What you might not know is that Daphne Arnott is believed to be motorsport’s only female driver-constructor, team manager, and talent-spotter.
Daphne Arnott was born to a motorsport-obsessed family in 1926. As a child, she spent many family days out at Brooklands, where the smell of petrol and roar of engines got under her skin.
Encouraged by her family to pursue a career in engineering, Arnott was a competent mechanic by her early teens, and began her working life at the Hawker Aircraft Company during the Second World War.
Daphne Arnott was first inspired to design a racecar during the 1951 500cc season. Watching races at Brands Hatch, she noticed that motorsport was dominated by two marques. “It seemed to me there was room for another,” she told Iota, the magazine of the 500 Club, and so she set about designing a challenger.
Arnott worked with George Thornton, manager of the family business, to design what would become the first in a string of nine cars. The first machine, built in four months, was a 500cc Formula 3 car with a tubular chassis and torsion suspension. In the same Iota interview, Arnott said “George Thornton and I made the prototype for fun. One day at Brands Hatch Bob Brown of Bromley saw the car and fell in love with it. He drove the car to win its first race, and then, encouraged by his enthusiasm we decided to manufacture some more.”
In 1951, Daphne Arnott and George Thornton set up a separate business for their manufacturing efforts, and the Arnott marque was born. Other cars built by Arnott in its seven years as a constructor included a supercharged Austin A30-powered sportscar, a streamliner for record-breaking attempts, and a GT car, although a variety of other cars were also made.
While Arnott did not blow away the field in races, they did manage to break nine International Class I records at Montlhery in October 1953. John Brise, father of Formula 1 driver Tony Brise, piloted the 500cc streamliner – based on the standard 500cc chassis but with beautifully sculpted bodywork – to a fastest lap of 122mph, and set new records for 50km, 50 miles, 100km, 100 miles, 200km, 200 miles, 500km, 1 hour, and 3 hours.
In 1955, Daphne Arnott took an eight-person team to the ill-fated 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race. Their 1,100cc Coventry-Climax powered car suffered an accident in practice, and so the team did not start the race. Only two of the eight drivers had completed any running at the time of the accident, and Arnott was not one of them.
Arnott was more slightly successful at the 1957 Le Mans event, when the team ran a Cooper-Climax powered version of their GT car – the team did not finish the race, thanks to a dropped valve, but they were able to start it. It would be Arnott’s last attempt at the legendary endurance event, and the failure led to the end of the marque.
Kate Walker is F1 Editor of girlracer and Assistant Editor of GP Week. Follow her on Twitter @F1Kate, or read more of her writing at www.f1katewalker.com.