A 1953 Austin-Healy 100, once rallied by the only person to win an Olympic Games gold medal for motoring, is expected to fetch around $NZ250,000 when it goes up for auction in London.
The two-seater (above) is the 16th of 20 hand-built, pre-production Austin-Healey 100s, all with aluminium bodies and seats. It was rallied in the UK and Europe in the 1950s by famous British woman driver Betty Haig.
Haig, born in Britain in 1906, was an early pioneer for woman in motorsport and is perhaps best known for winning gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games – the first and only Olympic car rally event.
Then aged 30, Haig had been rallying for less than a year when she and her flatmate Barbara Marshall drove a Coventry-built 1.5-litre Singer Le Mans two-seater sports car in the 1936 Olympic Rally, a 3200km event through Europe to Berlin.
The signs of Hitler’s Nazi regime were everywhere. At a control point near Cologne, she recalled in a motoring magazine: “There, under the banners bearing swastikas and the Olympic rings, we presented our control book while steel-helmeted sentries presented arms.”
The rally was organised by the Nazi leader to showcase the might of the German automotive industry. Hitler and his cronies expected either a Mercedes-Benz or Auto-Union (later Audi) car would win and had an elaborate medal ceremony planned for the Olympic Stadium.
But when Haig and the Singer – the only British entry – finished first in a field of 125 cars, the Nazis hastily rescheduled the ceremony to the Avus race track, now part of a motorway in Berlin.
Haig recalled: “After many introductions and much heel-clicking, we were presented with a velvet case containing the only gold medal for the rally.”
Another reason for the sudden switch of venues, it was suggested later, was that Haig was the niece of World War I British military leader, Field Marshall Douglas Haig, who, after leading a flawed campaign at the battle of the Somme in 1916, oversaw advances on the Western Front which led to victory for the Allies over Germany in 1918.
Betty Haig died in 1987. The Singer Le Mans was later restored and shown at venues around London at last year’s Olympics.
The current owner had earlier written to British Olympic organisers, offering the car for an official display of Olympic sporting greats. He received a polite reply and a subsequent rejection from supremo Lord (Sebastian) Coe.
The owner wrote back: “It seems tragic that visitors to the Games will be deprived of seeing this iconic piece of Olympic and British motoring history.”
Conspiracy theorists say they know why: Germany’s BMW was the official car sponsor of the London Olympics.