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

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