8/25/09

The Queen of Speed

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Hellé Nice was a model, dancer, and a Grand Prix motor racing driver.



At the time, the Paris area was one of the principal centres of the French car industry and there were numerous competitions for auto enthusiasts. Hellé Nice loved the thrill of driving fast cars and as such she jumped at the opportunity to compete in a racing event at the annual fair organized by fellow performers from the Paris entertainment world.

An athletic woman, she was also an avid downhill skier but an accident on the slopes severely damaged her knee and ended her dancing career. Perhaps inspired by Charlotte Versigny who had competed in a Talbot racer in the 1927 Grand Prix de la Baule, Hellé Nice decided to try her hand at professional auto racing. In 1929, driving an Omega-Six, she won an all-female Grand Prix race at Autodrome de Montlhéry in the process setting a new world land speed record for women. Capitalizing on her fame, the following year she toured the United States, racing at a variety of tracks in an American-made Miller racing car.








A short time after returning from America, at a café on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, Philippe de Rothschild introduced himself. For a time, the two shared a bed and the love of automobile racing. Rothschild had been racing his Bugatti and he introduced her to Ettore Bugatti. The owner of the very successful car company thought Hellé Nice would be an ideal person to add to the male drivers of his line of racing vehicles. Having been outspoken in her desire to compete with the men, she achieved her goal and in 1931 and drove a Bugatti T35C in five major Grand Prix races in France as well as in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. A master of showmanship, Hellé Nice was easily recognizable in her bright-blue race car. She loved every minute of her life and exploited her femininity, portraying herself as a fearless competitor up against hard-driving men. She wowed the crowds wherever she raced while adding to her income with a string of product endorsements. Although she did not win a Grand Prix race, she was a legitimate competitor, and frequently finished ahead of some of the top male drivers .



Over the next several years, as the only female on the Grand Prix circuit, she continued to race Bugattis and Alfa Romeos against the greatest drivers of the day including Tazio Nuvolari, Robert Benoist, Rudolf Caracciola, Louis Chiron, Bernd Rosemeyer, Luigi Fagioli, and Jean-Pierre Wimille, amongst others. Like most race drivers, Hellé Nice competed not only in Grand Prix races but also took part in hill climbing events and road rallies all over Europe including the famous Monte Carlo Rally. On 10 September 1933, she was a competitor in one of the most tragic races in history. During the 1933 Italian Grand Prix at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, Giuseppe Campari, Baconin "Mario Umberto" Borzacchini and the Polish count Stanislas Czaikowski, three of the leading race drivers of the day, were killed.

images courtesy of : forum-auto.com