Rallying and Racing (Women Racers in the 1950s)
These women all seem to have a heavy theme: they were surrounded by speed and gave in to the desire to go fast.
Maria Teresa de Filippis
Speed and cars surrounded Maria Teresa de Filippis. Her father was an automotive engineer, and her two brothers also raced cars. She first satisfied the need for speed through horse racing (this is a theme you’re going to see in many of the women covered), but after her brothers teased her – she proved them wrong by winning a hill climb as a young woman.
By 1954, she had become second in the 750 Class of the Italian Driver’s Championship. The following year Maria signed with the Maserati team and began the pathway to becoming a Formula 1 driver. In 1958 she started for the Monaco Grand Prix, and became the first woman to compete in a Formula 1 Grand Prix, she ended up not finishing the race due to mechanical issues. That same year she qualified for and finished (10th) the Belgian Grand Prix. The following year, 1959, she joined the Behra-Porsche team and continued attempts to qualify and finish Formula 1 races. Maria ultimately retired from racing after her friend, fellow driver, and team principal Jean Behra, died at Avus.
Interestingly enough, she was also known for walking the paddock with a wolf dog to help keep people at bay. Remembering the crowds that mobbed Danica Patrick at the 500, she could have borrowed my parent’s German shepherd (who is just very scary looking but will really just lay her head on your leg and look at you lovingly).
Anne Hall had a childhood where cars were going to be a part of her life. Her father was a popular jaguar dealer in England and was able to secure her a car as a young woman which is how she learned to drive. She honed her skills as an ambulance driver during World War II and she would careen the ambulance around the streets of her home town*. Following World War II, Anne stepped out of the ambulance and into the rally car.
She entered the 1951 RAC Rally, coming in seventh overall and wining the Ladies’ Award. She took place in this race with her sister as navigator, and as someone who has a sister – that deserves a lot of respect. Anne did switch out her sister, and instead joined with Shelia van Damm, who was an already established driver. The two would go on together to become the European Ladies’ Rally Champion.
Anne spent quite a few years racing at the Monte Carlo Rally, so much so that she was called “The Queen of Monte Carlo”. In 1964, driving identical cars, Anne Hall beat Graham Hill on the Monaco Grand Prix circuit. She was 6.6 seconds faster than Graham, who was reportedly amused and did not suffer from the Man Beaten By A Woman Syndrome ™. Shortly after beating Hill, Anne retired from Rally driving.
Anne resurfaced from retirement in the 1980s to once again try Rally driving. In 1988 she won the Alpine Cup and the Ladies Award in the 1988 Pirelli Classic. This is a 2,300 mile race in the Alps, and Anne won it driving a 1961 Ford Anglia. I think Anne was just proving once again that ‘females are strong as hell’ and that if challenged – a woman will come out and prove again just how awesome she is.
Pat Moss was destined to be a driver. Her father, Alfred Moss, finished 16th in the 1924 Indianapolis 500. Her mother, Aileen, drove ambulances during World War I and also raced cars. Her brother is the noted Formula 1 driver, Stirling Moss. Pat, like a few women we’ve discussed, felt the need for speed through equestrian.
Ultimately though, Pat started racing in national rallies in a Morris Minor because she was invited by the British Motoring Corporation to compete in high-profile events. The corporation did this because at the time, having a woman driving your car was still a useful marketing ploy. What the corporation didn’t seem to realize that Pat not only could keep the car under control, she could drive the hell out of it. In 1958 while driving the Morris, Pat came in fourth in the RAC Rally (the race is now known as the Wales Rally GB). That same year, though in an Austin Healey, Pat came in fourth in the Liege-Rome-Liege rally. In 1960, Pat would win the Liege-Rome-Liege rally.
In 1962, with female navigator Anne Wisdome, Pat would go on to win the Tulip Rally in the Netherlands while driving a Mini Cooper. Having driven a Ford Fiesta down the 1 in Oregon and Northern California, it is not fun driving little cars anywhere. She indicated the car was “twitchy, and pretty unruly on the limit”, which is exactly the perfect description for driving smaller cars. She also did this drive with her navigator pregnant. The two drove an additional two rallies that year: the RAC Rally and the East Africa Rally.
In 1963 Pat married a fellow rally drive, Erik Carlsson, and soon after retired from driving. She continued in motorsports by co-authoring the book “The Art and Technique of Driving” with her husband.
*Ambulance driving back then is very different from today, especially in England. The drivers of the ambulance had to have unparalleled skill. Speed was the name of the game, drivers needed to get the wounded from the scene to a hospital in record time, and with the bombing of England, the streets were not smooth and the route could change daily if not by hour depending on the intensity of the bombing campaign. The drivers were also responsible for their maintenance and upkeep of the vehicle. Is it any wonder a few of these women started off as Ambulance drivers?
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