Friday, 26 August 2011

Betty Haig

Betty Haig was born in 1906, the great-niece of Field Marshal Haig. She learnt to drive at an early age, and by sixteen, owned her own car. When she was old enough to drive legally, she moved through a series of increasingly sporty cars, including a Salmson and a Singer Le Mans.

Despite this interest, it was not until she was 29 that she entered her first motorsport event: the Paris-St. Raphaël Rally in 1935. She drove a Singer, partly backed by the factory, in exchange for reporting back on its performance. The Paris-St. Raphaël was chosen after Betty had seen it advertised, whilst travelling in France.

She was the winner of the 1936 Olympic Rally, driving a Singer, once more supported by the works team. This rally was centred on Berlin, tying in with that year’s Olympics. The car ran perfectly throughout the event, although it broke down on the way home from Germany. It is recorded in some places as the only car to have won an Olympic medal.

She is reported by some sources as having won the Paris-St Raphaël rally in 1937, on her third attempt, in an MG Midget. However, this is contradicted by some reliable sources. Betty’s win may have come in 1936, as there is a gap in the records there. If this is so, she would have been driving a Singer rather than an MG. Her other 1936 events as a Singer works driver included speed trials at Brooklands, and long-distance trials elsewhere.

In 1938, she drove in the Paris-St Raphaël again, for the last time before the war, in the MG. She was second, reportedly after being held up on a stage by another competitor.

Post-war, Betty took up motorsport once more, with even more vigour than before. Now, she was taking on major, mixed entry rallies, as well as trials and hillclimbs. In 1946, she won the 2000cc class on the Rallye des Alpes Françaises, as well as winning the Coupe des Dames, in a nine-year-old AC. Later, in 1949, she drove a Morris Minor in the Monte Carlo Rally, co-driving with Elsie Wisdom and Barbara Marshall. The same year, she entered the Rallye des Alpes Françaises again, winning the 1500cc class and the Coupe des Dames, with Barbara Marshall, in an MG TC. At this time, she was competing regularly in European hillclimbs, in her own BMW.

In 1950, she joined forces with Barbara Marshall once more for the Monte Carlo Rally, driving an MG. In 1951, she was back in the Paris-St Raphaël rally, finishing third, with a class win, in an MG TD. At some point, she is also described as having rallied a Healey 100 in this event.

Betty also raced on circuits, and partnered Yvonne Simon to fifteenth place in the 1951 Le Mans race, in Yvonne's Ferrari 166 MM. They were third in the 2000cc class, having challenged for the lead throughout.

Despite her seeming talent on the circuits, she rarely competed in major meetings, although she was a regular on the club motorsport scene in the UK. As well as circuit racing, she enjoyed a considerable hillclimb career, and held the Ladies’ record at Prescott for six years. Among the cars she owned and drove were an HRG, a pre-war Frazer Nash and models by MG and AC. In 1953, she raced an MG Magnette at Goodwood, coming third in a handicap race. In 1955 she drove in a Goodwood ladies’ Whitsun race in an AC Ace, and she raced a Climax-engined Elva in similar events the following year. It was her custom to favour British vehicles.

She continued to race and rally numerous cars until 1967. As time progressed, she stuck with the machinery of her heyday and was a regular on the burgeoning historic circuit. Her last competitive outings were in the Griffiths Formula, for 1940s and 1950s international sports racers. Towards the end of her career, she was a major force for the establishment of the Historic Sports Car Club.

She died in 1987.

(Photo from

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Victoria Worsley

Victoria in her MG in 1930

Victoria was the daughter of a baronet. Despite her family’s title, she is said to have had little money of her own, and worked for her father, as a chauffeur.

She began her motorsport career in trials in 1928, after a lucky bet on a horse race allowed her to buy her first racing car, a Salmson. This car was her preferred choice for the 1928 season, and she is pictured driving it in various places. She continued to drive it in 1929, although she also had some outings in a Jowett, which she used in both trials and grass-track events. During this time, Victoria competed in both long-distance and high-speed trials, and had her first Brooklands experiences, during a speed trial.

After trying a few different cars, she bought an MG in 1930. She used it in that season’s Brooklands Double Twelve, and was 20th, seventh in class. Her team-mate was Derek Foster, and their pits were manned by various members of the Worsley clan and their social circle.

Victoria’s preference was for the longer, higher-profile races at the circuit, and her best finish was seventh in the 1931 Double Twelve, driving an Ulster Austin with Latham Boote. This was a difficult race, held at high speed in very wet conditions, and as hard on cars as on drivers. That year, the slower and more reliable small cars did particularly well. In addition to this major race, she also drove as part of a three-driver Austin team for the LCC Relay. They were eleventh, after leading the race for a while before the handicapped cars overtook.

In 1932, she drove another MG, a Midget, in the Brooklands 1000 Miles, with Joan Chetwynd. Joan and Victoria’s paths had often crossed at Brooklands, usually as rivals, and Victoria was probably the better driver. Unfortunately, they did not make the finish, following engine trouble. She also took part in the Light Car Club’s team relay race once more, but failed to finish that either. Her car is recorded as a “Worsley-Harris Special”, and her team-mates were one S. Watt in a Fiat, and A.M. Conan Doyle in a Frazer Nash.

She retired from motor racing after that season, following her marriage to Roland King-Farlow, who was involved in motorsports as a timekeeper. During her short career, she entered fourteen events at Brooklands.

Her niece, Katharine, is the Duchess of Kent, who is also related to the rally driver and Liechtenstein princess, Shelagh Brunner, on her mother’s side.

(Picture from Haymarket/Autocar)

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Margaret Allan

Margaret Allan was born in 1909 in Scotland. She had the good fortune to be born into a wealthy family where women were encouraged and expected to be accomplished and useful people. Her aunt was a Suffragette.

Her mother encouraged her to learn to drive, and she was soon acting as the family’s driver, in their large Lagonda. She became very interested in driving and cars in general, which led to an interest in motorsports. Apparently unimpressed by the trials drivers of the Women’s Automobile and Sports Association, she was allowed to enter the family car into one of their events, which she won. The event was part of the London-Gloucester Trial in 1930. Margaret continued to compete in the Lagonda, and entered her first Brooklands races in it. It was too slow and cumbersome to be competitive.

It was replaced by another, supercharged Lagonda by her father in 1932. Apparently, she entered it into that year’s Brooklands Inter-Club Meeting, but the result has been lost. However, she is listed as a finisher in both the RAC and Scottish rallies in this car, starting at Bath and Glasgow respectively. Her first rallying experience had come in that year’s Monte Carlo Rally, as co-driver to Eve Staniland, who finished tenth in the Light Car class, in a works Riley. Some sources have Margaret as winning a Coupe des Alpes and Glacier Cup on that year’s Alpine Trial. She certainly took part that year, in a Wolseley, but her results have proved hard to verify.

In 1933, Margaret acquired the first of a series of big Bentleys, a 4.5-litre model. She was particularly successful in this car, winning the Junior Handicap at the Inter-Club meeting, and coming third in a JCC handicap. She also won a Ripley Long Handicap at an Easter meeting, in 1933 or 1934. The Bentley even proved effective as a rally car, netting Margaret a twelfth place in the Large Car class of the Scottish Rally.

For most of 1934, she abandoned big Bentleys. Her main exploit at Brooklands was finishing third in the Light Car Club’s annual relay, driving an MG Magnette. Her team-mates were Doreen Evans and Irene Schwedler. This led to an entry in the 1935 Le Mans 24 Hours, despite gamesmanship from Kay Petre’s Singer team that won them the official Ladies’ prize. Elsewhere, Margaret drove a Triumph in the Monte Carlo Rally, starting at snowy Umeå in Sweden. She was 60th overall.

Her motorsport year in 1935 appears to have been dominated by her Le Mans appearance, the only one she made during her career. She was part of a semi-works MG team, led by George Eyston and comprising of six female drivers. Margaret shared her MG Midget PA with Colleen Eaton. They were 26th overall, the last of the “Dancing Daughters” over the line, but their measured race helped MG to the team prize.

Away from Le Mans, she finished the Monte Carlo Rally once more, driving an AC to 40th place from Umeå.

1936 was a busy year for Margaret. She started with a record run at Brooklands in a Frazer Nash, and managed to set a new Outer Circuit record: 127 mph. This preceded a move back to Bentley power, in the shape of “Mother Gun”, a 6500cc single-seater, so-called for the loud bangs its engine produced on a regular basis. Margaret was rather fond of, and adept at driving, very large-engined, powerful cars. This was in contrast to many of her female contemporaries such as Doreen Evans and Kay Petre, who competed most often in little Austins, MGs and Rileys.

Her earliest outing in Mother Gun, the March Short Handicap, resulted in her almost winning a Brooklands 120mph badge, although she was not able to keep up with the leading drivers. She won the badge, a rare achievement, during the Whitsun Long Handicap, which she also won. One of the abiding images of Brooklands is Margaret in this car, tackling the banking with one front wheel off the ground.

1936 was her last full year of competition. As well as her heroics in Mother Gun, she drove a Frazer Nash at Shelsley Walsh, and possibly in some Brooklands events.

In 1937, she married Christopher Jennings, another racer, and started a family shortly afterwards. However, this was not the end of her motoring exploits, as she carried on as an automotive journalist for many years. Her road tests remained in demand until she was in her eighties.

During the war, she drove ambulances and worked at Bletchley Park as a code-breaker.

In 1950, in order to show she had not lost her touch, she drove in one last rally, the Circuit of Ireland. She won the Coupe des Dames.

She died in 1998, aged 89.

(Picture from

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Doreen Evans

Doreen in 1935

Doreen was born into a motoring family in 1916. Her two brothers, Denis and Kenneth, were both racing drivers, and their parents were long-standing members of the Brooklands set. All three Evans children learned to drive as soon as they were of age, and all three got their start in motorsport very young. They initially competed together in MG J2s, in sprints, hillclimbs and trials.

Doreen raced at Brooklands from the age of 17. Apart from Ivy Cummings, who was not an official competitor, she must have been one of the youngest women to drive on the Brooklands oval. Her next racing car was another MG, a Magna L-Type, and her first major event was the five-lap handicap at the 1934 BARC meeting, in July. A couple of weeks later, she was third again, in the Light Car Club’s annual relay race. She was part of a three-woman MG Magnette team backed by the MG factory. Her team-mates were Irene Schwedler and Margaret Allan. She finished one place above her brother, Kenneth, but failed to win the Ladies’ Prize, after the Singer team of Kay Petre, Eileen Ellison and Sheila Tolhurst exploited a loophole in the rules, stating that the Ladies’ Prize, and the Le Mans entry that went with it, could not be awarded to a team in the top three. They sandbagged and finished fifth. In October, Doreen won a Ladies’ Handicap on the Brooklands Mountain circuit in an MG Q-Type, defeating Fay Taylour and Bill Wisdom.

Using a rebodied version of the Q-Type, she won the Outer Circuit race at the Brooklands March meeting in 1935. In yet another MG, an R-Type, she and Kenneth entered the Brooklands 500 Mile race, but did not finish due to valve trouble.

Despite not winning the LCC Ladies’ Prize, she was part of the works MG team for Le Mans in the summer. George Eyston was managing a three-car ladies’ team of Midgets, all three of which finished. Doreen was in the middle in 25th, driving with Barbara Skinner. The team became known as “The Dancing Daughters”, perhaps after a radio show of a similar name.

Away from circuit racing, she competed in that year’s RAC Rally, driving an MG Magnette, and scored a class win. In May, secured the Ladies’ Record at the Shelsley Walsh hillclimb, driving the 750cc MG R-Type. In September, she was involved in a battle for that same record with Kay Petre, her rival who had risen to prominence at the same time. A mistake during the final run-off gave the award to Kay, in her White Riley.

In 1936, Doreen drove the R-Type at Brooklands, finishing third in the BARC Second Mountain Handicap. She entered the Brooklands International Trophy in the same car, but suffered a dramatic accident. Her car caught fire and crashed on the Members’ Banking, although she had slowed it sufficiently to allow herself to jump out. Although she suffered only minor injuries, the car was badly damaged. She was also scheduled to compete in the Tourist Trophy in an Aston Martin, but her team-mate, Alan Phipps, crashed out on the first lap, before she got the chance to drive.

Despite this setback, she married Phipps, and moved to America with him. Like her brother Denis, she stopped racing upon her marriage. Later, she earned her pilot’s license, and took up flying.

She died suddenly, at home in California, in 1982.

(Picture from