Since a car theme has influenced every post this week I thought I would leave you with the story of an unusual race car driver. Not necessarily the fastest, or the most famous but my racing hero, Granny Conway.
In 1950’s Australia the roads between major cities were pretty bad, made up of dirt tracks with stretches of bitumen few and far between. Driving your car around the country was an epic feat that few had ever really tried.In 1953 the first of three races called the Redex Reliability Trials were held. These trials ran through 6,500 miles of Australian countryside over the course of two weeks.
Such an event attracted a huge amount of interest and the best drivers in the country. 192 drivers entered in the first year including Jack Brabham (now Sir Jack Brabham) and my hero, Mrs. Winifred Conway.
The cars used in the race were just normal production cars and were only permitted to have minimal changes, things like extra fuel tanks and the addition of seatbelts and other non-standard safety equipment.
Mrs. Conway thought ‘it would be nice to go around in company’ and entered herself, a team of two others, and the Austin A40 she usually drove to tennis in the race. She was 63 and although she wasn’t the only female entered in this race, she was certainly the oldest.
Before she left she went to an Austin dealership and asked for a bit of help with sponsorship and suchlike. There was no way they were going to help a little old lady trash their reputation so the answer was a resounding NO!
It was a pity they didn’t have a little more faith in her.
There were crashes, cars got bogged or broke down, and with the reputations of some of the other racers, floods of testosterone would have been another risk for the female entrants.
Over the period of the race she began to be known as Granny Conway and her fame grew the longer the race went on. She didn’t win, but she did finish the race when the terrible conditions ensured many others didn’t.
People, mostly women, waited for hours along the route in the hopes of meeting her. By the time she arrived back in Sydney she was a star and in demand for radio interviews and appearances.
She enjoyed the sudden attention and said that she enjoyed the experience so much that she would do the race all over agin.
If you are interested in her story I found a long article about her that details some of her life and other travelling adventures in America and Canada by road and rail. She sounds like quite a woman.
Wide Open Road- The Story of Cars in Australia was a brilliant three-part series done by the Australian ABC and has some fantastic black and white footage of the Redex Trials. Sadly I couldn’t find a clip of that part on the internets so here is a link to the introduction to episode one. Wide Open Road – Episode 1 – YouTube
In three minutes it gives a surprisingly concise description of how the car has affected the way we Aussies are, and has some great old car footage.