Eileen Ellison became interested in racing in the late 1920s. Her main racing achievement came in 1932 when she won the Duchess of York's race for women drivers at Brooklands. Eileen married Squadron Leader Brian Lane in 1940 but he was killed in action in 1942.
The daughter of Sidney and Theresa Ellison, Eileen Mary Ellison was born in Great Shelford, Cambridgeshire, England. By all accounts she was a lovely person with a loveable personality and though she did not have any great racing ambitions other than to have fun, she had the financial means, and fair degree of apptitude, to induldge in the sport.
Eileen had a sister, Diana, and a brother, Tony, and it was through his interest in motorsport that Eileen first became interested in the late 1920s.
She became good friends with T. P. Cholmondeley Tapper or 'Tapps' as she and her brother called him, and Eileen soon began racing herself. She was frequently noted as the entrant when Cholmondeley Tapper raced, chiefly because she owned most of the cars that he drove. Her brother was invariably the mechanic.
Her main racing achievement came in 1932 when she won the Duchess of York's race for women drivers at Brooklands in her white Type 37 Bugatti, beating Elsie Wisdom, Fay Taylor and Kay Petre. Kay Petre, arguably the most famous female racing driver at that time, was second, just 5 yards behind. In the August Senior Handicap Meeting that year she drove the Bugatti, sharing the driving with Cholmondeley Tapper, they finished third.
With her brother and Cholmondeley Tapper, Eileen travelled through Europe to racing venues. Cholmondeley Tapper wrote a book entitled Amateur Racing Driver about his exploits but Eileen hardly gets a mention which on the face of it seems a trifle unfair given her funding of his racing.
Sammy Davis wrote about Eileen in his book Atalanta - Women as Racing Drivers:
Then there was Eileen Ellison who did so well at Brooklands and was so silent that many thought her to be an Austrian with a certain diffidence in talking English. As a matter of fact Eileen is entirely British and her remarkable silence at Brooklands was due largely to a preference for watching carefully what other people were doing without comment. That she could drive as fast as anyone car for car is shown by her remarkable record in the long difficult hill-climbs on the Continent in which her handling of a Bugatti is talked about with bated breath still by those drivers who were present, by her excellent performance in the Limerick race when she was dropped of a place only by trouble in the final stages through no fault of her own. And at Brooklands in 1932 during a meeting attended by the Duke and Duchess of York she won the Duchess of York's race for women drivers by a matter of yards with her famous Bugatti.
Just to give an idea of what she could do apart from the Duchess of York's race, she was third after a hectic run on a very wet road up the famous Klausen hill-climb with a 1500cc racing Bugatti against stiff opposition, was fourth in the Albi Grand Prix until two laps from the end when a fuel pipe broke, finished three yards behind the winner, Esson Scott, in the Brooklands Cobham Junior Short handicap, was fourth in the 1500cc racing class in the Grossglockner hill-climb, was put out of the South African Grand Prixd by fuel feed trouble, and had engine trouble after a fine run in the Nancy Grand Prix apart from two amusing runs in the British rally once with her pet Bugatti, another time with a Lagonda. Bugatti and Maserati were her chief mounts in races, hill-climbs and speed trails.
Accompanied by her brother and a friend, who was also a racing driver, she travelled far and wide for meetings, hill-climbs and races with the Bugatti in tow behind another car of the same make loaded with camping and cooking gear as requisite so that the 'Equipe" were self-supporting and freed from such things as hotels.
That sense of fun has survived and no one seems happier than Eileen whether driving a Morris Minor, once supercharged, with great verve, or a kilometre long American car, in and around that marvellously beautiful country near Cape Town (South Africa), enjoying the sunlight and colour on the very doorstep a villa Riviera millionaires would envy, swimming in the Indian Ocean with disregard for sharks. And that early series of adventure with the Bugatti have developed into fullscale trips on Safari in those more savage parts of Africa.
She was undoubtably brave, very calm and intelligent.
Eileen just lost a handicap race at Brooklands in 1933, the first time the BARC allowed women to compete with the men, to Esson-Scott by just one-fifth of a second. Esson-Scott have to give 35 seconds away at the start of the 6 1/2 mile race.
In 1934 she was part of the Singer womens team entered in the relay race at Brooklands with Kay Petre and Mrs Tolhurst with the instructions to win the women's trophy, the Wakefield Cup at all costs. Their main rivals were the team of Doreen Evans, Miss Schwedler and Margaret Allen driving MGs. In a race beset with numerous problems and wet weather, they were slowly moving up the positions and were close to getting into the top three. However thay had noticed in the regulations that the Women's Cup could not be awarded to a team in the top three. They therefor contrived to finish in a position to win the cup, something that had been missed by their rivals who came home third and thus ineligable for the trophy.
At Nancy on the 30th June 1935 at the Grand Prix de Lorraine, she raced in the Voiturette class. Cholmondley-Tapper was in a class of his own and despite colliding with Mestivier's Amilcar at the start. After 2 1/2 hours, he held a 10 minute lead when brake problems resulted in a spin which permitted Veyron to win. Eileen was 3rd and last in her class (1500cc) and overall, 10 laps behind Tapper who ended up 2nd. Not only that but the first six 1100cc finishers also had a higher average speed.
In her defence Davis says that she had engine trouble but since neither The Autocar or The Motor reported on the race, we can not know if or what these problems were. According to L'Actualite Automobile she was last throughout the race.
At Limerick, 1936, Tapper's fastest lap time was 2'23 compared to her 2'55.
World War II drew a halt to motorsport in Europe but by this time, Eileen Ellison had found another interest in life when she fell in love with Squadron Leader Brian Lane. They married in 1940. He wrote a book about his wartime experiences under the pen-name BJ Ellan. Sadly the marriage was brief as he was shot down over the North Sea and killed in 1942, his body was never found.
She never got over the loss, she moved to South Africa ande advertised for a female companion to drive around and explore the country. The only person who responded was a wealthy landowner, Owen Fargus. The 'black sheep' of his family, he owned property in the United Kingdom, in South Africa and Jersey and the couple led a jet-setting lifestyle. They never married, though there was speculation that they wed in secret. This rumor could well have been put about by Eileen and Owen themsleves to circumvent the attitudes of the day. Despite Owen's wealth he was, shall we say, a bit tight with it. She remained with Fargus until her death in 1967 at the young age of 57.
It was generally accepted that she died from jaundice when actually she had cancer. At the time it was almost taboo to even mention the word. When she returned from South Africa she was already very ill and had to be helped from the plane. She claimed to have eaten too many oranges and was suffering from jaundice. She refused to consult a doctor and would not visit a hospital, until the end which came quite quickly.
Life went on pretty much as usual for Owen after Eileen's death. He died in Jersey in 1990.
historicracing.com with thanks to Anthony Whitmore