Mercedes-Benz-Blog TRIVIA: Women and the car: A success story from the very start - PART III


Stuttgart, Germany, Dec 05, 2008

Women and motorsports

* In the 1920s Ernes Merck offered serious competition for Rudolf Caracciola

* Clärenore Stinnes undertook the first circumnavigation of the globe by car in 1927

* Underrepresented in Formula One

Today, too, there are women who drive fast cars on racetracks: "Susie Stoddart and Katherine Legge are two successful British women in motorsports who start for Mercedes-Benz and Audi in the DTM," the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported in March 2008. "Only Formula One remains a last bastion." Fashion designer Jette Joop also criticised this state of affairs: "Women are very good at assessing their own potential and that of others. I would hope to see women drivers in Formula One," said Joop. "The fact that there are no women there probably has more to do with our patriarchal society and less with driving skills. In a sport where women appear as pit babes and let themselves be sprayed with champagne, it's more about arrogant fantasies than driving skill."

Both comments, of course, describe only the current state of affairs. In the 1920s, for instance, Elisabeth Junek from Prague achieved great success in motorsport's elite discipline; and in the 1950s so, too, did the Italian Maria Teresa de Filippis.
And there were outstanding performances, too, in other classes. In the 1960s, for example, Ewy Rosqvist drove for Mercedes-Benz achieving great success in international rallies and road races. And from 1991 to 1996 Ellen Lohr regularly raced for Mercedes-Benz in the DTM and ITC Touring Car Championship of the day. After that, she took part in various truck racing series and rallies driving Mercedes-Benz vehicles.

But competitiveness, guts and an absolute desire for victory – i.e. all the ingredients of competitive sport – were not thought of as suitable attributes for women in the early days of the automobile; instead, they were represented as feminine in a highly stylised way. Even women cyclists learned that from experience in the first official lady's race staged at Berlin Halensee in Germany in 1893: "We neither wanted to present our charms to the spectators, … nor did we want to make money out of the prizes. What we wanted was to show the public that we were the masters of our machines and call out to women: Look at us! Do as we do! We have succeeded at being both," recalled Amelie Rother, one of the campaigners of the day.
On the other hand, sporty women drivers – successors to the first long-distance driver Bertha Benz – existed right from the outset. Indeed some of these caused minor sensations. The English baroness Campbell von Laurentz, for instance, rattled though Britain and France in her car in 1905, covering several hundred kilometres a day. As the first woman writer on the subject of cars, she described her adventures in My Motor Milestones. And she would also have liked to indulge her urge for mobility not only on land, but in the air too. "In February 1909, encrusted with snow, the baroness roared through France in an open-topped car without windscreen, chauffeur at her side, maid in the back (“coughing horribly”). In Pau she attempted to take to the air with aviation pioneers Wilbur and Orville Wright. But they refused."

The sporty woman even made a practical incidental invention. Around 1910 it is said she devised suitable luggage for longer journeys: a leather suitcase big enough for two which could be strapped to the rear of the car by means of a leather belt.
As early as 1907, an Italian couple set off as racing team on a special long-distance journey: Princess Anna Maria Borghese and her husband took part in a rally from Paris to Beijing – and overcame incredible hardship to win the race.

But the image of fast ladies took some time to get used to: "Women racing drivers dressed in overalls – perhaps even smoking a cigar – were considered nothing short of scandalous by many at the time," we read on the "Klausen race page" of the Neue Züricher Zeitung. "No decent woman behaves like that. And yet these women usually came from wealthy or noble families; they were the only ones who could afford this sport and pursued it for pleasure and a love of adventure. Princess Hohenlohe, for example, who drove a Bugatti in the 1924 and 1925 Klausen races. Or Elisabeth Junek, wife of a bank director."

Like many of the women involved in motorsports at the time, Ernes Merck, daughter of a rich Darmstadt industrialist's family, came to racing through her husband or father. And the ladies even competed against them in some cases: In 1927, Ernes Merck was faster than her husband in the Klausen hillclimb. And Ms. Minartz from Nuremberg competed against her own father in 1930. While he came in fifth, clocking a time of 23 minutes and 48 seconds in a Ford, she drove her Stoewer to finish in ninth place in 27 minutes and 48 seconds.

Elisabeth Junek of Prague, who won her first sports car race at the age of 24 and was soon battling on the racetrack against her bank director husband, is regarded as the most successful woman Grand Prix driver. In the 1927 German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring she won the three-litre sports car class driving a Bugatti. After her 34-year-old husband suffered a fatal accident on the same course the following year, she never took part again in motorsport competition.

So whereas sporty women drivers are actually as old as the car itself, there is also a relatively new "species" in racing. The early 1960s saw the advent of a group of ladies who subsequently came to be known disparagingly as F1 babes or pit girls – those famous for touting their anatomical charms around the world’s pit lanes. The first lady to skilfully market her curves in this way was "Miss Queen of Speed at Atlanta International Raceway", Linda Faye Vaughn, who with the help of American car tuner George Hurst and his Hot Rod magazine became number-one cover girl of the racing scene.

First journey around the world in a car

The Adlerwerke in Frankfurt am Main was the starting point for an exceptional pioneering feat on 25 May 1927: Clärenore Stinnes set out to become the first person to circumnavigate the globe in a car. With her future husband, photographer Carl-Axel Söderström, a support vehicle and two technicians, she started out in a brand-new production Adler Standard 6.

At that time the 26-year-old daughter of industrialist Hugo Stinnes was considered Europe's most successful female racing driver. She competed in her first race at the age of 24 and by 1927 had chalked up an impressive 17 racing victories. This woman, who in her own words "was never free of the desire for adventure" from as far back as she could remember, continued heading east so as to circumnavigate the globe and discover it from her own personal experience.

"I had an urge to explore the great unknown. One feels closer to it in the endless steppes, snow-drifted primeval forests and sublime solitude of the mountains," Clärenore Stinnes wrote in her book, Im Auto durch zwei Welten. And that, "despite the efforts of my mother to instill in me a love of womanly work." And despite a social environment that presumably thought a woman incapable of such a hazardous enterprise. "She wears trousers, is small and sweet, looks like a student, chain-smokes and likes nothing better than to laugh and laugh," a journalist wrote about the car-crazy woman.

Her route took her first to Teheran via Damascus, then north towards Moscow, and from there through Russia to the east, across Siberia and the Gobi Desert to Beijing. From the Asian continent she booked ship passages to Japan and Hawaii, then travelled through Central and South America all the way to Buenos Aires, and then back to Vancouver. Having crossed North America to New York City, she went by steamship to Le Havre and then via Paris and the Rhine to Berlin.

As transfer kilometres not covered by car did not count to the overall total, the rules stated that the milometer had to show a final mileage equivalent to at least the earth's circumference. This explained Clärenore Stinnes’ circuitous route. At noon on 24 June 1929, after an absence of two years and one month, the team drove the laurel-decorated cars across the finish at the Avus in Berlin. Including the obligatory lap of honour, the Adler Standard had completed a total of 46,758 kilometres.

The only special feature of the Adler Standard was that it was not in the least special. The only extra it had compared with other production models were the reclining seats fitted for the pioneering achievement.

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