Veteran-Edwardian-vintage, February 1972

A section devoted to old-car matters

Austin Seven jubilee year
The Land’s End-John o’ Groats Run for pre-war Austin 7s which is one of the events scheduled for this Austin Seven Jubilee Year, has provisional RAC approval and is to be organised by Mr. and Mrs. Tony Griffiths on behalf of The Austin Seven Clubs’ Association (Sec., John Ward, North House, Ousterne Lane, Fillongley, Warwicks.), not by the 750 MC alone, as we implied last month. The Run is intended to take place at Easter. Other Jubilee-year happenings are expected to include a hill-climb-cum-trial lasting three days, beginning at the bottom of Nailsworth Ladder in Glos. and finishing at the top of Litton Slack in Derbyshire and a cavalcade and rally at Longbridge on August Bank Holiday. Regional Seven frolics may well be added and we hope to keep you informed. Certainly all the various Austin 7 Clubs are combining to ensure that the 50th anniversary of Britain’s most popular car is not forgotten.—W. B.

The girls
Two months ago I was writing about matching vintage and earlier cars to the sort of competitive events they used to compete in, during contemporary times. The VSCC racing season will soon recommence (at Silverstone on April 29th), and one of the many pleasant aspects of such racing is the number of enthusiastic and skillful girl drivers who take part. To attempt to make a list of them would doubtless involve me in remorse for leaving someone out, but those who attend these fixtures will know their names, and the cars they drive. This gives rise to the thought that it would be nice if the VSCC could stage a race specially for the girls. It nearly happened at an Oulton Park Meeting, when in one race the field was composed mainly of cars driven by the ladies. However, the VSCC cannot afford to waste entries and as there is a limit to how many cars may run in any one race, it has to fill all the spaces on the grid. So, unless some more fast ladies become active members we may not see a purely Ladies’ Race.

If, however, this ever comes about, it will be in the best vintage tradition, especially if you accept that today’s VSCC race meetings are the best substitute we have for the demise of Brooklands and Donington.

For many years the weaker(?) sex was not permitted to take part in racing at the Track, except when special races were put on for them. This happened in July 1908, when The Ladies’ Bracelet Handicap was contested. Caution prevailed, the ladies merely having to start opposite the pond and do a lap without crossing the Fork, for they turned immediately into the Finishing straight and after about three miles it was all over. The BARC charged the entrants of the intrepid lady drivers three sovereigns each, accepted only from private competitors, and, having thought up this 4.20 p.m. race, they faced a dilemma. The male drivers of those days were required to wear coloured smocks and caps to augment the racing numbers on their cars for the benefit of Mr. F. Fowler, the Judge. However, in those prudish days, when every female wore ankle-length skirts and a multitude of unmentionable garments, even the with-it Clerk-of-the-Course, E. de Rodakowski, could not countenance the ladies donning men’s trousered attire. Yet the Judge might never see the number of a car which was in all probability a stripped chassis. The solution lay in coloured scarves, which the seven lady motorists who had elected to compete wore round their necks. The first prize was the bracelet and the second lady home received a brooch.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu entered Mrs. (not yet Dame) Locke King on the Itala “Bambo”. Oscar Thompson relied on Miss Muriel Thompson to drive his Austin “Pobble”. G. C. G. Moss nominated Miss Christabel Ellis, in a pale blue scarf, at the wheel of his Arrol-Johnston “Guarded Flame,” C. L. Westwood named Mrs. Ada Billing to drive a 22.4-h.p. Mass, Col. Gore Browne entered The Lady Muriel Gore Brown in a black scarf and 22.5-h.p. Humber, Miss Ridge-Jones was driving her father’s 17.5-h.p. Sunbeam and, off 95 sec. before Mrs. Locke King, wife of the Track’s constructor, who was on scratch, went Mrs. Roland Hewitt in or on a little 6 1/2-h.p. De Dion (LC 5529, should it still exist).

It was all very gentlewomanly and I think today we might even regard it as pretty small beer. Miss Thompson, after a poor start, won by a few yards from Mrs. Locke King, and Miss Ellis, with her steering wheel on a level with her head, her skirts tied round her legs, and cornflowers and sweet peas on the car’s bonnet, was third. Gentlemen bravely rode with the ladies; no speeds were announced. On August Bank Holiday, 1908, Miss Thompson and Miss Ellis engaged in a Match Race, Muriel making up a 9-sec. handicap on Christabel, to win on the Austin by 200 yards. That, apart from a few very minor sorties at other Clubs’ meetings, was the only freedom women were permitted on the Motor Course before the First World War, although they were no doubt welcome on the Brooklands lawn tennis courts.

After the Armistice, however, emancipation was rife and women were allowed to race with the men, culminating in Gwenda Stewart lapping faster than any other of her sex, at 135.95 m.p.h., in 1935, in the supercharged 2-litre Derby-Miller. And at its first Evening Race Meeting in June 1928 the BARC held a Two-Lap Ladies’ Handicap Sweepstakes—the girls at last had a race to themselves! This time they did two laps, starting and finishing at the Fork. Seven ladies entered, at ten bob each, but Miss Bond’s Bugatti non-started. Miss Maconochie won in her dark blue supercharged Salmson from Mrs. Martin’s limit Riley 9 and Miss Melcher’s 2-litre Bugatti, Mrs. Scott’s scratch 2-litre GP Sunbeam, the Hon. Mrs. Victor Bruce’s 2-litre AC and Miss Lister’s aged Aston Martin trailing along behind. The winner averaged 82.45 m.p.h., lapping at 87.22 m.p.h., and Mrs. Scott got round at 112.68 m.p.h. Mrs. Scott then won the next of these races, in a 2-litre Bugatti, from the Hon. Joan Chetwynd’s Chrysler.

The BARC now felt more confident and held a two-lap Ladies’ Handicap at the 1928 August Bank Holiday Meeting. Miss Maconochie won again, but had changed her Salmson for an Amilcar Six, which lapped at 102.69 m.p.h., holding off Mrs. Dykes’ Alvis. Mrs. Scott’s Sunbeam, Miss Burnett’s Alvis, Mrs, Martin’s Riley and the Aston Martin made up the field.

After this the girls had several races to themselves. At the 1928 Autumn Meeting Mrs. Scott’s black Sunbeam was the victor, after a lap at 113.97 m.p.h., chased in by Mrs. Dykes’ 12/50 Alvis and Miss Maconochie’s Amilcar.

They were at it again at Easter 1929, and the Burnett Alvis crossed the line first but the naughty girl was disqualified for jumping the start, so Mrs. Scott took the £15 Cup in her husband’s GP straight-8 Delage, which lapped at 112.93 m.p.h. Mrs. Dykes was second, Mrs. Rigg in a Lombard third.

After this the BARC tired for a while of feminine frolics but the Opening Meeting of 1930 included a Ladies’ Handicap, which “Bill” Wisdom in H. J. Aldington’s blown Frazer Nash won from Mrs. Scott’s black and yellow Bugatti, the Chain Gang car going round at 95.05 m.p.h. So if the VSCC does have a Ladies’ Race it will be nicely traditional!—W. B.