Rallying’s Own Nazi-thwartung Olympic Heroine
|09/01/2012||Posted by under Carburetor Parts|
Bronzed athletes – preferably with golden hair – and Silver Arrows racing cars were cogs in the Nazi Party’s propaganda machine of the 1930S. Sporting prowess and technological advancement were props for military aggrandisement. Owens’s story – four gold medals, each cheered to the echo in a 110,000-seat ‘statement stadium that otherwise rang hollow – is fundamental: in breaking the tape, he shattered the Aryan myth. Haig’s is a footnote in comparison – but her Singer, the only British car in a field of 125, is an automotive Owens. One is a global icon, a hopeful symbol of good’s triumph over evil; the other drove an archetypal British two-seater sportscar.
One was the disadvantaged son of an Alabama sharecropper; the other was a privileged grandniece of Field Marshal Douglas Haig, commande of the British Expeditionary Force for much of the First World War. One was the epochal black sprinter/jumper James, aka Jesse, Cleveland Owens; the other was an adventurous woman, a spunky ‘gel’ forever pleading poverty, called Elizabeth Haig, aka Betty. Haig came late to rallying. She was 29 in early 1935 when she contested her first event; in truth, she viewed it as an opportunity to tour continental Europe and earn money in the process. A late mistake cost her any chance of the latter; but she had done well enough in her privateer Singer to persuade the Coventry-based company to place her on a semi-works basis, despite its financial difficulties. She rallied, sprinted and raced its neat, smoothly torquey six-cylinder litre Le Mans model with much success at club level.
The 1936 Olympic Rally, prestigious prelude to the Olympics, was of a much higher order. This zooo-rnile event in July attracted crews from allover Europe – plus three from America – who chose, Monte Carlo-like, from a variety of starting points. Haig’s event began somewhat unglamorously – lipsticked pout of determination notwithstanding from the RAC’s office in Birmingham. Her car, BLN 291, had been repaired and prepared by future star 500CC Formula 3 constructor/tuner/racer Reg Bicknell after its collision with a Viennese tram during that year’s Monte. Haig’s navigator Barbara Marshall was also her flatmate. Haig and Marshall headed south on the twisting cobbled roads beneath the forbidding castles overlooking the Rhine, pausing briefly! – to photograph the capacious newness of an autobahn en route, via Heidelberg and Stuttgart, to the vast Zeppelin sheds of Freidrichshafen on the shore of Lake Constance.
The final flat run to the Berlin finish was uneventful bar the necessary police presence to control the crowd at the Annaberg control in Saxony – but it did explode another Nazi myth: its vaunted autobahns were in short supply, whereas potholed, muddied, cobbled back roads were not. A few miles before Potsdam, the tired crew, unsure of their position in the rally and craving its finish, was stopped by Brown Shirts and handed a document that was verbose in several languages: these were the instructions for driving in Berlin during the Games. Haig had thus returned during an interregnum, when cutting costs was the priority. Not only was ‘her’ car’s return demanded, but there was nobody in a position – or willing, more likely – to benefit from her Olympic success. Singer had no propaganda machine.