Fay Taylour: Pioneering Irish Feminist, Winning Race Driver...and Nazi Supporter

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Mar 19, 2018

It’s got all the drama of a Hollywood thriller, but this story doesn’t have a happy ending. It involves a pioneering Irish woman whose exceptional talent was overshadowed by her objectional views; in addition to being a pioneering race car driver, she was also an ardent Nazi. She might have been a feminist icon, if it weren't for all the hatefulness.

A young Fay Taylour on a Douglas motorcycle.

Fay Taylour (yes, she spelled it that way) came from an upper-class military family in Ireland, and never lost her plummy way of speaking English. “Dash it!” was one of her favorite expressions. She was determined to succeed in a man’s world, and she did to a remarkable degree. As a race driver, she’d be as well known as Stirling Moss or Jim Clark if sexism wasn’t rampant in Britain before the war (and today, too, of course).

“Flying Fay” Taylour got her start in motorcycle racing, as many track stars did. She was driving cars on the country roads around County Offaly at age 12. She saved up her school prize money to buy a two-stroke Levis ‘cycle, and promptly used it to win the Novice Cup and Venus Trophy at a local 24-mile race. “When I got my first motorbike, I was told I should break my neck,” she wrote. “But I didn’t!...A woman can get what she wants, when her want is strong enough.”

Taylor had determination and spunk. Allowed to practice on the Crystal Palace track (after first being mistaken for a boy), she “slogged round that track until at last, following tumble after tumble, I’d taught myself to power slide, to keep the throttle open and stay on the machine. The night before racing I was going like an expert.”

The queen of the motorcycle speedway.

In the period between 1927 and 1930, she was known as the “Queen of the Dirt Track,” and was the first woman to race on a track in England. She campaigned ardently—in the papers and newsreels—for allowing women to be allowed to compete.

Soon she was winning match races against the men. This wouldn’t do, so Taylour was actually banned from many tracks. It wasn’t always because of her sex; In one case, she was stripped of her second-place win after continuing to lap the Brooklands track at race speeds after the checkered flag.

While on tour in Australia and New Zealand, Taylour learned that women had been shut out of all motorcycle racing in England, so she was relegated to trials.

Taylour had to forfeit a race in an Alfa like this one when she wouldn't stop going around the track--even after the checkered flag.

That got her into racing on four wheels, and in 1930 she scored a victory behind the wheel of a Chevrolet in the Calcutta to Ranchi run in India. That led to invitations to run at the English Brooklands track, though in all-female events. She achieved 108.74 mph in her first British race, albeit in an outfit of tweed skirt and leather motorcycle jacket (she didn’t like overalls).

Taylour’s best result was in the Leinster Trophy race near Dublin in 1934. Driving a German Adler, she beat Adrian Conan-Doyle (son of Arthur) in a Mercedes S-Type. That made her the first woman to triumph in an Irish car race. According to Mick Walsh in Classic & Sports Car, she later raced a Bugatti Type 35 and an Alfa Monza. She took on big events such as the Monte Carlo and RAC rallies.

Taylor loved leather, hated racing overalls.

Taylour’s face was on cigarette packages and in magazine ads. According to a portrait in the book Rendezvous at the Russian Tea Rooms, Taylour was “dark eyed and plump-cheeked. She had a sinewy physique and short auburn hair, invariably concealed beneath a hat. Guided by looks alone, one would never have believed that she was a famous motor racing driver and speedway rider who had broken the lap speed record in front of 30,000 people at Wembley Stadium.”

But this motor racing star’s undoing was right around the corner. She had visited Germany many times, including to visit the Adler factory that gave her a drive. She was soon entranced with National Socialism, though it’s hard to see how she reconciled her budding feminism with its bias for male dominance. According to Rendezvous, “she got to know several Nazi officials, and made a broadcast from the same Berlin propaganda station as William Joyce [the infamous traitor known as Lord Haw-Haw].”

And that wasn’t all of it. Back in England, Taylour made no secret of her sympathy for Hitler and blasted a German radio station at all hours, to the annoyance of her neighbors. The same stubbornness that served her well on the track caused her to intensify her leafleting and speaking out for Hitler after being visited by the Special Branch of the Metropolitan Police in 1939. Asked if she was a member of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists (BUF), she said no, but joined the next day. She also joined the infamous Right Club.

Unity Mitford and Hitler. They met something like 140 times, and she described a lunch together as the best day of her life.

Other BUF members and friends of Mosley included the poet Ezra Pound (who broadcast anti-Semitic diatribes from Italy during the war) and both Unity and Diana Mitford (privileged sisters of Jessica, the left-leaning author of The American Way of Death). Unity attempted suicide on the day England declared war on Germany in 1939. She described the lunch she had with Hitler in 1935 as “the most wonderful and beautiful day of my life.” American fellow travelers included Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh.

Taylour was equally ardent, and she was finally arrested on May 30, 1940 and imprisoned at Port Erin on the Isle of Man. She blamed a “communist frame-up.” According to her secret police file, she was “...one of the worst pro-Nazis in Port Erin...she is in the habit of hoarding pictures of Hitler and had in her possession a hymn in which his name was substituted for God’s.” She wrote letters openly hoping that the Germans would invade Britain and free her from jail.

In the end, Taylour served three years, and in 1943 was deported to Ireland, where she remained vociferously pro-Hitler. The evidence that emerged from the concentration camps didn’t change her mind.

Taylor won in U.S. midget races, and even on the stock car tracks.

People reinvent themselves in the U.S., and that’s what Taylour did in 1949. She emigrated to California, and became a successful midget racer and sports car saleswoman on the Sunset Strip, selling a Jaguar to Clark Gable and working alongside Pat Aherne (brother of actor Brian). Again, her winning ways subjected her to female track bans. Taylour appeared on the What’s My Line TV show, and there was even talk of a film biography of Taylour starring Rosalind Russell.

Given her record, it’s surprising she was allowed in the U.S. at all, but immigration authorities finally figured out who she was in 1952, and barred her re-entry after a visit back to London. Still, she was back in 1955, and won some more—even in some stock car events—before giving up racing in 1956.

Taylour was in the U.S. until 1971, then retired to Dorset and started writing her autobiography—which she never finished and which no one wanted to publish. She died in 1983. A biography, Brian Belton’s Fay Taylour Queen of Speedway, devotes only a paragraph to her deplorable political activity. A more rounded treatment is Stephen Michael Cullin’s Fanatical Fay Taylour: Her Sporting and Political Life at Speed, 1904-1983. You can read the full text here.

Here's some great footage of Taylour on the track, and you even get to hear her voice at the end:

 


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