Gwneda Stewart - a dedicated record-breaker

Among the more prominent lady drivers was the very successful Gwenda Stewart, who at Brooklands in 1921 created a new 1000-mile record on a Ner-a-Car motorcycle, beginning a career of record-breaking which she preferred to the relatively few races she entered. Born Gwenda Glubb, she was the sister of Glubb Pasha of Arab Legion fame. During WWI she drove ambulances on the Russian front. In 1922 she achieved the Double-12 record, averaging 44.65mph, on a 249cc Trump-JAP. That year she met the person who was to become her second husband, Colonel Neil Stewart, and in 1924 they moved to France to make use of the new and faster (no noise restrictions) banked circuit of Montlhéry.

In 1928 in an HS, presumably so named to indicate Hawkes-Stewart but in fact a 1925 Jappic, she took the Class J record at 70.95mph, averaging 71mph for 100 miles. Also with Douglas Hawkes, in a stripped Vernon-Derby, they took the 1½-litre 24-hour record at 64.32mph, and in the process also took the 1000-mile record at 64.88mph and the 2000-kilometre record at 63.31mph. That year she drove for 10½ hours in a 996cc, unblown, vee-twin, three-wheeler Morgan.

Together with S C H Davis, Stewart took several records in 1930 with a 1100cc three-wheeled air-cooled Morgan, of which the fastest were the 12-hour record at 72.2mph and the 24-hour record at 64.85mph, also setting the class record at 113.52mph. Then the Miller arrived from the USA in which she broke the 1½ 100-mile, one-hour and 200-kilometre records. Later that year with an engine enlarged to two litres and renamed the Derby-Miller, she took the Class K record at 129.01mph and five-mile record at 128.14mph.

In early 1931, in the 2-litre Derby-Miller, she took the 10-mile record at 137.20mph, which was just slower than the 4-litre V12 Sunbeam of Kaye Don. With Dudley Froy in a 4½ Bentley she established the Class B record, raising the 12-hour to 97.80mph, including the 24-hour to 93.42mph and 100-mile record at 97.75mph. Then back in the Derby-Miller, in her attempt for the world hour record, she was only able to better her own 100km speed at 128.09mph when the magneto gave up. On another attempt at the hour record she also took the 100km up to 128.16mph and class records for 50km to 126.81 and the 50-mile to 127.97mph.

Then the engine was rebuilt and with it the 200km was taken at 121.75mph, and Class E 100 miles at 121.64mph and one-hour at 121.73mph. In September with the ‘Dutch Clog’ Austin Seven she broke the Class H and 50km at 98.09mph and the 50-mile at 98.43mph, until the crankshaft objected. Also that year, at Arpajon, she clocked 118mph in a specially narrow single-seater Morgan, an all-time three-wheeler record.

In 1932 while she was recovering from an operation a fire broke out in the under-banking sheds where the Derby-Miller and single-seater Morgan were housed, but thanks to the heroic efforts of Jean, the Hawkes-Stewart mechanic, both cars were saved.

In 1933 at Montlhéry, after repairs and a new engine, the Derby-Miller, now more Derby than Miller, did 104mph to take the 2-litre flying mile record and soon afterwards took the 2-litre mile record at 145.94mph. In the Derby Special Gwenda increased her own class, 10-mile record to 138.34mph.

In 1934 with Bonne and 1935 with Worth, she entered the Derby Sports in the Le Mans 24-hour race but had to retire both years. Later that year, back at Montlhéry, she raised the lap record to 147.79mph, also taking the flying-start, Class K and one-mile class, but in the attempt, at the end of the timed lap, she cut the engine for scientific research and crashed, luckily with little damage to the car or herself.

At the beginning of 1935 she was recovering from a skiing accident but later at Brooklands with the Derby Special she lost a match race to Kaye Petre. A few days later she took the Brooklands Ladies Lap record at 135.95mph, which still stands. The following year she shared the single-seater Indianapolis Duesenberg with George Duller in the BRDC 500, finishing seventh.

By 1936 the Derby Special was up for sale but failed to find a purchaser even after being reduced to £750. Finally in 1937 Douglas Hawkes married Gwenda and in 1940 they both returned to England where she drove ambulances, became a skilled lathe operator and worked in her husband’s business, The Brooklands Engineering Company, until the end of the war. The Hawkes then sailed the Mediterranean in their yacht Elpis. Gwenda Hawkes died in 1990.