Saturday, 12 March 2016

Greta Molander

Greta as a Saab driver, in 1951

Greta is probably best known as a works Saab driver from the 1950s. She competed from the 1930s to the 1970s, but was most successful in the ‘50s, winning many Coupes des Dames.

She was born Greta Ohlson in Ystad, Sweden, in 1908. Her parents ran a hotel. They both died within months of each other in 1927, leaving a considerable amount of money and possessions to their daughter. Sadly, a poor investment meant that she had to sell most of this, keeping only one car.

Unusually for the time, she had learned to drive as a teenager, and entered her first rally in 1929, driving her father’s La Salle car. It was a women’s event, and she was last. Four years later, she won the Swedish Rikspokal for rallying, in a borrowed Plymouth.

In 1934, she started her first major international rally, the Monte Carlo, from Umeå in the north of Sweden. Her car was another Plymouth. She repeated this feat in 1935, and was rewarded with a finish, in 30th place. On her fourth try, she won her first Monte Carlo Coupe des Dames, finishing 24th in her Plymouth. In a particularly strong year for female drivers, she was third in the 1938 women’s standings, despite coming 19th overall. During the 1930s, she was active in Plymouths and other American cars in Norwegian rallies.

In 1938, she married Kaare Barth (Petrus), a Norwegian writer, and settled in Norway. She always competed under the name “Molander”, seemingly the name of a first husband, despite enjoying a long and happy marriage to Petrus.

She switched from American cars to a DKW for 1939, but does not seem to have finished, and rallying then halted for World War II.

Norway was occupied by the Germans for much of the war. Greta is said to have been jailed at one point, for insulting a German officer.

Rallying returned to Monte Carlo in 1949, and Greta came with it. She was 52nd, in a Dodge.

Her relationship with the Saab marque began in 1950, in the Monte again. She was one of the first works drivers they employed. The Saab 92 had just been launched, and Greta drove one to 55th place, starting at Stockholm. She was actually the first of the two Saab finishers that year.

1951 saw her compete more widely in Europe, driving the Saab in the Tulip and Midnight Sun rallies. She won the first of six Midnight Sun Coupes des Dames that year, and was again the leading Saab driver
In 1952, she was second of four Saab drivers in the Midnight Sun Rally, behind Rolf Mellde. Her co-driver was Helga Lundberg. Their partnership lasted for many years.

Other rallies she entered included the 1953 Lisbon Rally, where she was third in the Ladies’ standings. This, and her performances in the Northern European rallies, were enough to earn her a European Ladies’ Championship title.

The Tulip Rally became one of her regular yearly fixtures. She normally drove the Saab, but she accepted a drive in another car for 1954, a DKW, and was 33rd. Her arch-rival, Sheila van Damm, driving for the Rootes team, had got into the top ten, so the Coupe des Dames was out of reach this time. The Tulip was not her only DKW outing in 1954: she won another Midnight Sun Rally Ladies’ prize that year.

The Saab team did not enter the 1955 Monte, so Greta drove the DKW again, but does not seem to have finished. She continued to rally the DKW in the Viking Rally, and was thirteenth. In the Tulip Rally, she was back in the 92, and went one better than Sheila van Damm last year, finishing ninth overall.

There seems to have been a hiatus in her Saab involvement in 1956, when she used a Mercedes 220 for the Monte, and a Peugeot 403 for the Midnight Sun Rally, in which she was 56th.

After that, she drove the new Saab 93, which would become a successful car for the manufacturer, and was the beginning of Saab as a major rallying contender. Her team-mates that year included Ewy Rosqvist and Erik Carlsson.

By 1960, she was winding down her competition career, although she still accepted invitations to drive for Saab in major rallies. She drove the 93 on the Monte between 1960 and 1962.

When she retired from professional rallying in 1962, she was 54 years old. Although she became somewhat of an occasional competitor, she carried on making appearances in rallies until the 1970s, and also rallied historic cars. In 1973, she made one last appearance on the Monte, her nineteenth attempt at the Monaco classic. Her car was a Saab.

Away from rallying, she was an intrepid traveller, who wrote about her experiences, such as crossing Africa and America by car. The American trip, during the 1940s was partly funded by Chrysler, who used it as a promotional opportunity. Whilst in America, Greta worked as a film stunt driver.

As well as writing about her own experiences, she translated English works into Norwegian, including some of PG Wodehouse’s novels. Wodehouse and Greta were friends. She also illustrated books, including two children’s books, which she and Petrus worked on together.

She died in 2002, at the age of 94.

(Image from

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