Gentlewoman Racer: Prudence Fawcett

Prudence Fawcett

by Michael Satterfield - 01/03/2023

Prudence Marie Blake Fawcett grew up with a love for cars encouraged by her uncle Percy, a Bugatti enthusiast. Her first car was a Wolseley Hornet, which she would maintain herself at the age of just 17. After her lower secondary school was complete she left Sheffield to spend time in Genoa, Italy where she would drive an Alfa Romeo 1750 in her first racing event, she brought her love of Alfa Romeo back to the UK and with her friends, Charlotte and Lance Prideaux-Brune, became an official importer for Alfa Romeo which were sold through their Winter Garden garage.

Prudence ran with an affluent crowd of racing drivers and friends and in 1937 she was invited to travel to Le Mans aboard the Duke of Kent's private plane, a trip that would change her life forever as she watched women like Joan Richmond, and Kaye Petre compete in the grueling 24-hour race. Prudence was going to drive at Le Mans, the next year. 

The Winter Garden garage had just added Morgan to their growing list of sportscars that they were official dealers for and Prudence was convinced that a Morgan 4/4 would be the perfect car for a 24-hour race. Prudence took her plan to Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan who agreed to supply her with a car, however, the Winter Garden garage would run the entire effort. To fund the rest of the effort Prudence approached her friend Lord Wakefield, founder of Castrol Oil for sponsorship. She also talked Geoffrey White, the Winter Garden garage’s Sales Manager to be her co-driver.

Prudence Fawcett

Morgan, registration number BNP 730 was delivered to the Winter Garden garage, and mechanic Dick Anthony began modifying the car for competition. The 1098cc engine was fitted with a drown draught carburetor, an 8:1 compression ratio, and a magneto ignition system. When tested at the Bookland the car could maintain speeds of just under 100 mph. The car was also fitted with a  fold-down windshield, cycle fenders, and only one spare tire to save weight. Morgan would go on to sell a replica of this car to the general public. 

The now 25-year-old Prudence and her girlfriend drove the car to France and set up their base at the famous Hotel Des Ifs, which had been used by many Le Mans racers including the Aston Martin works for the team. The team settled into their hotel and prepared for an exciting adventure. Prudence would be one of five women competing in the 1938 race.

Prudence Fawcett

At 4:00 PM on June 18th, 1938 Prudence sprinted to her car, and the race was begun, Prudence and Geoff would stop for fuel and change drivers every 15 laps. The Morgan performed well with an average speed of 57.2 mph covering 1,373 miles, with only a slight leak in the radiator hose and a misfire from a valve problem. The Morgan team would come in 13th overall, an amazing feat for Morgan's and Fawcett's first-ever entry in the race. 

Back at the Hotel Des Ifs, Dick Anthony installed new valves and Prudence and her friend drove the Morgan back to Sheffield, reportedly averaging over 60 mph on her way to Calais. 1938 would be her last year of racing, she married Leslie Trevelyan an amateur pilot and the two made a pact, he would give up flying if she would give up racing. 

Prudence Fawcett

So in 1939, Prudence returned to Le Mans with Morgan but this time as a team owner, with Dick Anthony and Geoffrey White driving. Morgan was especially interested in supporting the 1939 race again as the opportunity to win the Rudge Whitworth Biennial Cup would be a major marketing advantage for the small carmaker. While the Winter Garden garage was still running the race team, the Morgan factory was more involved even having Morgan's chief road test Charlie Curtis drive the car down to the Hotel Des Ifs before the race. 

Prudence Fawcett Morgan 1939

The Biennial Cup would go to a Simca-Fiat, with the Morgan coming in 2nd in its class and a respectable 15th overall. With the outbreak of World War II, it would be a decade before Le Mans would resume hosting races, and Prudence never returned to racing, but a book Morgan Sports Cars The Early Years; Alderson & Chapman says that her love of sports cars remained with her until the end of her life, Prudence passed away in 1986 at the age of 73.