Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Nancy Mitchell

Nancy with the MGA

Nancy Mitchell was one of BMC’s squad of British lady rally drivers in the 1950s, and competed all over Europe. Although  her career never reached the heights of that of Pat Moss or Anne Hall, she was still a versatile and respected driver, winning two European Ladies’ championships. She was a professional in her sport for many years.

Nancy got a relatively late start in motorsport, at 31. Douglas Mitchell, her husband, bought her an HRG sports car, a rare Aerodynamic model, and their first event together was the Eastbourne Rally in 1947. They apparently won one of the awards, although it is unclear which one.

Between then and 1950, Nancy entered not only rallies, but hillclimbs, sprints, trials and circuit races in HRG cars, first the Aerodynamic, then a faster 1500. Her results are proving difficult to locate, but she is said to have driven in the Alpine Rally and Alpine Trial at least once, as a member of an HRG works team. Her season in 1950 was apparently curtailed, due to a family situation, but she did manage a seventh place in a Silverstone international meeting race, in the HRG.

In 1951, she appears on the entry lists for the RAC and Scottish rallies, finishing second in the 1500cc Open class in the RAC Rally. She was second in the Ladies’ Open class to Anne Newton, later Anne Hall. She also competed in the Paris-St. Raphaël event and was second in class. Away from rallying, she drove a Healey Silverstone in hillclimbs, including the Rest And Be Thankful event, in which she was tenth in class.

From 1952, Nancy really showed her versatility, using the HRG and a series of other cars, including a Sunbeam Talbot. In this car, she drove in the Monte Carlo and Alpine rallies. She did not finish the Alpine after losing a wheel, but seems to have finished the Monte, driving as part of an all-woman team with veteran Elsie “Bill” Wisdom and Sheila van Damm. On the track, she managed second places in races at Silverstone and Castle Combe, in the HRG, and a fifth place at Silverstone in an Allard.

As well as rallying, Nancy competed extensively in hillclimbs during the 1950s, using several different cars, including a single-seater Cooper 1100, in which she set a ladies’ record at Prescott in 1953. She is also known to have hillclimbed in Cornwall, and taken part in the Lands’ End Trial.

Her rallying year was also quite busy. She drove in another Alpine Rally, in a Ford Zephyr this time, and was 36th overall. In the same car, she was sixth overall in the Lisbon Rally, winning the Coupe des Dames. She apparently drove a works Standard in the RAC Rally and an Alvis on the Monte, but the results have been lost. 

In 1954, she drove the Zephyr again on the Monte, starting in Glasgow. She used the same car for the Tulip Rally, and was 50th overall, with Joyce Leavens on the maps. Later in the year, she entered the Stella Alpina in an Austin Healey, but retired after an accident. She may have won a team award in the RAC Rally in a Ford Anglia, but the result has been lost, although she is down as an entry in that car. In British domestic events, she apparently competed in several different cars, including a Morgan in the London Rally, and a Triumph TR2 in the MCC National Rally, and had her last outing in the HRG.

Her hillclimbing highlight this year was a Ladies’ Record at Shelsley Walsh, set in the Cooper. It was to stand for three years.

1955 saw her driving for Daimler, in a Conquest. She scored her best result in the Monte Carlo Rally: 17th, navigated by Lola Grounds. Among the other rallies she contested was the Tulip event in the Netherlands, in which she was third in the Ladies’ standings. Driving the Daimler, she also won two circuit races, a Ladies’ race at Goodwood and a scratch race at Silverstone. 

The most remembered part of her career, her time with BMC, began in 1956. Nancy usually drove MG models, and her rallying year began with a 59th place in Monte Carlo, with Doreen Reece and Susan Hindmarsh. Nancy and Doreen also drove a Magnette in the RAC Rally, and seem to have finished. During the summer, Nancy and Pat Faichney were 15th overall in the Alpine Rally, third in class, with a Coupe des Alpes and the Ladies’ prize. Their car was an MGA. Nancy also drove it in the Liège-Rome-Liège rallies, with Anne Hall, finishing 26th, with a Coupe des Dames. She always preferred to compete alongside other women. Her achievements were enough to win her her first European Ladies’ Rally title this year.

Away from pure rallying, Nancy and Pat Faichney also drove together in the Mille Miglia, in the MGA (a famous car, still extant, christened “Mabel”).  They were 72nd overall, and first female crew.

Nancy and “Mabel” continued to work together in 1957. Nancy was 16th overall in the Liège-Rome-Liège Rally, with Joan Johns, and 32nd overall in the Lyon-Charbonnières Rally, with Doreen Reece. She won the Coupe des Dames both times, leading to her second European Ladies’ championship.

She and Pat Faichney attempted the Mille Miglia again this year, in a Triumph TR3, but they did not finish. Nancy had not abandoned circuit racing either, and managed a fourth place at Silverstone in June, driving an MG Magnette.

By 1958, “Mabel” was no longer Nancy’s first-choice car. She stuck with an MG, another Magnette this time, for the Monte Carlo Rally, with Joan Johns, but seems to have been unplaced. In the Alpine Rally, she drove an Austin-Healey 100-6 and was twelfth, two places behind the Coupe des Dames winner, Pat Moss. She drove the same car in the Liège-Rome-Liège Rally, finishing 15th overall, sixth in class, and helping BMC to the team prize. Later in the season, she was driving a Riley 1.5 in the RAC Rally, skidded on ice and ended up down a steep drop. She was not seriously harmed.   

1959 saw a partial change of team for Nancy; she was part of Ford’s Ladies’ team, driving a Zephyr. Alongside Anne Hall and Lola Grounds, she finished the Monte in 78th place. During the summer, she and Anne entered the Alpine Rally, run as the Critérium International des Alpes, but a broken propshaft put them out. Going back to BMC power, Nancy and Pat Allison finished the Portuguese Rally, in 54th place, in an early rally Mini.

Her final year of competition came in 1960. Her major events were in her favoured mountain terrain. The Monte only brought a retirement for Nancy and Pat Allison in their Austin Seven, but the Alpine Rally, her last rally, went better. She and Rosemary Seers were 24th overall, second ladies’ team, in a Sunbeam Rapier.

After retiring from the circuits and the stages, Nancy did not abandon the motoring world. She was the motoring correspondent for Vogue magazine, conducting road tests of luxury cars, for several years. She was also involved in motorsport administration, as part of the BTRDA.

She died in 1996. Some of her cars have remained in her family, and have even been entered into historic events by her daughter, Sue Chapman, and granddaughter, Anna Chapman.