Barbara Skinner helped to pave the way for British women in racing

Carburetor company honors early motorsports pioneer

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Barbara Skinner
Barbara Skinner accepts congratulations after a successful drive Buirlen photos

In an era in which women were not encouraged to compete in auto racing events, Barbara Skinner not only did so, but she posted the fastest time in the Shelsley Walsh hill climb in 1932, drove in the RAC Rally and, in 1935, raced in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, finishing 25th.

“Burlen has long been associated with motorsport and racing,” said Mark Burnett, managing director of Burlen, British company that produces carburetors. “As a company we are inspired by the racing of Barbara. Despite having talent, she entered the sport after a period where women were banned from racing against established male drivers, and she had many barriers to overcome. 

“To compete successfully in rallying, Brooklands racing, hillclimbs, sprints and endurance racing is remarkable, and Barbara deserves to be recognized as one of the pioneers of motorsport equality.”

It seems Burlen is taking on that role because it manufactures SU, Amal and Zenith carburetors. SU was founded in 1910 as Skinners Union. The founders of SU were brothers George Herbert and Thomas Carlyle Skinner, boot and shoe manufacturers and early motorcar enthusiasts. Barbara Skinner, born in 1911, was the daughter of Thomas Carlyle “Carl” Skinner.

The ‘Dancing Daughters’ was the nickname for the six women driving the factory-backed MG PA Midgets at Le Mans
Skinner Special raced by Skinner is part of Burlen’s car collection

“In the early 1900s the BARC (British Auto Racing Club) ruled that women would not be permitted to race, drawing comparison to the fact there were no lady jockeys (in horse racing) as a good reason for the ban,” according to Burlen. 

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“Despite outrage the decision stood until 1928 when women were permitted to compete in Ladies-only Handicaps. The BARC agreed women could race men in 1932.”

It was on April 6, 1932, that Carl Skinner gave his Morris Cowley Special to his daughter for her 21st birthday. 

“The Morris had been used as an SU development car before being transformed into a special for Carl Skinner’s own use,” Burlen noted. “Fitted with an MG MKII 18/100 Tigresse road-racing engine the car was both fast and usable, providing Barbara with daily transport as well as a competitive racer.”

On September 3 of that same year, Barbara Skinner entered her first competitive event, the Shelsley Walsh hillclimb, which allowed women to compete against men. He run up the hill was the fastest of the day. 

Although her Morris soon proved uncompetitive, Barbara Skinner used it to two a new White Minor racing car to events. The White Minor was a wedding present given to Barbara Skinner by Lord Nuffield, founder of the Morris Motor Company. 

Skinner became part of the Brooklands Belles, women who raced at the famous British track, and in 1935 she was one of six women — the “Dancing Daughters” — driving three factory-backed MG PA Midgets in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. She and co-driver Doreen Evans finished 24th, averaging 86.1 km/h while covering 2,068 kilometers.

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Skinner continued to race, though under her married name, after her marriage to racer and writer John Bolster. She died of injuries suffered in a traffic accident on public roads in 1942.

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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