Dorothy Levitt

(born Dorothy Elizabeth Levi c. 1882 or 1883, died 18 May 1922) 

 

Date Location Driver Driver Country Vehicle Power Speed over
1 Km
Speed over
1 Mile
Comments
07/1905 Brighton Speed Trials Dorothy Levitt England Napier 80hp   79.75mph  
1906 Blackpool Dorothy Levitt England Napier K5 100hp 146.25 km/h 90.88mph
(146.26 km/h)
 

Dorothy Elizabeth Levitt was a motorina, sporting motoriste and scorcher. Levitt was a renowned pioneer of female independence, female motoring, motor racing, the most successful female competitor in Great Britain, victorious speedboat driver, holder of the water speed record, and holder of the Ladies World Land speed record. She was described as the first English woman ever to compete in a motor race, albeit that the French woman Camille du Gast had raced from Paris to Berlin two years earlier. She held speed records on land and sea and was described as The Fastest Girl on Earth. In her book The Woman and the Car: A chatty little handbook for all women who motor or who want to motor she suggested women "carry a little hand-mirror in a convenient place when driving" so they may "hold the mirror aloft from time to time in order to see behind while driving in traffic", thus inventing the rear view mirror before it was introduced by manufacturers in 1914. 

In July 1905 Dorothy Levitt set her first Ladies World Speed record when competing at the inaugural Brighton Speed Trials, in which she drove an 80 hp Napier at a speed of 79.75 miles per hour. She won her class, the Brighton Sweepstakes and the Autocar Challenge Trophy. Her diary records that she "Beat a great many professional drivers .... Drove at rate of 77.75 miles in Daily Mail Cup."

In 1906 Dorothy Levitt broke the women's world speed record for the flying kilometer, recording a speed of 91 mph (146.25 km/h) and receiving the sobriquet the "Fastest Girl on Earth". She drove a six-cylinder Napier motorcar, a 100 hp (74.6 kW) development of the K5, in a speed trial in Blackpool.

1903 – Set first water speed record
1903 – First English woman to compete in a 'motor race'.
1903 – First woman to win a motor-race
1905 – Record for the longest drive achieved by a lady driver from London to Liverpool and back.
1905 – Set her first Ladies World Speed record at the Brighton Speed Trials
1906 – Set her second Ladies World Land Speed record at Blackpool Speed trials
International motor-boat racer

 
Photo of Dorothy Levitt from frontispiece of the book The Woman and The Car, 1907.
 
Brroklands

She burst onto the motor scene in 1903, winning her class at the Southport Speed Trials driving a 12 Hp Gladiator. In 1904 she raced an officially entered De Dion car in the Hereford 1,000-mile, but mechanical problems on the final day (which she repaired herself) prevented her winning a gold medal. In 1905, she won the inaugural British International Harmworth Trophy for speedboats at Cork, Ireland, achieving 19.3 mph.

In the same year, Ms Levitt established a new record for the 'longest drive achieved by a lady driver' - 205 miles - by driving from the De Dion showroom in Great Marlborough Street, London, to the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool in 11 hours, and completing the round trip in 2 days. She travelled without the aid of a mechanic , but with an official observer, her pet dog Dodo, and her trusty revolver. This was without the aid of a road map, road signs or petrol stations, none of which had not yet been invented - petrol was obtained from hardware stores and chemists. She rounded the year off by winning both her class and the Autocar Challenge Trophy at the annual speed trials in Brighton.

The following year of 1906 saw Ms Levitt break the women's world speed record by reaching a speed of 96 mph, followed by 91 miles per hour in a speed trial in Blackpool. She also set the Ladies' Record at the Shelshey Walsh Speed Hill Climb in a 50hp Napier (7790 cc), making the climb in 92.4 seconds, 12 seconds faster than the male winner and three minutes faster than the previous women's record. Her record stood until 1913. She was now the 'fastest girl on Earth'.

Forbidden from the new Brooklands circuit in Weybridge, (which rejected women drivers until 1908), in 1907 Ms Levitt won her class in the Gaillon Hillclimb in France, driving a 40HP 6 cyl Napier. In 1908, she won a silver plaque in the Prinz Heinrich Trophy at the Herkomer Trophy Trial in Germany, was second fastest of over 50 competitors at the Aston Clinton Hill Climb in Buckinghamshire, and completed the La Cote du Calvaire hill climb at Trouville in France.

Not content with her achievements as a racing driver, she enrolled to qualify as a pilot at the Hubert Latham School of Aviation in France.

An author and journalist as well, her book The Woman and the Car: A Chatty Little Hand Book for Women Who Motor or Want to Motorwas published in 1909 to great acclaim, and she published upon motoring for the Graphic illustrated newspaper. In true pioneering style, she recommended that women use a hand-mirror to see traffic behind her - the rear-view mirror was not invented until 1914!

Women followed in her wheels, including her close friend Barbara Cartland. She deserves to be remembered, not just as a pioneering female driver, but as one of the greatest early racing drivers regardless.

 

 

 

Dorothy Levitt drives Warwick Wright's Minerva in the 1907 South Harting hill climb.
Dorothy Levitt was a pioneer motorist both on the road and the sea. In 1903, in the inaugural Harmsworth Trophy, she piloted the winning launch, much to the surprise of other competitors.