The only grandmother to have beaten Graham Hill in a straight fight around the Monaco GP circuit
Two years ago a British driver won a historic rally in Holland, driving a Healey 3000. Not so unusual, perhaps; except that the driver in question is a petite white-haired grandmother who concedes only that the first digit of her age is a seven.
Between 1951 and 1964 Anne Hall became one of our most successful lady rally drivers. And we are not talking club events: her list takes in 13 Montes, 12 RACs, 11 Alpines, seven Tulips, four each of the gruelling Safari and Acropolis events, a roomful of Ladies’ Cup and other awards and a joint European Ladies Rally Championship, in 1955. Having been a works driver for Jaguar, Sunbeam, Ford and BMC, she retired in back in 1964, but was tempted out again in 1987 to go historic rallying, and proved she had not lost a grain of competitive spirit. “I never go touring; I always drive to win,” she says fiercely, in her light Yorkshire tones.
Choosing the Ford Anglia she was familiar with (“I knew I could drive it flat all the time, whereas I might have to back off in a faster car”), she was immediately back on the pace, placing 13th on her ‘debut’, winning the ladies’ Cup. In one of John Chatham’s Big Healeys she beat all the other Healeys in the 1989 Viking Rally, and she has done four Classic Marathons; in 1992 she hurled her XK120 over the tortuous Stelvio Pass despite having broken a finger in a small ‘off’. In 1993 she and Val Morley, her favourite co-driver in the Sixties, were leading the Paris-Marrakesh Marathon overall when their MGA broke a half-shaft. Two years ago she won a Dutch rally in an ex-works Healey lent by someone who was a fan in his youth, took second last year, and the only reason she didn’t enter this time was because of a broken wrist.
Now she claims she has retired all over again. “I’ve done all my competition work now.” Yet she marshals and commentates on historic rallies, and drove the course car at last year’s HRCR MIRA Stages; her time would have placed her 17th.
This passion for cars goes right back to her childhood around the family garage in Huddersfield. Her father, in Paris to collect a Citroen sales award, demanded instead a miniature prototype sportscar he saw there, in which Anne began to drive at the age of four. By the age of 10, she could drive anything in the garage, and was expert in rapid reversing up and down the drive. Her 17th birthday present was a Wolseley Hornet, plus a driving test appointment that afternoon. Having shocked the examiner by her high speed reverse, she thought she hadn’t been fast enough, and repeated it even quicker. She still passed the test.
Despite this indoctrination, it was only once Anne was married with three children that her father suggested she enter the 1951 RAC rally. At first Jaguar would not sell them an XK120 because the family was located too close to their works driver, Ian Appleyard, but after her father tackled ‘Lofty’ England he relented. The event was based on driving tests, which suited Anne perfectly: she won the Ladies Award and finished seventh overall, having watched Appleyard for clues.
She took the Ladies Cup again the next year, and soon Sheila Van Damme approached her to team up. They did 33 rallies together sharing driving, but since Anne refused to navigate, they took Francoise Clark, too. However, it was van Damme, owner of the notorious Windmill Theatre, who collected the publicity, insisting on starting and finishing every event. “Sheila was not all that quick,” says Anne now. “We could often have finished much higher and I always said I wouldn’t drive with her again, but I usually did. We were good friends really, and I learned a lot about competition.”
When Sheila retired, both Sunbeam and Triumph wanted Anne’s services, but instead she persuaded Ford to find her a Zephyr for the 1957 Tulip. Her 24th overall (and Ladies Cup) began an eight-year Ford stint, including third on the 1961 Safari and sixth on the ’61 RAC in the Anglia she made her own. But in the 1964 Monte Carlo she excelled herself. She and Graham Hill were both driving Falcons for Ford America, and, as she had coached Hill when he rallied an Anglia, she asked him for help on the Monaco track section. He took her for a couple of 2am laps of the GP circuit, but the police stopped them before she took over, so her timed laps on the day were her first. “When I pulled up, there was Graham doing salaams to me, saying ‘you beat me!” She was 6.6sec quicker than Hill, third-fastest overall, and winner of the GT clan.
Her time with Sunbeam was more frustrating, finishing only six out of 11 Alpine Rallies “my jinx rally,” she calls it but she is proud of finishing that endurance classic, Liege-Rome-Liege, in a Healey with Nancy Mitchell. But it was Val Morley who was best on the maps. “A brilliant navigator, the best. We stayed together for ages.” Unlike the lady navigator allocated to her during a Canadian event in the Falcon. “After 400yards of our first event, she started screaming. I couldn’t stand the noise, so I reached over and pulled the recline lever; I drove the stage with her lying flat, still screaming.” Anne herself was happy to remain an amateur: “I was never actually paid, I just got expenses. If I were driving today, I’d be rich. But there was such a fun atmosphere; we were all good friends. It was always ‘see you on the Tulip’.”
Today this relentlessly active lady runs a driving school in Huddersfield, having taught both her children and grandchildren to drive, and refuses still to slow down. “Oh, I never drive slowly,” she says, sounding only slightly shameful as she recalls how she recently out-dragged two youths who jeered at the rally stickers on her Hyundai. A stalwart member of the exclusive Ecurie Cod Fillet, she is especially proud of a comment made when her rallying son, David, received an endurance award on the London to Mexico Rally, as she herself did on the Alpine : “Your mother never gave up either.” GC