Monday, 24 October 2016

Ivy Cummings

Ivy and friend at Gaillon, 1921

Ivy Cummings is most famous for being the youngest person ever to lap Brooklands, aged twelve, in 1913. She became a successful racing driver as an adult, and particularly excelled at hillclimbing.

According to the story, Ivy and her father had driven down to Brooklands in her father’s SCAR touring car. While his back was turned, watching the flying from the airfield, the pre-teen Ivy drove off in the car, and got onto the track. She was driving surprisingly quickly, and resisted being caught. She was only apprehended when the car developed a puncture, and she hurt her hand trying to jack it up.

There may have been some exaggeration going on with this story, which has become something of a Brooklands legend, but it certainly started somewhere. No date is ever given for when it happened, but it has remained remarkably consistent over the years. Ivy’s age is often quoted as being eleven at the time, but she was born in 1900, so she was twelve or thirteen.

Just a few years later, during the First World War, Ivy was driving around in her own car, a Peugeot. She helped out at a convalescent home for injured soldiers, and kept their spirits up by taking them out for drives, as well as taking her mother and grandmother on errands.

She started her legitimate racing career after World War I, possibly as early as 1919. In 1921, she raced a Coupe de l’Auto Sunbeam 12/16 in France. It is said that she won a race, possibly on sand, but further details are rather hazy. Pictures from that year show her posing in the car at Gaillon, which ties in with contemporary reports of her entering the hillclimb there, driving a 130hp car.

She won the 1922 Duke of York Long Distance Handicap in the Coupe de l'Auto Sunbeam. Shortly after, she drove well in the Sunbeam in the Car Speed Championship, finishing third in the Essex Senior Short Handicap, and second in the Essex Junior Long Handicap. 

In June 1923, she won a Bexhill speed trial in a Bugatti. Further details about this car are not forthcoming. In September, a second speed trial was held at Bexhill, over a mile. Ivy won this event, too. Her car on this occasion was the famous 5000cc 1913 Bugatti, “Black Bess”, as named by Ivy. In March, she had driven “Bess” in the Kop Hill climb, in Essex.

In 1925, she won her class in the Skegness Speed Trials in this car. Ivy was not the only female driver; Cecil Christie was there with her Vauxhall, and the two seem to become friends. Reports in Motor Sport suggested that this would be Ivy’s last event before marrying, but this does not seem to have transpired just yet.

In between, Ivy also raced the GN “Akela”, normally in hillclimbs. She won her class in the South Harting climb, organised by the Surbiton Motor Club. In the Arundell Speed Trial, which, like the South Harting event, was run over a half-mile course, she also won the 1500cc class, finishing just four-tenths of a second behind the winner, Woolf Barnato in a Hispano-Suiza. The GN appeared at the Spread Eagle Hill climb, the Brighton Speed Trials and the Herne Bay Speed Trails that year. Akela was sold on at the end of the season. For the Aston Clinton hillclimb, she drove the Bugatti instead.

In 1926, she raced the Bugatti in France. She entered the Grand Prix de Boulogne, run on sand, and led for the first three laps, but rolled her car into a ditch and did not finish. After this mishap, she is reported to have telephoned her father, to tell him that she was all right. Motor racing was very much a family thing for Ivy, who sometimes had her mother in the car with her, as her riding mechanic. She had also taken a Frazer Nash along, which she used in the speed trial.

Back in England, she raced again on the sand at Southport, in a Frazer Nash, with Cecil Christie. In June, she was back at Brooklands for the JCC High Speed Trial.

After 1926, she competed much less frequently. She drove a Riley in the JCC Half Day Trial, which seems to have been her last event.

Ivy married a radiologist and this put an end to her racing career. She died in 1971.

(Image from

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