Friday, 4 March 2016

Lola Grounds

Lola, on the right, with Doreen Reece and their Ford Popular, 1952 RAC Rally

Lola Grounds was one of the Rootes team’s female driver roster in the 1950s. She acted as both a driver and a navigator, initially for her husband, Frank. She is normally credited as “Mrs F. Grounds”.

She was born Lola Elsa de Sena in 1918, to a Spanish father and English mother. Her first home was Sheffield, but she spent most of her life in Warwickshire, England. She married Frank Grounds in 1937.

Her rally career began in 1950. Eschewing the traditional route of a small local rally in a production car, as a first step, she joined Frank’s team for the Tulip Rally. He was initially against the idea, having little faith in women having the requisite stamina, but she talked him round. Lola was under five feet tall and was described as “dainty”, but she enjoyed the challenge of driving for long stretches, and would later become fond of special stages.

As co-driver to her husband, she competed in the Tulip Rally at least four times, in a Jaguar XK120 and a Jowett Javelin. In the early 1950s, she drove in British rallies herself: she won the Coupe des Dames in the 1952 London Rally in a Morris Minor, and took part in the 1954 MCC National Rally, in a Ford Anglia. 1952 also saw her in the RAC Rally, driving a special-bodied Jowett Jupiter with Doreen Reece. Her first big international rally, as a driver, seems to have been the Monte Carlo Rally in 1953, in which she drove an Austin A40, with Cherry Osborn and Rosemary Wareham.

In 1955, she navigated for Nancy Mitchell, in Nancy’s Daimler Conquest. They were 17th in the Monte Carlo Rally, among others. Lola also drove herself in some European rallies, including that year’s RAC event. She and Doreen Reece crashed out, turning over Lola’s Ford Anglia on a slippery Welsh slope. The Anglia was replaced with a Triumph TR2 for the Tulip Rally, a few weeks later. Lola and Cherry Osborn just managed to finish in 141st place, despite another crash on a wet hairpin bend. The car hit a wall, which stopped it from falling down a steep drop.

The following year, she co-drove in the Standard ladies’ team, often with Cherry Osborn. Their first event together in the Standard Eight was the Monte, with Cherry driving. They also drove as a team in the Tulip Rally. Jo Ashfield and Mary Handley-Page drove the other Standard ladies’ car. The 1956 radio interview with Lola, referenced earlier, says that the Tulip was her fifth rally of the year

After a gap, she was back to co-driving for Frank in 1957. They took part in the Tulip Rally together, in a Morris Minor.

Her time in the Rootes team began in 1958. To start the year, she finished the Monte Carlo Rally in a Sunbeam Rapier, alongside Mary Handley-Page and Doreen Reece. Lola and Mary then did the Alpine Rally together, in a Sunbeam. The pair also contested Lola’s favoured Tulip Rally, in the Sunbeam, and were 21st overall. During her career, she entered this particular event eight times. In a 1956 interview, she described her “soft spot” for the Dutch classic, and for its high-speed sections. This year, she was busy at home and abroad, as she was the Lady Mayoress of her adopted hometown of Sutton Coldfield, as well as an international rally driver. Unusually, she was Mayoress to her mother-in-law, Minnie Grounds, who was Mayor.

After Lola’s season as a Rootes driver, both she and Frank drove Ford cars in 1959. Another visit to the Monte led to another finish, driving a Ford Zephyr as part of a three-woman team with Nancy Mitchell and Anne Hall. All three were experienced drivers, and it was something of a reunion for Nancy and Lola. They were 78th overall. For the Tulip Rally, Frank and Lola competed together again, in another Zephyr. They were 25th.

Throughout the 1950s, she also drove her own cars in British rallies. These cars included an MG Y-Type, which she used in the 1956 RAC Rally, Ford Popular, and Morris Minor, which she drove in the London Rally with Anne Hall in 1957.

Her career, and that of her husband, seems to finish here. The early 1960s saw rallying move from being focused on navigation and driving tests, to high-speed special stages.

She died in 2004. She was survived by three children, including Robert Grounds, a motorsport photographer.

(Image from copyright Birmingham Post & Mail)

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