In the annals of motorsports, Gwenda Stewart-Hawkes stands as an enduring symbol of resilience, determination, and a pioneering spirit that shattered gender barriers in the male-dominated world of racing. Born as Gwenda Glubb in 1884 in Preston, Lancashire, England, her remarkable journey encompassed the crucible of World War I, motorcycle speed records, and groundbreaking achievements in automobiles. This blog pays tribute to the Brooklands Speed Queen and her indelible legacy, highlighting her contributions to racing history and the significance of the 1933 Derby V8 now displayed at the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum.
Gwenda Stewart-Hawkes' The Early Years:
Gwenda Stewart-Hawkes' journey began with a display of courage during World War I, where she served as an ambulance driver on the Russian and Balkan fronts. Her wartime service earned her the Crosses of St. George and St. Stanislaus, setting the stage for a post-war career that would redefine the landscape of motorsports.
In 1921, Gwenda made her mark at Brooklands, attempting a motorcycle speed record on an American machine called a Ner-a-car. This marked the beginning of her foray into racing, challenging the status quo in a male-dominated arena. Against all odds, she not only set a new 1,000-mile record but showcased her tenacity and skill, foreshadowing a groundbreaking career.
Transition to Automobiles:
From motorcycles to three-wheeled Morgans and eventually to cars, Gwenda's passion for speed records remained unyielding. Settling in France in 1924, she shattered records with a Rudge 350 motorcycle and a Morgan Super Aero three-wheeler, achieving an astounding 118 mi/h at Arpajon and establishing the all-time three-wheeler record.
Her personal life intertwined with her racing career through three marriages, with the pivotal connection coming with her third husband, Douglas G. Hawkes. In the early 1930s, the duo transitioned to automobiles, forming a formidable partnership that led to the creation of the American Miller single-seater, later known as the Derby-Miller.
Brooklands Speed Queen:
Gwenda Stewart-Hawkes had a famous head-to-head with another very fast lady, Kay Petre, for the title of ‘Brooklands Speed Queen’. Brooklands had arranged for the challenge to take place, resulting in immense publicity. Gwenda, driving a powerful 1.6-litre supercharged Derby-Miller, faced Kay in the huge Delage. The race was initially planned as a two-hander, but safety concerns led to individual runs.
Kay won the crown initially, both receiving their 130mph Brooklands badges. However, Gwenda reclaimed the title the next day, reaching a staggering 135.95mph.
The 1933 Derby V8:
The 1933 Derby V8, is a testament to Gwenda's racing legacy. Produced in limited numbers, this Derby had a roadster body called “Montlhery” and was driven by Gwenda Stewart in the 1934 Monte Carlo Rally. Gwenda's connection with the 1933 Derby V8 extends beyond racing; she did her own maintenance on the vehicle, showcasing her hands-on approach to the machines she piloted.
Legacy and Commemoration:
Gwenda Stewart-Hawkes' life and racing career were characterized by a relentless pursuit of excellence, breaking records, and challenging societal norms. Her impact on motorsports, especially during a time when women faced significant hurdles in the field, is a testament to her indomitable spirit. As we admire the 1933 Derby V8 at the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum, let us celebrate the legacy of Gwenda Stewart-Hawkes, a true icon in the world of racing.
"A Lady in a Man's Game" - Sports Illustrated, Sherry Keen, October 20, 1958 Link: Sports Illustrated - A Lady In A Man's Game
"Fast Ladies: Female Racing Drivers 1888 to 1970" by Jean François Bouzanquet, Chapter 3 - "Gwenda Stewart-Hawkes, the thrice-married racing driver", Veloce Publishing Ltd, 2009, ISBN 1845842251.
Speedqueens Blog - "Gwenda Stewart" Link: Speedqueens - Gwenda Stewart
Sportscars.tv - "Gwenda Hawkes" Link: Sportscars.tv - Gwenda Hawkes
Morgan - The Races and the Records Link: Morgan - Records
Unique Cars and Parts - "Race Drivers: Gwenda Hawkes" Link: Unique Cars and Parts - Gwenda Hawkes
Brooklands Members. (July/August 2020). "The Darling of Brooklands Part 2." Brookland Bulletin, Issue 64. Retrieved from link.