RALLY’S PIONEERING LADY TO OPEN PAISLEY’S MONTE CARLO RALLY.
One of the most famous drivers in the world and a pioneer for female achievement will lead the cars off for the Monte Carlo Classic Rally from Paisley on January 23rd.
Rosemary Smith, a tall, blond Dublin dress-maker, rose to international prominence in 1965 when she defeated her male counterparts to win the famous Tulip Rally.
She become only the second fully contracted international lady rally driver of her time, alongside Pat Moss, sister of Formula One legend, Stirling Moss.
Throughout her career Smith recorded major wins, taking on male counterparts while refusing to eschew the painted nails and false eye-lashes that marked her femininity.
Now the Dubliner is set to return to Scotland, at the age of 76, to drive the lead car at the 2014 Monte Carlo Classic Rally in Paisley- an event which kick-started her professional rallying career.
After the 1962 start from Blythswood Square in Glasgow, Smith was approached to take a paid works drive with Rootes, the group which manufactured the famous Hillman Imp at Linwood.
She is looking forward to revisiting that defining start, as she leads the classic cars on their epic 2688km odyssey to the French Riviera from Paisley Abbey.
“I competed in the rally about 8 times, three times from Glasgow. It’s great to be coming back,” said the driver, recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award in Dublin last month.
“It was after my first Monte from Scotland that I was approached by Rootes.
“We had skidded and slid all the way from Glasgow to the finish. I was a total greenhorn. I knew rallying, but not in the snow and ice of the Alps.
“In fact, I was ready to give up for good when the approach was made and I originally said, no.
“My mother later wrote a letter to say I’d a change of heart and that was the start.” When Smith won her first international rally outright, with English female co-driver Val Domleo in a Hillman Imp, she was sent flowers by Elizabeth Taylor and Roger Burton.
A telegram arrived from the Irish Prime Minister and the media swarmed the airport to speak to the glamorous lady who had succeeded in a male-dominated sport.
For her special lead role on January 23rd, Monte Carlo Classic Rally organisers are fittingly preparing a Hillman Imp for her to lead the cars over the start ramp in Renfrewshire.
“I didn’t think a lady defeating the men would be of any great interest to anyone but the reaction was quite astonishing,” she recalls.
“People asked me questions like, ‘why do you paint your nails if you’re a rally driver? Why stick the false eye-lashes on? But it was because I wanted to be me. I didn’t want to be a man.”
Smith famously won the Coup de Dames at the 1966 Monte Carlo Rally but was later controversially disqualified, along with 9 others, for a headlight infringement.
Monte Carlo Classic Rally Organiser, Douglas Anderson, said: “It is a real privilege to have Rosemary come over from Ireland to start this year’s event from Paisley.
“She has such a strong connection with the Monte and, of course, the Hillman Imp, which was manufactured at Linwood close by. She tells me she has photographs of herself at the Linwood factory and I look forward to hearing some of her stories. She is a remarkable individual.”
Renfrewshire Council Leader Mark Macmillan said: “We are sure the event will be a fantastic spectacle for residents and visitors alike.
“Rosemary’s fascinating story really showcases the rich history of this great event, and its close links to Renfrewshire’s proud car-manufacturing heritage – and we look forward to celebrating that later this month.”