In 1933, 22-year-old Kitty Brunell won a Royal Automobile Club rally at Hastings in England behind the wheel of a four-seater AC Ace sports car. With that victory, Brunell became the first — and only — woman to ever win a RAC rally. Soon after, though, Brunell’s name faded from the history books; it’s not clear what she could have achieved had her career lasted longer, but we can only imagine her further success.
Welcome to Women in Motorsport Monday, where we share the stories of the badass women who have conquered the racing scene throughout the years.
Born in 1911 to well-known British motorsport photographer William Joseph Brunell, Kitty Brunell was well set up to become a competitor in her own right. She’s first recorded as competing in rallies as early as 1928 — including the notorious Monte Carlo Rally, in which she was only the second woman to compete after Lucy O’Reilly Schell — when she was just 17 years old, but it’s possible she was racing even earlier. Photos show Brunell serving as a mechanic on another car when she was just 15.
That year, Talbot competed in a Talbot 14/45, which kicked off a great working partnership with the company, with the Free Library claiming that Brunell was able to help contribute to the design of the 1929 Talbot 14/45 that could be used for rallying.
Part of her specifications? She wanted a sunshade to keep the rain off and to prevent the sun from bleaching her hair.
Talbot continued the partnership with Brunell, going so far as to name one of their coupes after her.
Brunell’s exact racing record is difficult to follow. We know she competed in Monte Carlo in 1929 and 1930, though there are mentions of her competing in other events as well. She swapped cars for the race in 1931, opting for a Bianchi instead of a Talbot.
After that, Brunell went domestic, sticking largely to races in the United Kingdom. Records are a little better here, with plenty of photos showing Brunell competing in a Magna, a Ford Model A, a Triumph, a Rover, an Aston Martin, and an AC. She was disqualified from the Scottish Rally for having her father as a passenger, but she was able to win in class in a handful of other rallies.
Her biggest successes, though, obviously came in 1933. She took a win in her AC Ace at the RAC Rally in Hastings — an event where another woman, G. Daniel, took seventh place in another AC. She also counted a Concours d’Elegance to her list of victories for that year.
That was all, though. Brunell left racing in 1934, and it isn’t clear exactly why she did — but it may very well be because she had started courting someone. In 1937, she married fellow racer Kenneth Hutchison, who continued his career after their marriage. Brunell, however, saw her career end.
Brunell’s story isn’t uncommon for the era. Many successful female racers in the interwar period retired from competition after they started serious relationships or were married — even the women who married other racers. The men continued their careers while the women unceremoniously disappeared from the scene.
She lived until 1993 and was buried with her late husband in Italy.