Monday, 2 March 2015

Ewy Rosqvist


(Image from www.classicmotor.se)

Ewy was a Swedish driver of the 1950s and 1960s. She was the only woman to drive for the Mercedes rally team, and is most famous for her win in the “Argentine Grand Prix” Rally in 1962.

Ewy was born in 1929, and grew up in a comfortably-off Swedish farming family. Her first love was animals. She attended agricultural college and after finishing her course, worked for a local veterinary surgeon. Supported by him, she undertook some veterinary training in Stockholm. It was while she was there that she learned to drive. After gaining the necessary certificates, she worked alongside the vet, as an assistant. This necessitated her first car, a Mercedes-Benz 170 S, as she had to drive miles between farms, to assist the vet with livestock care. She became adept at driving long distances on challenging terrain, often at speed, and also learned how to handle and maintain her car in these conditions. This was a good foundation for her future rally career.

Her first taste of rallying came in 1954, when she was a passenger in a three-man team on the Midnight Sun Rally. The two drivers were her husband, Yngve, and her father-in-law, although she did drive a little on some of the road sections. After this, she was determined to enter a rally herself.

It was not until 1956 that she took to the stages herself, although she and Yngve did do various motor club navigational challenges together. She entered the Midnight Sun Rally, with Majbritt Clausson on the maps. They did not finish. The make of their car is not recorded, but it is likely to be a Saab. This was Ewy’s biggest event of the year, but she was active in smaller rallies, whenever finances and work schedules allowed it.

In 1957, she spent a year rallying a Saab 93, which was one of the cars to have in Sweden at the time. Her usual co-driver was her sister-in-law, Anita Rosqvist. As well as driving her own car, she did some navigation, including one rally with her husband. They were 25th in the 1000 Lakes Rally.

Her Saab only lasted a year, and she chose a car from its Swedish rival, Volvo, for 1958. During her first year, she mainly competed in Scandinavia, in various rallies, but in 1959, she became more ambitious, and started looking towards an international career. After a first win in the Ladies’ class of the Midnight Sun Rally, Ewy and Anita weighed up their chances of a win in the European Ladies’ Championship, against the formidable Pat Moss, who was capable of outright wins. They racked up Coupes des Dames in the Viking Rally and the 1000 Lakes, in their Volvo 1600, plus a strong finish in Poland. Ewy was third in Germany, but Pat won the ladies’ prize, putting her almost level.

The Ladies’ championship points were not calculated solely on points scored within rallies. Drivers had to enter a certain number of rallies to be considered, and they received some points for each start. Pat Moss had skipped some events, allowing Ewy to get the lead in the rankings. The championship would be decided at the RAC Rally, which both drivers had elected to contest. Disaster struck for Ewy; shortly after her arrival in England, she became very ill, and ended up in hospital. She thought that this was the end of her Ladies’ title hopes, but as it happened, Pat Moss also withdrew from the rally, handing Ewy her first of three Ladies’ Cups.

1960 was something of a turning point in Ewy’s rally career. She began the year with her first run in the Monte Carlo Rally, still driving her own Volvo 1600. She was fifth in the Ladies’ class, a long way behind Pat Moss. However, by May, she had the bonus of works support from the Volvo team, and a new PV544. Ewy and Anita won the Ladies’ Cup in the Acropolis Rally, and were 15th overall.  In August, they followed this up with another Coupe des Dames in the 1000 Lakes Rally, and were 29th. Ewy retained her Viking Rally ladies’ title, and also travelled to Poland for the first time, for the Rajd Polski, which she did not finish. The battle with Pat Moss was on again, but it came down to technical arbitration, rather than results on the road. Pat’s car was judged to have been placed in the wrong class, and she was no longer eligible. Ewy could have benefitted, but the FIA decided not to award the European Ladies’ Cup this year.

Her new professional status would have been very welcome to Ewy; after combining rallying and veterinary work since 1956, she finally parted company with her surgery, due to being unable to commit her time to her old job.

There was more change in 1961. Anita was pregnant, and sat out most of the season. Ewy teamed up with Monika Wallraf, a German who also raced on the circuits. Their first event together was the Monte Carlo Rally, in a Volvo 122. They got to the finish in 56th place, ahead of Ewy’s arch-rival, Pat Moss, but behind Anne Hall, who won the Coupe des Dames. They ran well in the Alpine Rally, close to the leading drivers, and won another Ladies’ Prize. In August, Ewy won another one in Poland, partnered by Eugenia Wolko this time. Back with Monika, she was the fastest lady in the 1000 Lakes Rally, in a 544, and was 19th overall. She also participated in the RAC Rally, with another new navigator, Ursula Wirth, but her best result had come in May. She was seventh in the Acropolis Rally, in the 544, her first international top ten. A total of nine ladies’ awards, in different rallies, gave her another European Ladies’ Cup. Pat Moss was now concentrating on outright wins, and there were new female rivals to overcome.

She started the year with the Monte Carlo Rally in a Volvo in 1962, but shortly afterward, she was approached by Mercedes, who offered her a professional driver’s contract, after months of rumours. Her first major rally as a Mercedes works driver was the Tulip Rally, in a 220 SE. It was a tough start for her and Ursula, and they were 48th overall. Her erstwhile rival, Pat Moss, was the winner. In the summer, she was 20th in the 1000 Lakes Rally, and a pleasing sixth on a car-breaking Polish Rally. However, her greatest achievement, and probably the greatest of her entire career, came in the autumn.  She won the Gran Premio Internacional Standard Supermovil YPF (Touring Car Grand Prix) outright in Argentina. This was not a race, but a long-distance rally, held over ten days in the rugged Argentine plains.  Ewy not only won the rally, but won every single stage along the way, avoided mechanical disasters, and even weathered the death of her team-mate, Hermann Kühne. Her experience as a roving veterinary assistant in rural Sweden had found an unlikely use.


Ewy and Ursula in Argentina (Image from www.spoca.se)

The experience, although it must have been thrilling, was also a wearying one, and made her consider seriously whether she wanted to continue with rallying afterwards. By this time, her marriage to Yngve was over, and she was exhausted. She sat out the season-ending RAC Rally.

Over the winter break, she decided to continue. The Monte was never her best event, but she won the Ladies’ Cup in 1963, in the Mercedes 220 SE, with Ursula Wirth on the maps. She was 16th overall. Between then and the Acropolis Rally in May, she and Ursula parted company temporarily. Ewy’s co-driver in Greece was Heikke Krause, a German. They were twelfth. An electrical fault put her out of the Alpine Rally in June, then a rare accident dropped her from the Polish Rally standings. Later in the year, she and Ursula teamed up again, to defend their Argentine title. Despite a strong performance, they were third overall.

In between, she had her first taste of international touring car racing, driving a Mercedes 220 SE, with Ursula and Eberhard Mahle, in the Nürburgring 6 Hours. They were fifth overall, and won their class.

1964 began in a similar way. The 220 SE was still competitive, although newer Mercedes models were being used by other members of the team, and the BMC Minis were starting to come into their own. Ewy, assisted by her new regular co-driver, Eva Maria Falk, was a disappointing 38th in Monte Carlo, just behind Sylvia Osterberg. Snow was never her best surface, despite being from a Nordic country. In a warmer location, Portugal, she was fifteenth in the ACP International Rally. Then it was time for the Acropolis, a rough rally which suited Ewy’s measured, but quick, driving style. She was fifth. Later, she was sixth in the Spa-Sofia-Liège Rally, another tough marathon event. Her last rally of the year was another trip to Argentina, where she was third again.

Shortly afterward, she announced her retirement, at the age of 35. She joked with the Argentine media about becoming a housewife and learning to cook, but as she was preparing to marry Baron Alexander von Korff, head of the Mercedes competition department and hereditary peer, this was probably unnecessary.

Although Ewy never competed seriously again, she remained involved with the motoring scene, was a test driver, and to this day, acts as a brand ambassador for Mercedes. When not involved with Mercedes, she worked as a multilingual tour guide in a museum in Stuttgart.

She was immensely popular in both Sweden and Argentina, and was the subject of many newspaper articles and TV sections. She was Swedish Sportswoman of the Year in 1961. Both Ewy and Ursula, despite their love for the toughest of terrain, were always well-dressed and ready for a photo opportunity, long before this was standard practice for international motorsport stars.

Ewy is now a widow, and lives in Stockholm, after some time spent in Germany.

(This piece owes a lot to www.ewyrosqvist.com, a fan page created with Ewy’s co-operation.)


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