Described to the Editor in a recent interview
Late in November I drove out of Hampshire and across the rolling Berkshire downs, bleak under a blanket of grey cloud, to Shellingford, to talk to Betty Haig, grand niece of Field-Marshal the Earl Haig, K.G., G.C.B., O.M., about the cars she has owned, and driven in rallies, races and sprints. As I talked to this keen lady racing motorist in a study devoted to trophies and souvenirs, at the 16th-century vicarage where she lives with Barbara Marshall, another enthusiastic motorist, it became very evident that motoring and motor cars are, to Betty, “not so much a hobby more a way of life.”
In her early ‘teens Miss Haig’s passion was horses. She was fully occupied with riding, hunting and show-jumping, and she didn’t want to drive, nor did her mother encourage her to drive. This is somewhat surprising, for her father, in those early nineteen-twenties, owned a Rolland-Pilain and a series of Hotchkiss cars, driven by a French chauffeur, while Betty’s mother was devoted to her beautiful little Albert, even though it oiled up so easily that the supply of lubricant was apt to be cut down until it consumed more bearings than plugs.
So, although her brother was also interested in cars, Betty, riding at under 9-stone, concentrated on horses, in Sussex and also at her father’s estate in Fife. Only the need for personal transport in order to ride horses which were offered to her, caused her to buy a motor-cycle. She was 14, her allowance was meagre, but a local garage unearthed for her an ex-W.D. 2-3/4-h.p. Douglas. Spurred on by her brother, who at 13 rode a two-stroke Excelsior, she made the old Douglas into a reasonable runner, unbeknown to her mother. But it had no brakes, the chain broke, the magneto failed, and it generally called for pretty frequent stripping down. The result? Betty became more fond of it than she was of the horses!
Her thoughts were turned easily towards cars, after she and her brother had pored over motorcycle catalogues, (a) because her mother said “no more motorcycling,” (b) due to the Alvis owned by the boy-friend of one of her show-jumping girl-friends, and (c) because her own boy-friend ran an Austin Seven. She still had no money but a considerate Great Aunt put up £50 for the purchase of a car and sent the family chauffeur out with Betty to find something suitable. She resolutely turned down all the reliable vehicles, insisting on a sports car. Eventually, in Twickenham, a very clapped-out 1922 A.B.C. was found, which the dealer fitted with a set of Peters Union tyres, and Miss Haig, by the late-‘twenties, was a car owner.
She set out on Christmas Eve to drive the A.B.C. from Twickenham to Sussex, never having driven a car before, and, stopping the engine only once, when she stalled on Guildford Hill, arrived safely for the festivities. The A.B.C.’s worst feature was self-incendiarism, met by keeping a cushion in the back with which to beat out the flames. But one night, going to an unwelcome dance in Cowdray Park, she and her brother decided to let the car burn itself out, as an excuse for not attending a children’s ball, Betty and her brother, now 16, deeming themselves too grown up to merit the invitation.
The money from the insurance and from the press interviews that resulted from the nocturnal conflagration was sufficient to buy a sports Austin Seven. This was the factory version, like a 2-seater edition of the Chummy, with flared wings and a little pointed tail. Miss Haig had it mildly tuned and painted black, with the wings done in crimson, which made it a centre of attraction wherever it was parked. It was also very reliable, would do 44 m.p.h. in middle gear, in which it would ascend 1-in-10 Duncton Hill at 30 m.p.h., and was used for journeys home to Scotland. In all, it was driven some 18,000 miles. The Avon tyres used to burst and it was impossible to hold it at over 50 m.p.h. “as it bounced from tussock to tussock.” The Austin was replaced by a new 1926 skiff-bodied Salmson with the “push-pull ” valve gear. The road-holding was an improvement but the enormous balloon tyres made the steering extremely heavy, and the youthful owner could not afford to have front-wheel brakes. Although it always felt as if it would fall to pieces it never did, and when the curious valve gear disintegrated on one of the habitual journeys to Scotland, a wayside garage produced a large washer with which Betty Haig was able to effect repairs.
After the Salmson she acquired a rare 14/40 H.E. 2-seater, which, given time, would reach 70 m.p.h. It had a very steady tachometer, the first she had seen, but, although two plugs per cylinder were fed by dual coils, damp affected the ignition system so badly that it was necessary to tow the car from Petworth to North Chapel, some four miles, before the engine would start. This in spite of two huge Exide batteries contributed by the boyfriend, who was in the Royal Navy Submarines, and had “influence” in purchasing batteries! The worm back-axle needed its oil and one night, in thick fog at Newark, it seized solid, the garage which serviced the H.E. having forgotten to check the level. A new axle cost £9—oh dear!
Next Betty Haig had “a little sweety,” in the guise of a Burghley-bodied 1927 Austin Seven. Although Sir Herbert Austin’s famous baby was now in semi-mass-production, it still went beautifully. Until, that is, a “tick-tick-tick ” noise emanated from the little engine. Due to hunt in Rutland, Miss Haig was advised by the London garage she consulted to carry on, and they would look at it on her return. Pressing on, just beyond Welwyn the engine “exploded rods and things, like a porcupine.” Whipping out the clutch with great promptness, she did just save the transmission from the general debacle!
Another A.B.C., one of the airship-tailed Super Sports models was bought for treasure hunts, then much in vogue, and proved adept at being driven fast across downland tracks. “The roadholding was excellent—ahead of its time,” recalls its driver. She also had a 1923 Hotchkiss-engined Morris-Cowley up in Scotland, which is recalled as “extremely nice.” In a snowstorm she set out from Fife to stay with her old governess in Glasgow and arrived intact, although the roads were terrible and she had never been told about chains.
At this time Betty Haig married, and the newly-weds relied for transport on an Essex Six, which “spun like a cat on skates.” It blew-up climbing Stamford Hill, so Betty abandoned it in a garage and took a train home—maybe it is still there?
Her husband had very pleasant memories of a 1919 Buick, owned when it was past the first flush of youth but in which they covered some 20,000 miles one summer with no trouble other than occasionally taking-up the bearings. So a 1925 27-h.p. 6-cylinder Buick, a vast 2-seater without a dickey, was purchased to replace the Essex. It was “a splendid car, regarded as the height of extravagant independence.”
At this time Betty met Harold Beart, who sold her an Aero Morgan with lusty o.h.v. J.A.P. engine. This would climb Duncton Hill at 60 m.p.h., “going up like a fighter ‘plane.” It was used once to attend a cousin’s wedding at Ascot, where it was parked unconcernedly amongst the Daimlers and Rolls-Royces. After the ceremony Betty cranked it up at the side, still in all her finery and, moreover, took another girl, in picture-hat, back to London, this sort of thing being regarded as a matter of course in those days.
The Morgan’s brakes were its Achilles’ heel. One day Betty applied them hard at Hammersmith Bridge and all the cables carried away, the subsequent moments spent steering past the trams being full of concentration and drama. The final disaster came en route for Inverness, a piston packing up and the engine seizing solid in Stirling. So this game little cyclecar, which used to reside in a garage in London below its owner’s flat, was sold on the spot for £20, a loss Betty Haig has never ceased to regret.
Out in Africa, experience was gained of lots of American cars rare in England, such as Durants and Rugbys, etc. Returning home, an ancient Clyno was acquired,”a thoroughly useful though depressing car,” although Betty Haig remembers how her mother loathed the Clyno which had followed her beloved Albert some years earlier.
In 1931 Betty bought an already ancient 14/40 bull-nose M.G. 2-seater. “As it had no silencer, I had a brush with the police,” but apart from journeys home to Scotland this handsome M.G. was not used much, its owner being more interested in the Royal College of Opera at the time.
Later another Morgan 3-wheeler came along. It was a 3-speed model, “a horrid gearbox, which lost all the Castrol-R I put into it” and “with such wide ratios, you drove mainly in top.” This Morgan boasted a spare wheel but this was a dubious benefit because Betty couldn’t change any of the wheels anyway. Undaunted, she set off with a girl-friend to the South of France and over the Alps into Italy. On the autostrada the clutch fell to bits and they were towed into Turin behind an Italian racing motorcycle—”you should see the effect of two girls in a red Morgan in that city.” The driving chain was boiled in graphite in the traditional manner but the engine was no more reliable than the rest of the car. Of this second Morgan Betty Haig says, a little pensively, merely that “it was all right.” . . .
As she was now over 21 it was possible to sign hire-purchase agreements, which enabled her to get “a very nice little J2 M.G. Midget, just secondhand. “It had all the J2 weaknesses, including that bad crankshaft vibration at 60 m.p.h., which was its usual cruising speed, but when Betty Haigh saw the S.U. carburetter and S.U. petrol pump she “was most impressed! “
This M.G. was sold, and it was succeeded by the first 6-cylinder 2-litre Singer Le Mans to be sold to the public. Ignition relied on a coil instead of a Scintilla magneto and very stiff back springs in conjunction with what was virtually the Singer Nine chassis made the ride a terror, until the former were softened a bit.
Betty had had an appendix operation and felt terrible, so she decided that the best way to forget how ill she felt would be to enter for a French rally. So, without any idea of what “soft” and “hard” plugs and those kind of things were, she and Joyce Lambert set out on the 1935 Paris-St. Raphael Feminin, run by the Automobile Club Du Var. They finished the course and were able to give useful information about the Singer’s shortcomings to Mr. Bullock and Fred and Stanley Barnes, who were in control ot the Singer Company at that time.
Betty Haig had joined the short-lived J.R.D.C. and was now able to enlist some help from Singers for her future competition activities. So for the 1936 Paris-St. Raphael she took the latest Singer Nine Le Mans, driving alone, which gained extra marks, and laden down with ballast to help the handicap. At Marseilles the gear selector fell into the gearbox when Betty Haig was leading the Rally. A small wayside garage sorted out the fault, “caused by those horrid keys in slots Singers would use to secure vital parts,” in half-an-hour. But it was too late to continue. Flat broke, the lone Englishwoman set off from Cannes for home, arriving with 2d. in her pocket!
The summer of 1936 produced more help from the Coventry factory and a 1-1/2-litre 6-cylinder Singer Le Mans, ex-Norman Black, “a very fast car.” It had “tremendous acceleration, so that rivals in Ford V8s and things were always flipping open the bonnet to make certain I wasn’t supercharged.” Reg Bicknell did some of the best work ever and the Singer was used for a J.C.C. High Speed Trial at Brooklands and for Betty’s only mud-plug—”the W.A.S.A. Westward Ho Trial, —Doverhay and all that. Great fun!”
A more serious event with this Singer was the German Olympic Rally to Berlin, in 1936 the year the Games were held there, starting from Birmingham. The girls had a “fine time” and took the highest award, the Olympic Gold Medal, but again those infernal keys intervened, the valve timing being lost coming into Geneva on the way home.
Singers having given up competiton work, Betty Haig went next for a blue 1932 Aston Martin Le Mans (GX 72) with very rare Bertelli-tailed 2-seater body. It had been driven rather hard by Reggie Tongue and although its new owner steered clear of competition events, she had to dispose of it as a “financial disaster,” spares and service being relatively expensive.
Then came “the best-buy I ever had.” Miss Haig went shopping “at the wrong end of Gt. Portland Street” and found a PB M.G. Midget (XG 3729), “several years and many thousands of miles old.” Although she had very little money available, she worked hard on this car, fitting friction shock absorbers and experimenting with stronger clutch springs to overcome almost imperceptible clutch-slip which prevented full engine revs being used in top gear—the gearbox was in and out many times for this trial-and-error work, and on one occasion the springs used were so strong the clutch pedal couldn’t be depressed! “Wilky” Wilkinson, then of Bellevue Garage, was allowed to do what little engine tuning the owner could afford, and then off on another Paris-St. Raphael Feminin. Despite a determined plan by the Lago-Talbot factory who had engaged a team of well-known drivers, including Amy Johnson for her publicity value, Miss B. Haig from England in her £100 used car went into the lead—and retained it—against strong “works” continental opposition, the first, and only, time this women’s classic had been won by a foreign car. The prize money was far greater than the value of the car. Fame came overnight—”it was simply terrific.” Back home, Cecil Kimber, Managing Director, and George Tuck, the Publicity Manager of the M.G. Car Co., lunched the successful driver and offered works support.
Overjoyed by this success, a beautiful S.S.100 caught Betty’s eye. It had “fantastic acceleration after the M.G.” but a nasty addiction for going straight-on on wet corners, probably helped by twin spare wheels on the back. After two or three attempts to get through Lancaster Gate on a rainy day. Betty decided this was no-go for the Paris-St. Raphael, although Mr. (now Sir) William Lyons offered works support. Anyway, she couldn’t afford the petrol thirst.
Consequently, late in 1939 Betty Haig obtained an ex-works blown P type M.G. Midget. Its 10 lb. boost was educational for road work and the Q type pre-selector gearbox very pleasant but the engine was terribly sensitive to atmospheric conditions, and the car was a poor proposition for snowy or rainy conditions. As a result, the blower cover was taken off and on ten times between controls in the 1939 Paris-St. Raphael, for essential and urgent carburetter adjustments. Even so, the M.G. got up to second place and might have won had a Georges-lrat not slid on the final hill-climb and baulked our Betty….
There had been experiments with an 1100 Alta when Miss Haig was working at a London garage and attempts were made to convert it into an unblown car for rally use, but these were unsatisfactory. All through the war Betty ran an M.G. TB, one of three cars to come out of Dolphin Square after a particularly severe air-raid.
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After the war she obtained a full share in the 328 B.M.W. which had been collected from Munich before hostilities started “quite fantastic—a new conception of motoring”—and took on a 1937 sports A.C. 2-seater, which had a decent 22-gallon fuel tank. Receiving the regulations for the first post-war international rally, the 1949 Marseilles Alpine Trial, at her fruit farm in Sussex unexpectedly, Betty had a fortnight in which to prepare the A.C. The story of this fantastic event, bridges down, no real petrol, permits needed for this and for oil, the effects of war apparent everywhere, yet the average at 36 m.p.h., cannot be told here but will, I know, make Betty Haig’s proposed book well worth reading. The A.C. won its class, and the Ladies’ Cup.
The B.M.W. was then taken to Switzerland for hill-climbs and taught its owner what she knows of driving fast cars. The c.r. was kept to 7.5 to 1 in deference to the poor quality of post-war petrol, against the 10 to 1 or thereabouts of the Swiss 328s, but considerable success was achieved. The car had been serviced originally in Germany, where the instructions were never to let the engine slog below 2,500 r.p.m. or the light flywheel wouldn’t give the transmission a chance. The car was entirely reliable and at Lychett Minster hill-climb a young man with lots of hair came up to ask Miss Haig about it, as he was running a similar car. His name? S. Moss.
However, it seemed politic to use a British car for rallies, so John Thornley of M.G.s was approached and after Betty Haig and Tommy Wisdom’s wife had done a Monte Carlo Rally in the then-experimental Morris Minor (third member of the crew was Barbara Marshall, the start of a lasting friendship), a new M.G. TC was supplied at the end of 1948, prepared by Abingdon for the Alpine Trial. The c.r. was held to under 8 to 1 to suit the prevailing petrol and, knowing that these cars needed new steering boxes even before they were run-in, Betty insisted on an oversize Cam Gears steering box being installed. No close-ratio gears were available but the “tremendously tough engine” did its stuff and the rebuilt Dunlop wheels suffered but one loose spoke when other competitors were breaking entire wheels. This “fantastic car” ran well in one of the toughest Alpines ever, for five days 14 hours per day, but just wasn’t fast enough in the timed tests. However, it won the 1-1/2-litre Class, finishing on completely bald tyres, M.G. having withdrawn spares after Wharton’s crash on the first night. Barbara Marshall, who had gone as co-driver, bought it afterwards and used it for ages as a shopping car, without so much as lifting the head.
By this time Betty Haig was friendly with the H.R.G. boys— Godfrey admitted he would have liked the tough M.G. engine for his cars—and she tried next a 1-1/2-litre Singer-engined H.R.G.— “The steering was fool-proof, the suspension entirely vintage, the thing just too slow for Goodwood.” It won its class in a Swiss hill-climb, where the Swiss, thought it was a pre-war affair!
Looking for something quicker, Donald Healey supplied Betty with a 2-1/2-litre Riley-powered Healey Silverstone, “a very, very, good car, far better than most people realise.” For the next three years this Healey “was used for rallies, hill climbs, shopping, the lot; it had no luggage space and may have been draughty, but was a great motor car.” A bit heavy, it nevertheless did over 100 m.p.h. and cruised comfortably at 80/90. Mr. Price, at the factory, put in close-ratio gears and a tuned head, and it went so well in the Alps that only the hotter Jaguar XK120s could keep up with it and, moreover, it kept cool!
This Healey Silverstone did two Paris-St. Raphaels, which included climbs over Alpine passes in February and its driver never opened a bag of chains. On one sad occasion, when coming slowly out of Amiens on the journey across France, en route for Maloja Bergrennen, a most sinister noise like a major gasket-blow, caused her to shut off the engine hastily. As there was no starting handle, the self-starter was touched, very gingerly, in order to check the trouble. Result, a piston did itself no good on a broken valve which had dropped into the cylinder! But a Citroën agent ( always go to a Citroën agent!”) assisted with repairs and after some more hard work by the crew in Geneva, the Silverstone finally reached St. Moritz and managed to achieve a second place in the event, behind a Ferrari; with one badly scored cylinder bore and a slightly bent con-rod! On returning home, Rileys were more than helplul, and the engine was swiftly restored. The Achilles’ heel was the mounting plate carrying the trailing-arms of the i.f.s. which could be bent if a kerb or bank was clouted, putting the steering out. But this was a fine car and even today Betty Haig laments the lack of good 2-1/2-litre cars: “I want something between an overbodied 1-1/2-litre and an E-type.”
While she had the Healey Betty Haig also had a Cooper-J.A.P. 1,000, her first single-seater. This was purely a sprint-car, trailed to meetings behind a Jeep. It seldom ran for long on both cylinders, big motorcycle engines burning dope proving difficult to tune, but it did get some records. Following the theory that if she couldn’t make a big-twin run on two, she had better get a single-cylinder car which she might be able to keep on one, Betty Haig took on an early Cooper 500, ex-Jackie Reece. She trailed this behind a fine 1924 12/50 Alvis duck’s-back, with cone clutch, bought from Tim Carson. It “did everything, including a Vintage Prescott in under 70 sec.” “Where,” asks Betty nostalgically, “is ER 1987 today?”
There was a memorable drive at Le Mans in 1951 with Mme. Simon, in a 2-litre V12 Ferrari, with which they were placed 5th out of 30 finishers. With the intention of qualifying the car for the Biennial Cup, official team orders restricted the drivers’ speed to 6,000 r.p.m., 130 m.p.h. down the straight. This object they achieved, in addition to winning the last-ever Coupe des Dames at Le Mans, at an average speed of 81.3 m.p.h. The car gave no trouble, only used much oil. It had “one of the most difficult (5-speed) gearboxes ever.” Barbara Marshall was trained as a mechanic and appeared in the pit in Ferrari overalls, surely the only woman Enzo has ever employed in this capacity!
Following the sprint Coopers, 1953 found Betty racing the ex-Dodson T.T. M.G. Magnette. This was not really a road car, being towed to meetings behind a TD M.G. It had a diflicult engine to tune, with shim tappets, etc., and it lost time round a circuit because of its mechanically-operated brakes, but it took two “seconds” at Goodwood and a first at Silverstone.
The splendid Healey Silverstone was exchanged for one of the first 4-cylinder Austin Healey 100s. This possessed “a shocking 3-speed gearbox and was practically undrivable due to rear-axle wind up.” Betty Haig appreciated that it was a production model at a competitive price and Healeys did try to help. With a Barwell-tuned head the car “really flew” and a 3.2 axle was put in “to enable Healeys to uncork bottom gear.” But the front-end really was terrible and on snow this Austin Healey wouldn’t steer, even with chains on all four wheels. It was too high-geared for the Paris-St. Raphael and by getting dug into snow banks on the corners choked its radiator and boiled. But it won its class and took a Coupe de Vitesse. Pleasant enough on the road, Betty sold it “because I was so frightened of it.”
The next arrival was a 1951 white XK120, “my favourite Jaguar.” It had poor shock-absorbers, but Mintex made the brakes work. It did Shelsley Walsh in 1954 in 46 sec. “I liked it,” comments the subject at this Interview, “but it was too heavy on fuel on my journeys to Scotland and back. A Richmond-M.G., Reg. letters NEL, so it was known as “Nellie,” with an early Bernie Rogers chassis and M.G. engine, won a few trophies in spite of wheelspin, which the de Dion back axle failed to prevent.
A Triumph TR2 is dismised as “overrated” and a 1955 A.C. Ace, one of the first, was “not all that good but had fantastic road-holding.” The steering was dodgy, jamming on the first lap at Madgwick when being raced at Goodwood, leaving the uncomfortable feeling that this might happen again before the race was over!
Purely for competition work there was a 1956 Elva-Climax, remembered as “a trifle lethal.” It had a non-independent rear end, so that “lift off and you flew off.”
Much better was Betty Haig’s wire-wheeled Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica, with brand-new BS4 engine. Used for several races and hill-climbs, it was “an enormous amount of fun.” The Austin (not Bristol) back axle had accessible brake drums but only the 4.1 or 3.6 ratios, not the useful 3.9.
For the 1957 San Remo Rally a tough Triumph TR3 demonstration car was obtained. It turned out to be “a very good car.” A Scintilla distributor suited the engine and it “went like a rocket, doing 115 m.p.h. in o/d.” The event embraced high speed laps of Monza, where the TR3 beat the Alfa Romeo Sprint Veloces, winning its class and being the highest-placed foreign entry.
The Bristol BS4 engine from the Frazer Nash was installed by Ken Rudd in an A.C. Ace but this was a rough car—”I didn’t care for it.” It was raced at Brands Hatch but the BS4 engine was soon installed in a Mille Miglia Frazer Nash. This was a better road car, very comfortable, but if the torsion-bar rear-end was lowered the car bottomed, if it was raised the tail broke away on fast corners. A good feature, which Betty thinks should be widely copied was stowage of the spare wheel under a panel in the side of the body.
A very standard Turner with the first A35 engine was the last car raced in 1957. It was driven to Italy, which showed up weaknesses in the rear-end of the chassis and the early-type torsion bars broke, but generally it was “a sweet little car.” Barbara Marshall ran it for some time, after which SUF 1 went to Isobel Robinson and then to Susan Taylor.
Betty Haig secured a semi-works entry of a Triumph TR3 prepared by Ken Richardson for the 1958 Monte Carlo Rally, but it was the year of the snow and she bogged down.
There followed an Austin Healey 100-6 which “used a prodigious quantity of oil and more petrol than the XK120 with less good cause ” but was “quite good value.” Another competition car now came along, in the form of the ex-Scott Brown, Don Moore Cooper-Bristol with Hawthorne chassis. It was “a difficult chassis to drive, with dodgy brakes and a hit-and-miss rear-end, negative camber being a negative quantity in 1957/58.” Betty Haig still remembers clearly the drive home to Sussex, leaving Birmingham in the rush-hour!
Her father became ill, so there was no time to drive the Cooper-Bristol. Instead, her first Porsche, a 1600 Normal, is recalled as “a motoring landmark.” A 1956 model purchased the following year, it was “the most comfortable car I’ve ever driven—a delightful car.” It had done some 12,000 miles when bought and would go from Sussex to Fife, 530 miles, between breakfast and a late tea and leave its driver quite fresh to cope with family problems on arrival. It did this to the tune of about 40 m.p.g. .
The idea of having a vintage-type companion for the Porsche was resolved by buying a very nice, rebuilt twin-cam Blackburne Frazer Nash Shelsiey model, “a most stately Chain-Gang car, very comfortable, and able to tour all day at 70/75 m.p.h.”
For dicing there arrived a very special Lotus 7, of which only three were built. It was really the prototype, with disc-braked de Dion Lotus Eleven chassis and a 1,460-c.c. Coventry-Climax FWB single-cam engine instead of the more usual 1,100. This gave “tremendous torque low down but ran out of revs at around 6,000 r.p.m.” It had a c.r. of 12.5 to 1, and gave over 40 mpg. in road usage! Because the de Dion axle wasn’t sufficient to get the power to the road, even using a 4.1 axle, seconds were lost up Shelsley Walsh, but a time of 41 sec. won the Ladies’ Cup, which Betty Haig also took at Prescott, breaking the Ladies’ sports-car record twice.
For her habitual haul to Italy a Jaguar XK140 fixed-head coupe was procured. “A lovely car on the autostrada, it was too much like a lorry in towns—I preferred the XK 120.” Suez came; the Jaguar went. To conserve petrol a Rudd-tuned Renault Dauphine was bought, “a nice useful little car I kept for years.”
So to her favourite Porsche, a 1958 356A 1600 Super,—”the best they built; later ones are rather spoilt.” If speed was kept below 80 m.p.h. it gave 40 m.p.g., or better than 35 m.p.g. when cruised at 110 m.p.h. up A1 towards Fife. “So reliable, the only fault was the brakes; I want one with modern anchors.”
Going to the South of France in the Porsche, Miss Haig looked at the “Mountain races” we call speed hill-climbs and contemplated a Lotus Elite for 1961. This wasn’t ready in time so Rudd supplied a 1957 A.C. Ace-Bristol which had done 25,000 miles. With 100D1 engine on the 8.5 (not 9.0) c.r., power was hardly enough at high altitudes but it was run at Freiburg. Experimental work was undertaken on Pirelli Cinturatos and this A.C. was eventually sold in Switzerland to Jacques de Wurstemberger who has since bought another of these cars.
The Lotus Elite, with racing Climax engine, did come along in the end, a 1961 model “that wanted too much sorting out.” But Betty calls it one of the prettiest cars in the world,” with steering that was absolutely right—”Lotus handling is superb” and such perfect aerodynamics that the body remained clean even after a drive over wet snow. It was, though, “noisy and a little disappointing.”
The next car – I make it Betty’s 46th road car—was “so beautiful, glamorous and glorious—but impractical.” It was the ex-Phillip Scragg Jaguar XKSS, with the full D-type engine.
“It really ‘went’ beyond 90,” says Betty, “but gave only 9 m.p.g.” WVM 3, one of only two in this country, needed a long straight before all its power could he used, and the rear-end was a bit dicey on tight hill-climbs! It just wasn’t earning its keep, so regretfully it was sold. An early E-type Jaguar was tried as a road car. “Very pleasant in England, this was disappointing as a GT car after the Porsche.” The March 1952 chassis gave disappointing handling and the fuel tank was far too small. Brighton saw 27.48 sec., “and the sun was out, so the hood was down.”
A Rudd-prepared 2.6-litre A.C. Ace was used for hill-climb GT classes; “a very nice and fast and flexible car.” Driven to meetings it won the David Porter Trophy at Prescott in 1963.
That year, too, there was a Lotus 23 with racing twin-cam 1,600-c.c. Cosworth-Ford engine. Like all Lotuses, its handling was superb but low-geared steering made this a most unsatisfactory hill-climb car, nor was the gateless 4-speed gearbox acceptable on a rough, twisty hill. Betty Haig was quite busy while going up Shelsley in 38 seconds.
With this car she also regained the outright ladies’ record at Prescott, for both racing and sports cars, though the Lotus was running as a sports car, with a time of 55 sec.
A fleet of Minis, van, Cooper and Cooper-S are disposed of as too well known to need embellishment.
Up to last summer Miss Haig had a 1962 Porsche 356B Super 90, which she used for all her longer journeys. With its electrically-operated sliding roof this was luxurious, even for a Porsche, but the handling and details of the earlier, lighter model was found preferable, apart from which fuel consumption was only just over 25 m.p.g., compared to 40 on the 1958 car. There was a lot more gear-changing to do on the Super 90, and its stabilising bar gave a considerably harder ride, not desirable on a long continental journey.
Thus we come to the existing Haig stable. There is the BMW 328, now back again and as good as ever, “its steering as light and quick as that of a Lotus.” The original Hungarian registration plates are retained, although it goes about as FGU 30. Then there is the ex-O’Hara Moore/John Gott Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica, a quite immaculate, recently-acquired 1930 short-chassis Aston Martin International, re-upholstered and ready for the 1965 V.S.C.C. season, and a Lotus Elan hard-top which Colin Chapman exchanged for the Lotus 23 when Miss Haig had no time to race it in 1964 season.
Of this Elan, Betty Haig says it is “a surprisingly good little car, its only fault the lack of a fifth gear,” by which she implies that it is under-geared, running out of revs at 110/112 m.p.h. while still accelerating. “The handling is out of this world”—I have heard others say this and shall be finding out for myself before this article appears—” spoiling you for anything else.” It does 26/27 m.p.g. (two more m.p.g. than the Mini-Cooper-S), uses no oil, is easy to park, and is incredibly well sprung—” better than that of any other car in the present stable, except Barbara’s Austin 1100.” Betty Haig rates the Elan as the fastest car there is from A to B on English roads.
As I have said, cars, of which she has owned over 60 to date, are a way of life to her and apart from these four fine examples behind the neat sliding doors of the garage at Shellingford House, there is a VW transporter, the Anzani Frazer Nash Barbara Marshall is gradually rebuilding to remind her of her stark prewar Anzani-G.N. trials special “Annie,” and Betty Haig’s shopping car, which is an Alfa Romeo Giulia Spyder which has a “very pleasant 5-speed gearbox ” and the single-carburetter engine of which gives over 30 m.p.g., but which “is in no sense a sports car.” That is the story of the exciting and diverse list of cars owned to date by Betty Haig. Perhaps she inherits her love of fast driving from her picturesque grand-father, Hugo Haig, of whom it is recalled that on one occasion, coming down from the Highlands to Fife, he allowed his friend, racing motorist Count Eliot Zborowski, to drive his four-in-hand coach at full gallop down the Devil’s Elbow with the reins lying flapping about the horses’ necks, while Hugo Haig calmly went on eating his lunch. Betty Haig’s appetite for speed was also whetted when, as a schoolgirl, she was taken for a sensational run on the road by Le Champion, in the ex-Eldridge 300-h.p. aviation-engined, chain-drive Fiat Mephistopheles.—W. B.
[Other interviews in this series have described the cars of Gerald Crozier, A. Frazer-Nash, M.I., MECH. E., John Goddard, and Sir Francis Samuelson, Bt. For copies, apply to the Back Numbers or Photostat Departments.]