terms of the small Renaults and F.I.A.T.s.) She asked if I could collect an English team to bring out this summer. I thought that this was very doubtful. There are not many girls who can afford this to-day, apart from the difficulty of finding the right people plus the right cars. (Strangely enough, most cars built in this country since the war, that could be handled at all in a race, are far larger than this. When I raised this point, Madame Itier said hopefully, “the Austin Seven?”) There is also, for us, the expense of the Channel crossing, which makes a fair sized hole in £20 However, if matters were organised, it is possible that something of the kind might be arranged later on. I suggested the 1,100-c.c. H.R.G. and “TC” M.G. as possible entries for this country. (Also a new Morris Minor might respond to certain treatment and be pressed into service!)

Final news of feminine events on the Continent is that Comte Edme de Rohan-Chabot hopes that it may be possible to revive the classic Rallye Feminin (Paris–St. Raphael) in 1950. However, this is, unfortunately, somewhat uncertain, as the little Automobile Club du Var, of which he is the President, and which organises the event, was left in a very bad financial condition by the war, while le Journal, which was always the sponsoring newspaper, passed away unpeacefully with the rest of the pre-war French Press.

However, should the Rally take place, Monsieur de Rohan-Chabot has sinister places for something rather interesting in the way of routes that plunge off into Switzerland and Italy — and all in the wintry months of February and early March. This Rally had the unique attraction of allowing one to enter any car with four wheels, from an old Licorne saloon to a racing car, provided it was reliable enough to start up in a half-frozen condition in a chilly dawn of an open parc fermé! (Here one saw only too well why many cold countries favour the sumpless two-stroke-engined cars — for while some sixty entrants struggled to get their engines to turn at all, the Aero-Minors and such like would cough twice and calmly purr away!) Another annual attraction of this rally was that it incorporated excellent speed trials, held at different points of the route (none of your dreary average tests here!). These included a standing 500 metres, and a flying kilometre, and later a first-class speed hill-climb (generally rounded off with some acceleration and reversing horrors in the streets of Draguignan!) The Delahayes of Mesdames Schell and Rouault (the blue two-seater and red streamlined saloon) used to clock well over 100 m.p.h. on the flying kilometre, while one year, Mlle. Lamberjack actually drove René le Begue’s racing two-seater! But at the other end of the scale, the handicapping was so arranged that even the family saloon car (with mother, daughters and white fox terrier), going south with the Rally in search of the sun, also had a chance of being placed not too far down in the General Classification. The road sections were not too long and tiring. It was a, suitable rally for a beginner, while at the same time, from the “professional” point of view, good use could be made of a very fast car We could do with another event of this sort.

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