When the formidable Florence Thomson took part in Australia’s first long-distance motoring event, the Dunlop Reliability Motor Contest in 1905, she couldn’t have envisaged the enthusiastic tribute Melbourne women would pay to her 112 years later.
At RACV’s inaugural RACV Florence Thomson tour on Sunday, more than 100 people in 50 vehicles, each driven by a woman inspired by Florence, paid tribute to the pioneering spirit of the trial’s only female entrant.
While Florence’s arduous five-day trial traversed 920 kilometres of old coach road between Sydney and Melbourne, Sunday’s drivers took a smoother path through the Yarra Valley in their heritage cars.
Among them were RACV member Annette Newell, with her mother Ann Newell and her two daughters, Shenay and Kalinda McIntyre – three generations of women raised with a love for motoring.
“My mum and dad were very much into vintage cars, it’s been part of my life for my whole life and now my children are the same,” says Annette.
“Having my family on this tour was very special. In particular, having my youngest daughter Shenay drive my 1926 Willys Overland Whippet on her learner’s.
“She did really well, she hadn’t driven a manual before the day!” says Annette. “I think vintage cars are actually easier to drive than modern cars in terms of gears.”
Annette and her family have restored many cars and are all mechanically minded.
“My car was restored from a rusty heap of stuff that we picked up from Swansea NSW in 2001,” Annette says.
“The hardest part about restoring these vintage cars for me is converting imperial measurements actually. But I do have support from my dad and members of the Willys Overland Car Club.
“It is also just a matter of finding time for restoring these types of cars,” Annette says. “My next project is restoring a 1912 Overland. The body of the car is wood, I’m hoping her maiden voyage will be in September when we have the veteran Overland rally in Orange.”
“I think everyone really enjoyed the Florence Thompson Tour, it was so bubbly. There were heaps of women driving cars on their own, no partners or husbands next to them,” says Annette.
“It was very well supported and the turn-out was amazing. I think it shows how much interest women have for motoring, more than people had first thought.”