WOMEN RIDERS

Kitty May Brunell was one of a clutch of women motorsport riders in the 1920s-1930s.

Born in 1911, Kitty grew up surrounded by racing. Her father was Bill Brunell (officially William Joseph Brunell), a well-known photographer of motorsports. Her mother was Katie Margaret Meech. Brunell officially began rallying in 1928, she was only seventeen at the time, but it seems she stopped around 1933. Despite her period of activity being relatively short, it was significant in that she was the first woman to win the RAC Rally.

Bike and sidecar, with Kitty Brunell, trials rider at 20
Bike and sidecar, with Kitty Brunell, trials rider at 20

Photographs taken by her father in 1926, show Brunell acting as a mechanic by the age of fifteen. Her first recorded race was in 1928, being the Monte Carlo Rally. According to Motor Sport magazine this was not her first race, apparently she raced Singer Junior’s before the 1928 Monte Carlo run.

In 1928, she was only the second women to have competed in the Rally; the first was Lucy O’Reilly Schell, Lucy raced sports cars and rallied various vehicles. Brunell competed in a Talbot 14/45, based on new designs by George Roesch. These new breed of six-cylinder engine Talbot’s made for the basis of good competition cars — both for rallying and racing — but when Rootes Group took over the company in 1935 the Roesch era came to an end.

A 1929 14/45 was apparently part designed by Brunell. It seems that her father persuaded Clement Talbot to let her design a body for the 14/45 chassis which could be used in rallies, and also put into production as the Sportsman’s Coupe. A select version of the Coupe XV 9554 was specially built for Brunell at the Darracq factory in Acton. It was adapted to her needs for example, it had a sunshade to protect her hair from sun bleaching or rain!. Bill Brunell’s photographs show that Kitty used this Coupe many times.

Talbot were so impressed with Brunell’s driving and design skills that the Coupe was known as “Kitty II”. Her earlier owned two-door Weymann saloon was named “Kitty” (the name was inscribed on the driver’s door).

Blueprint of a modified Peugeot racing car, Georges Henry Roesch
Blueprint of a modified Peugeot racing car, Georges Henry Roesch

In 1929 and 1930 she raced again in the Monte Carlo Rally, in Talbot’s, placing second to Schell in 1929 but fourteenth in 1930 (Madame Dore took the Coupe des Dames in 1930). In 1931 she tried again at Monte Carlo, this time driving a Bianchi. The change of car did not lead to a positive change of fortunes and she is recorded as a non-finish. At this time she also owned a Delage but it is not clear if this was only for domestic use.

After this Brunell turned her attention to UK-based races. In 1932, she drove an MG F Magna in the Scottish Rally Large Car class. Unfortunately, she was disqualified for having her father in the car as a passenger. In the same year, she competed in a Crossley at the RAC Rally but did not win (the results of this race are unclear and it is not known where she placed). Evidently, 1932 was a busy year and there are photographs of unknown races showing her rallying a Ford Model A. It is also known that she competed in trials during 1932, notably the JCC Open. At the Open, Kitty drove a Triumph and won a Third Class award for her class. She also competed in the Brighton Speed Trials and drove a Rover in the 3000cc sports car class.

Lawson's motorcycle held by Kitty's mother in 1908
Lawson’s motorcycle held by Kitty’s mother in 1908

Yet the best was before her and in 1933 she became the first (and only) women to win the RAC Rally at Hastings. Her win took place in a four-seater AC Ace sports car. Other Ace’s finished the race, including one driven by another women driver, Mrs G Daniel who placed seventh. (The AC Ace was the forerunner to the AC Cobra.) In the same year Brunell also won the Concours d’Elegance. At the Scottish Rally she drove an Aston Martin, as part of the larger 1500cc and over class.

After such a successful year, Brunell’s name then drops from the racing lists. In 1937 she married fellow racer Kenneth Noel Joseph Anderson Hutchison in Marylebone. Hutchinson, who was known to be wealthy, owned a house once belonging to Sir Malcolm Campbell. The pair are buried together at Montecatini alto Cimetero. Kitty died in 1993 (Hutchinson was born in 1910 and died in 1986).

In the IMechE Archive we have a notebook by Talbot designer Roesch, it can be viewed online. The images of Kitty and her mother, are part of our historic photo collections.

Archives, Institution of Mechanical Engineering

 

 

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