July 2021.- If nowadays is not common to see women participating of motorsports, back in 1930, despite of multiple prohibitions at the time, it wasn't that strange. In 1935, a group of women baptized by the press as “The Dancing Daughters”, left a mark when they entered the 24 hours of Le Mans, the legendary resistance competition, driving an MG PA.
Six were the names that made history: Barbara Skinner and Doreen Evans (car #55); Joan Richmond and Barbara Simpson (car #56); and Margaret Allen with Colleen Eaton (car #57). The three pair of drivers raced with the assistance of Morris Garages legend, the pilot George Eyston. And not only did they finish all 24 hours of continuous driving, but the only mechanical change they did was the replacement of a light bulb.
Led by Eyston, a war veteran of WWI and a racing and speed records star, the “Dancing Daughters” female talent came from women that had different types of race records, such as rallies or automobile club events that organized women-only competitions.
Using a race's marketing wasn't strange at all to promote a new model and what better way to catch attention than to do so with an all-female team. In this case, MG was trying to bring attention to its P-line models. Something that the women pilot group were able to do more than fine, showing that MG PA Midgets could work at all speed even in some of the most difficult tasks.
All three vehicles were prepared for the race at Abingdon's MG plant in Oxfordshire, where they were equipped with a fender, a light aluminum hood, and aerodynamic roof for the driver. Bars were placed to protect the lights and radiator from rocks; a second fuel pump was installed, while room was made to carry wheels and spare tires. When it comes to the engine, an 847-cc propeller was designed and equipped with valves, improved springs, and a light steering wheel, among other features. It took 205 hours to have each car ready.
But to race the entire 24 hours of Le Mans, not only a reliable car was needed, but also coordination between teams and great resistance for the toughest moments. Especially in a time where technology was not as current and to get to the finish line it took a lot of talent and instinct. Connoisseurs say that the night part of the race was particularly dangerous at the time since the headlights illuminated less than a smartphone's flashlight.
As a matter of fact, of all 58 cars that participated in the race, only 28 crossed the finish line. Among them, all three MG. Although they didn't have the speed of other teams, they had the car's reliability and behind-the-wheel skills of the women that drove them for 2,000 kilometers.
Leaving a mark
Of the "Dancing Daughters" team, Margaret Allen and Doreen Evans continued their careers in different categories until WWII began and racing was temporarily suspended in Europe. During the war, Margaret worked as an ambulance driver and later at the intelligence center in Bletchley Park. After the conflict, she became a journalist and from 1948 to 1957 she was the vehicle's correspondent for Vogue magazine.
Doreen grew up in a family of car competition enthusiasts. Her two brothers used to race, and her parents were members of Brooklands racetrack so by the time she was 17 she was already racing and winning several prizes. One year after Le Mans she decided to retire from motor sports. Due to an accident in which she had to jump out of her burning car, while the other vehicle she had for competing was crashed by her boyfriend. Once she was married, she moved to the United States and got her license, but only this time: to pilot airplanes.
Barbara Skinner also grew up near cars, since her father owned a carburetors company. Even though she was a natural behind the wheel, she wasn't allowed to race until 1928 since the British Automobile Racing Club would not let women participate. After this date, she signed up for as many competitions as she could, Le Mans being one of the most important. Unfortunately, Barbara would pass away in a traffic accident in 1942.
Joan Richmond was an Australian race and rally driver that began her career in 1926. In 1932, she debuted in European rallies competing in Monte Carlo and then she kept participating in several events successfully. After Le Mans, she continued competing at least until 1939. Like many women from the time, Joan worked manufacturing airplanes and once peace was achieved, she stopped racing and went back to Australia where she died in 1999.
“To know these types of stories, with women racing in a time where they were supposed to fulfill more traditional roles, fills us with inspiration to continue developing vehicles. So that both women and men feel they can accomplish their dreams, perhaps not in a race, but in other projects like travelling, electromobility, or even a business venture.” comments Isidora García, PR of SAIC Motor, owner and manufacturer of MG Motor.