Nancy Mitchell (right) and her co-driver Pat Faichney, entering the 1956 Mille Miglia
Monday, 30 November -0001

One (not so) careful lady driver...

From world-class racing cars to a vintage Fiat 500 named Phoebe, lady car owners are giving the chaps a run for their money – and they’re not afraid to put their foot down

This year is the 105th anniversary of the Brooklands racetrack, the world’s first purpose-built motorracing circuit, built at Weybridge, Surrey, which gave birth to British motor racing and made stars of the drivers. Men like Stirling Moss and James Hunt have earned their places in history, but there were plenty of women first past the chequered flag. Among them was Nancy Mitchell, who won the European Ladies Championship in 1956 and 1957. Mabel, her original 1950s MGA (named after its registration plate), is about to enjoy another lap of honour at Brooklands with Nancy’s daughter, Sue Chapman, in the driving seat. Here, she and four other vintage car fans explain what it’s like to be a lady at the wheel…

 Left: All set for the 1956 Mille Miglia: Peter Scott-Russell, Tom Haig, Pat Faichney and Nancy Mitchell Right: Nancy Mitchell and co-driver Anne Hall at the 1956 Liège- Rome-Liège eventLeft: All set for the 1956 Mille Miglia: Peter Scott-Russell, Tom Haig, Pat Faichney and Nancy Mitchell Right: Nancy Mitchell and co-driver Anne Hall at the 1956 Liège- Rome-Liège event

Sue Chapman, Chichester


‘I’m excited and nervous about driving my mother’s car, Mabel, in the Brooklands Double Twelve next month, but it will be a great family affair. My daughter, Anna, will be the co-driver. My mother always had an all-girls team. We will be wearing the same sort of clothes she wore: black trousers with a checked shirt. We have her crash helmets, but her head was quite a bit smaller than mine, so I don’t know whether we’ll be wearing them or not.

‘She first got into race-car driving when my father bought her a car for a present and they entered the Alpine Rally in 1947. They did quite well. Then she just became a professional rally driver. In 1956, she and Mabel took part in the Mille Miglia – she did it in 15 hours virtually non-stop (Stirling Moss did it in 10 hours 7 mins 48 secs, in 1955).

‘My mother retired in 1960 and then became motoring correspondent for Vogue, so she used to get these wonderful cars, and I can remember when I was at boarding school she’d turn up in this Rolls Silver Cloud. We are a family of car lovers. My son, Bruce, has about 15. For his 18th birthday we bought him a 1967 Split Screen VW Camper, which he has kept and restored – and it looks wonderful.’

Log book

Mabel, built in 1955, is the oldest MGA known to survive intact – one of the five pre-production cars kept by the Works and the only one of those five used for competition.

Well-loved vintage runabouts. From left: the Fiat 500, launched in 1957; the Porsche 356A, first produced in 1948Well-loved vintage runabouts. From left: the Fiat 500, launched in 1957; the Porsche 356A, first produced in 1948

Christine Anderson, Buckinghamshire


‘My mother bought Phoebe, as she is known, in 1969. When we went to the dealership for a test drive, the tall salesman requested that the roof be open – he could only fit in the car with his head sticking out of the top!

‘Phoebe became a well-known sight in my home town of Scarborough, first with my mother zooming around, then, a few years later, with me learning to drive in her. In 1979 my mother gave me the car, which made my journey to work a delight. But this clocked up the miles, which took their toll on Phoebe, so she was retired, ready to be restored.

‘Two children later, we went ahead with the restoration – and my mother was still with us to see the result. It’s hard to describe my love for Phoebe – she makes me feel close to my mother

Log book

The Fiat 500, named after its engine size, was launched as the Nuova (new) 500 in 1957. It was marketed as an economical four-seater town car. At only 3m long, it redefi ned what was thought of as a small car. It was produced until 1975, with an estate variant continuing until 1977.

Helen Goff, Leicestershire


I first spotted the 356A when my current Porsche was at the garage. I saw a familiar shape contoured by a dust sheet and removed it to reveal a 356 in a good but unloved condition – and with an Austrian police uniform in the rear of the car. I later discovered that when the Austrian police force found themselves being outpaced by criminals in faster cars, the powers that be took the opportunity to obtain four Porsche 356A convertibles.

‘I was put in touch with the owner of the car and after some tough negotiations, managed to buy it. I wanted to restore it to the same specifications as when it was in service. The 356A, now complete, has been on many journeys, including a trip back to Austria. I can’t help but imagine the rivalry between officers all those years ago when deciding who was going to drive the cars.’

Log book The 356 was the first production car produced by Porsche, in 1948. In the first two years of production, Porsche manufactured just 50 cars. In 1964, over 10,000 were ordered, and by the end of production in 1965, a total of 76,000 had been sold.

From left: The Renault 4, introduced in 1961; and the AMC Pacer, which hit the road in 1961From left: The Renault 4, introduced in 1961; and the AMC Pacer, which hit the road in 1961

Sandra Levet, Hertfordshire


‘While travelling in Morocco, I visited the mountains surrounding Marrakech. I was in a 4x4, but I noticed a steady stream of Renault 4s effortlessly making their way up the twisty roads and in some cases, overtaking us. When I returned home, I decided to look for a Renault 4 of my own and eventually found this one, which I named Brian. It’s not a car that screams for attention, but what he lacks in sleek curves, he makes up for in lovability and dependability.

‘I use the car daily, and I readily find myself considering what Brian is being exposed to. I try to avoid parking next to inconsiderate car owners who may dent my car when opening their doors, or driving on unkempt roads or in bad weather. Brian repays this consideration by rarely letting me down. When I bought Brian, I found a collection of tickets in the ashtray from places the previous owner had visited in the car – I’m hoping our outings will add to this collection over the coming years.’

Log book

The Renault 4 (also known as the 4L, pronounced Quatrelle) was introduced in 1961 as a rival to the Citroën 2CV. Over the 31 years of production (1961- 92), the size and shape of this classic French car have hardly varied at all.

Rebekah Hawthorn, Norfolk


The Pacer was bought for me by my husband. He has other classics, such as an AMC Gremlin and a Ford Country Squire. I love driving it, and judging by the numbers of loyal followers, I’m not the only one, as it’s now a cult classic.

‘We live near several American Air Force bases, and Jamie has befriended a few service personnel. Some have now relocated back to America and are his scouts, informing him of anything interesting they find. Who knows what else he will obtain in his collection.’

Log book

In an era of slab-sided automobiles, the Pacer was unlike anything else when it was launched in 1975 as ‘the first wide small car’. Another unique element was the lengthened passenger door to assist access, while the large glass area led it to be dubbed the Flying Fishbowl. After building 280,000 cars, Pacer production ended on 3 December 1979.

The Brooklands Double Twelve festival is on 16 and 17 June: 01932-857381,

All interviews, except Sue Chapman, taken from My Cool Classic Car by Chris Haddon (Pavilion, £14.99).

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