Sarah’s passion for motor sport underlies her museum tours covering one hundred years of successful pioneering women who dared to 'take on the men.' Her special talk for the Friends explored some of these influential women.
Starting from the late 19th century, we first heard how the tricycle and then the bicycle, the only acceptable transport for respectable women in their 'rational dress', played a key role in their emancipation. The first iconic female featured was Berta Benz, the young wife of Karl Benz, who is still heralded annually when Germany celebrates her drive of over 60 miles from Mannheim to Pforzheim in August 1888. Without telling her husband, Berta's aim was to 'test drive' the Benz Motorwagen.
Sarah then talked about a number of pioneering women from the early 20th century. This included flamboyant French socialite, Camille du Gast who was the first consistent international racer and the 'fastest girl on earth' Dorothy Levitt who shocked British society when, whilst working as a secretary at Napier, she drove a 12hp works Gladiator at the Southport Speed Trials, winning her class.
We then heard the fascinating story of 'The Bugatti Queen', Helle Nice, so-titled after exceeding 124mph at Montlehery in 1929. Ettore Bugatti had entrusted her with a type 35C Bugatti following her victory at the first all women Grand Prix six months earlier. In 1949, she was accused of being a Gestapo agent during WW2, which immediately bought about her downfall. Nice was cast out, abandoned by her sponsors and family and spent the final twenty years of her life living off charity in abject poverty.
For the post Second World War period, Sarah spoke about Maria Teresa de Filippis, an Italian Aristocrat and the first woman to compete in a Formula One World Championship Grand Prix. In 1954, after finishing second in her own Urania BMW in the Italian Sports Car Championship, Maserati took her in as a works driver, by far her greatest challenge, especially as she had previously turned down Enzo Ferrari!
Sarah highlighted Pat Moss, younger sister of Sir Stirling, an outstanding rally driver of the 1950s and 60s. Five times winner of the European Ladies Rally Championship, she won the Coupe des Dames on the Monte Carlo eight times and the gruelling 1960 Liege-Rome-Liege Rally in the fearsome Austin Healey 3000.
The talk ended with Michele Mouton, the first President of the FIA's Women and Motorsport Commission. Moulton was the most successful woman in motorsport and a legend in rallying winning the Pikes Peak Hill Climb in 1984 with co-driver Fabrizia Pons and again, as a solo driver the following year. She was the first woman to win a round of the World Rally Championship, the Rallye San Remo in 1981.
Sarah’s talk included photographs and film clips from the Museum Collections and was followed by questions from the audience. During the evening we discovered much and the talk was enjoyed by all.
Around 150 Friends of the NMMT and their guests enjoyed a wonderful evening in the National Motor Museum getting an insight into many of the exhibits. Museum Manager, Doug Hill introduced the evening in the entrance hall of the Museum, pointing out the 100,000th Volkswagen Beetle imported into the UK, the 1903 De Dion Bouton 6hp which was the first car in Edward, Lord Montagu’s collection and the Hispano Suiza with a chipped steering wheel, reputedly hit by the bullet which killed its driver in the Irish rebellion in 1916.
Museum apprentice mechanic, Tim Edgerton, delighted us by starting up the replica 1986 Benz. Doug then gave the history of the 1909 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. The car’s first owner was killed in the First World War and the garage where it was stored took the car in payment for the storage. It was then converted to a hearse, then a breakdown truck and finally a pick-up truck. The Rolls-Royce was then acquired by Edward, Lord Montagu in the 1950’s and restored to its present glory. It was Edward Montagu’s favourite car and was used as the hearse for his funeral in 2015.
After exploring more of the museum everyone gathered around for the start up of the 1914 Rolls-Royce Alpine Eagle. This seemed to involve a variety of processes including slowly turning the starting handle but the engine then appeared to start on its own when the magneto was activated. Tick-over was almost silent but was followed by very enthusiastic applause.
The evening ended at the back door of the museum where the recently restored Sunbeam 350hp Bluebird was being prepared for demonstration. Under the watchful eye of Doug Hill, the workshop team soon had the 18.3 litre V12 spitting blue flames into the darkness, a fitting end to a most enjoyable evening.
Review by David Marklew, NMMT Member
Most of us know Chris Barrie as Mr Brittas or Rimmer from Red Dwarf, but how many knew of his love of motor vehicles, from motorcycles to trucks which turn into bridges and charabancs (literally meaning a carriage with benches) to tanks? I for one didn't!
This evening was a photographic trip through some of the many vehicles Chris has come across during the filming of his TV series Massive Engines and a few he actually owns. Starting out with trip in a vintage Rolls-Royce and finishing off with a small armoured vehicle which he has recently acquired, and many others in between. We found ourselves thoroughly entertained throughout the evening with the stories he had to tell.
Review by Peter Brewer, NMMT member
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