Sunday, 5 September 2010

Female Rally Drivers Before 1950: Part I

As rallying became popular and widespread in the late 1920s, female drivers began to enter these events as drivers, rather than merely as car owners. In the UK, large rallies such as the RAC Rally attracted hundreds of drivers, with a good many more ladies among them than is seen nowadays. Some, such as Kitty Brunell, even won rallies. It was similar on the continental scene.

Below are short profiles of some of the early female rally drivers, mostly from the UK.

Andrée Alexander (Jellinek-Mercedes) – drove a Steyr in the 1927 Monte Carlo Rally. She was 42nd overall, and third in the Coupe des Dames standings. Her start point was Vienna. She entered again in 1928, but did not finish. Her car is not recorded. Andrée, who went by the name Maja, was involved in the motor industry through her family; her father was Emil Jellinek, whose daughter Mercedes, Andrée’s half-sister, was the namesake of the German marque.

Jackie Astbury - rallied from 1933, when she drove a Wolseley Hornet in the RAC Rally and an MG Magna in the Scottish Rally. In 1934, she finished the RAC Rally in a Singer. Using the same car, she won the Thistle Cup for best Scottish driver in the 1935 Monte Carlo Rally. She also won her class in the RAC Rally. In 1936, she repeated her Monte Carlo achievements, still in the Singer. She is normally credited as "Miss J. Astbury".

Lotte Bahr - driver and co-driver in rallies in the 1930s. She was eleventh in the 1930 Monte Carlo Rally, driving a Steyr. Earlier, in 1928, she had entered a Steyr in the Alpine Rally, and she would use one again in the 1932 event. In 1933, she began driving for the Adler team, and was third in class in the Alpine Rally, as well as finishing the Monte. She continued to rally for Adler for the next couple of seasons. Her best result was probably a joint win in the 1934 Liège-Rome-Liège Rally, driving an Imperia with von Guillaume. The Liege was a favoured events for her, and she was third in the 1935 rally, as a co-driver to von Guillaume, and second in 1937.

Dorothy Bean – competed mostly in rallies and trials in the 1930s. She was an active member of the Women’s Automobile and Sports Association, driving an Aston-Martin and a Singer in their trials in 1933 and 1934. The same years, she drove the same cars respectively in the RAC Rally, finishing 101st in 1933, in the Aston. After 1934, she appears to have stopped competing.

Ludmila Boguslawska – winner of the inaugural Rajd Pań (Women’s Rally) in Poland, in 1926. Her car was a Lancia Lambda. It is unclear whether or not she competed in later editions of this event, of which there were many. Earlier, in 1924, she was the only female driver in the Wyscig Plaski races in Warsaw, driving the Lancia. She was second in the 3000cc class.

Shelagh Brunner - competed in rallies in the late 1920s and early 1930s. After her marriage to the Prince of Liechtenstein, her nom de course was sometimes "Princess Liechtenstein". She was eleventh in the 1930 Alföld-Alpenfahrt, driving an Austro-Daimler, and won the Coupe des Dames. In 1931, she and her husband both drove Austro-Daimlers in the Coupe des Alpes. They divorced in 1934 and Shelagh retired.

“Dona M la Caze de Noronha” - Portuguese driver who rallied in Europe in the 1930s. She drove an Amilcar in the 1932 Monte Carlo Rally and a Mathis in the 1934 event. Her start points were Lisbon and Valencia respectively. Her given name is never used in starting lists, but it was Maria. She was also active in the women's rallies and races held around Paris at the time, including the Paris-St. Raphael.

Lady Iris Capell - rallied in the British Isles in the early 1930s. She is listed as a finisher in the 1932 RAC Rally and the 1933 Ulster Rally. She drove a Talbot on both occasions and started at London. As well as stage rallies, she was a regular entrant in trials in the 1930s, particularly those organised by the Women's Automobile and Sports Association (WASA), of which she was a leading member. She competed in several of their Cotswold-based trials, as well as donating a trophy to the club. She was also a member of the JCC, both before and after the war. She is more famous for her voluntary work during WWII, and her nursing during WWI.

“Mrs MJ Cotton” - relatively successful rally driver of the 1930s. Her first big rally seems to have been the Monte Carlo Rally in 1935, driving an MG from John O’Groats. She repeated this in 1936, in an Aston Martin this time. In 1938, she entered the Monte again, in a Lancia, and was sixth in the Ladies’ standings, 59th overall, and 19th in the Light Car class. Her identity has been hard to pin down; there is a small possibility that she was related to the bandleader and racer, Billy Cotton. One source describes a “Joan Cotton” in the 1938 Monte, but it is not absolutely clear that it is her.

"Mrs G Daniell" - British rally driver of the early to mid-1930s. She drove AC Aces from 1931 onwards, sometimes as part of the factory team. In 1933, she was seventh in the RAC Rally and eighteenth in the Scottish Rally. Her car won the RAC Rally's Concours d'Elegance. In 1935, she drove in the RAC Rally again. Her given name is never used in entry lists.

Irma Darre Brandt – the first female rally driver from Norway. She was born in 1909. Her first international rally was the 1934 Monte Carlo Rally, in which she drove a Plymouth. Her start point was Stavanger. A second attempt at the Monte in 1935 brought her close to the Coupe des Dames, but she could not quite make it. Her car was a Plymouth belonging to Lina Christiansen, another of the four-woman crew. Irma also took part in some gymkhana events in Norway, but she retired from motorsport quite early. After that, she concentrated on running her family’s farm. She died in 2003.

Claire Descollas - rally driver in the 1930s and 40s. She often navigated for her husband, Gaston, but sometimes drove herself. She won a class award on the 1939 and 1947 Rally des Alpes Francaises, driving a Lancia Aprilia. With Gaston, she won many class awards and rallies, often in a Bugatti. As well as rallying, Claire was part of the Yacco speed trial team in 1937, although she withdrew after the first runs.

“Mrs. J Elizabeth Dinsdale” – British driver who rallied in Europe in the early 1930s. She began competing in trials in a Singer in 1929, with the WASA (Women’s Automobile and Sports Association). Her first major rally seems to have been the Monte Carlo Rally in 1930, in which she drove a 3-litre Vauxhall. In 1932, she drove a Singer, and took part in the Scottish Rally and the Alpine Rally. She was 23rd in class in Scotland, after breaking her thumb and having to swap seats with her navigator. She finished the Alpine Trial, but only after incurring penalties. During the rally, the car’s tyres and ignition developed problems, and she also crashed into a ditch. The same year, she drove the Singer at Shelsley Walsh, and was second in her class. She does not appear on the entry lists after 1932.

Kathleen, Countess of Drogheda - wealthy adventuress of the 1920s and 1930s, who counted rallying among her adventures. She was 97th in the RAC Rally in an SSI, in 1932. Her other results have proved elusive, but she is believed to have started the Monte Carlo Rally in 1935. She is better known as an aviatrix and colourful society figure, and she died in 1966.

 Phyllis Goodban – active in British motorsport in the 1930s, usually in rallies and trials. She was a member of WASA, and a regular entrant into their trials. In 1932 and 1933, she won a number of medals and trophies in trials in a Wolseley Hornet, including awards on the London-Gloucester and Colmore events. After that, she drove a Singer, in rallies and trials initially. She took part in the 1935 JCC Members’ Day at Brooklands, and was third in a one-lap handicap, in the Singer. She was then second in a Singer one-make handicap. More trials followed in a Frazer Nash, and she won the Northwest London Cup in the 1936 London-Gloucester trial.

Eveline (Eva) Gordon-Simpson - finished 24th at Le Mans in 1935, driving a works MG Midget with Joan Richmond. She raced at Brooklands sometimes and won a Novices’ Handicap there in 1934, driving a Triumph Southern Cross. Her main motorsport interest was rallying. She entered the Monte Carlo and RAC Rallies in a Singer in 1932, and was 27th on the Monte.

“Mrs A.G. Gripper” - competed in rallies, mainly in the 1930s. She was married to Archie Gripper and they both drove in the Alpine Rally in 1932. She did not finish in her March Hornet, although she seems to have finished that year’s RAC Rally in a Riley. In 1933, she drove in the RAC Rally in a Wolseley Hornet. She also raced a Frazer Nash at Brooklands at about the same time. Her given name is never used.

Kay (Kathleen) Hague - rallied in Europe in the late 1930s. She won the Open Car Ladies’ Cup in the 1938 RAC Rally, driving a Riley. The following year, she was ninth overall in the Criterium Paris-Nice, also driving a Riley. She repeated her Open Car cup win on the RAC Rally later in the year, still driving a Riley. She is always in the entry lists as "Mrs Kay Hague".

Lady Eda Jardine – Scottish winner of the Coupe des Dames in the 1931 Monte Carlo Rally, driving a Lancia Lambda. She was thirteenth overall, in the main class. This was her second attempt at the Monte; she had entered the year previously, in the Lancia, and appears to have finished, having started from John O’Groats. She may have entered other rallies of the time, but the results are not forthcoming. 

Amy Johnson - the fêted English aircraft pilot was also a rally driver. She competed in the UK and Europe, including at least one run in the Paris-St. Raphael women’s rally. She is listed as an entry in the 1938 RAC Rally, and drove a Ford in the Monte Carlo Rally in 1939.

Tilly Kotte - German driver who was competing by at least 1928. She drove in the Coupe Internationale des Alpes in 1928 and 1929, although her finishing places are unknown. Her car was a Simson-Supra. She may have entered other events.

Cynthia Labouchere – rallied in Europe in the 1930s. She was born in 1911, and began rallying when she was quite young, in 1932. Her first major event was that year’s Scottish Rally, in which she drove a Wolseley Hornet. Among her other cars was a Singer Nine. She returned to the Scottish Rally in 1933, and in 1934, drove the Singer in the Monte Carlo Rally. She was 79th. In 1935, she survived a crash during the Morocco Rally, when her car went over a cliff. Her motorsport career seems to end here.

“Mrs AC Lace” (Betty/Phoebe?) - rallied in the UK in the late 1930s, alongside her lover, A.C. Lace. She managed to out-drive him on the 1938 Monte Carlo Rally, finishing 27th to his 47th, navigated by Elsie Wisdom. They were both driving Talbot-Darracq cars. She returned to Monaco in the Talbot in 1939, and was 25th.  Previously, she raced a Bugatti and other cars at Brooklands, and won a 1938 ladies’ race at Crystal Palace.

Louise Lamberjack - rally driver of the 1930s. She competed as both driver and navigator. Her first major win was the Coupe des Dames in Monte Carlo in 1933, navigating for Marguerite Mareuse. She first drove in that event in 1935, and was second in the Ladies' standings in 1936, driving a Hotchkiss which she occasionally used on the circuits. A similar car was used for the 1938 rally, with the same result. She was 18th on the 1938 Monte, driving a Matford.

Alexandra Lindh – winner of the Coupe des Dames in the 1932 Monte Carlo Rally. Her car was a Hudson, and she was eighth overall, after starting at Umeå. Unusually, her co-driver was her son, Bo. At the time, Alexandra was fifty years old; she first competed in a motorsport event in 1904, a race between Stockholm and Uppsala, and back. She was then known as Alexandra Gjestvang. Between then and 1932, she raced in Sweden, although results are proving hard to track down. She died in 1939, after taking over her family’s car importing firm.

(Image copyright Getty Images)


  1. With reference to Mrs Kay Hague - her name was Kathleen Mary Hague, nee Bradbury, but she was known to her family as Kay. She also competed at least once in the Monte Carlo Rally at some point, and wrote articles about it.

  2. There have been stories told in my family of my German grandmother rallying there in 1927, aged 16! Her name then was (Anna Luisa) Ilse Schmidt. Can anyone confirm this?

  3. In the case of Dona M La Caze de Noronha her given name is Maria.