Ten things to know about the iconic Rosemary Smith

Top: Rosemary Smith in the Geneva Rally of 1968  Above: Rosemary Smith competing in the Shell 4000, Canada in 1967

As Rosemary Smith joins the global motoring hall of fame here are ten things to know about this Irish rally legend writes Geraldine Herbert

  1. Rosemary was born in Dublin in 1937, the youngest of three children. She was smart but hated her strict convent-school education. 
  2. Her father John Smith, an amateur racer himself, taught Rosemary to drive when she was only 11 and at 16 she secured a driving licence by pretending to be a year older. 
  3. She attended the Grafton Academy of Fashion Design where she was awarded top honours and the prize for the overall student of the year in her first year. She went on to set up a boutique with her mother in Dublin. 
  4. It was while running her fashion business that a chance came to navigate at a rally in Kilkenny with Delphine Biggar, the wife of Monte Carlo Rally winner Frank Biggar. Rosemary soon showed little skills, as a navigator, but had a natural aptitude for rally driving. Impressed by this, Delphine swapped places with her and the new arrangement with Rosemary behind the wheel suited them both. 
  5. Probably the best remembered of Rosemary’s successes was her victory in the Netherlands in 1965 when she and co-driver Valerie Domeleo-Morley won the Tulip Rally, after four days and 2,000 miles in her trusty Hillman Imp, a car Rosemary became synonymous with. 
  6. Rosemary’s stunning victory made her a pioneer for all in Irish motorsport. When she returned to her hotel that evening a huge bouquet of flowers and a congratulatory letter from Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton was waiting for her. 
  7. It was competing in the 1968 London to Sydney Rally, a non-stop marathon covering 11 countries and spanning 10,373 miles (16,694 km) that Rosemary is most proud of. Almost 3,600 miles (5,793km) in four days, the trans-global trek was one of the longest and toughest motor races she had ever competed in, often over dirt and gravel roads. 
  8. While driving in the desert in Afghanistan, Rosemary’s Ford Cortina developed a mechanical issue. Damaged pistons had greatly reduced the power in the car and it was unlikely to survive the infamously treacherous Khyber Pass but the ever-resourceful Rosemary refused to give up and recalled advice from her father when he was teaching her to drive “if a car won’t forward, it’ll go in reverse so I turned the car around and did the whole 33-mile (53 km) stage in reverse” she says. 
  9. In 1978 she set a new land speed record in Cork. 
  10. At the age of 79 she became the oldest person ever to drive a Formula 1 car. A feat that went unnoticed by the Guinness Book of Records who were contacted in advance of the test drive but thought it was a record so unlikely to be achieved they sent no representative to verify it.

 

Geraldine Herbert

13th July 2022

Author: Geraldine Herbert

Motoring Editor and Columnist for the Sunday Independent and editor of wheelsforwomen. Geraldine is also a regular contributor to Good Housekeeping (UK) and to RTÉ Radio One, Newstalk, TodayFM and BBC Radio. You can follow Geraldine on Twitter at @GerHerbert1

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2 Comments

  1. Great summary of an incredible driver – who was also a beacon pioneer for women in Motoring.
    Well done Geraldine

  2. A trailblazer for women in all sports.
    (Love the eyes in that photo too!)

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