Following on from his excellent – and ongoing – series The Great Motor Men, AROnline Contributor Martyn Kelham continues on his tour of the great motoring women.
Here, in the fourth part, he recalls the life of a racing legend, who overcame adversity, Joy Rainey.
On 17 January 2020, the world lost a very special lady. Many reading this will know the name of Joy Rainey – the tiny little lady who had such huge success in motor sport.
Daughter of Murray Rainey, three times Australian Formula 3 Champion, Joy whizzed about her home town of Geelong on a robust three-wheel bike, while having to wear heavy leg irons at the tender age of four. On the plus side, Joy had the privilege of meeting Jean Behra, Stirling Moss, Bruce McLaren and the like, whilst accompanying her father to Europe in 1959.
This led to Karting and later a Morris Minor with pedal extensions – but real competition work began with driving her father’s 1933 JAP-engined Morgan Three-Wheeler and, later, her own Jaguar E-type. A lot of other exciting cars and a lot of records followed whilst in her day-job was she was the Principal of a language school whilst at the same studying for an OU degree.
There followed a period of tough times but, in 2004, Joy entered the London to Sydney Marathon in another Morris Minor – that, though, was all in the future.
From Riley to Jaguar
Back in Australia when Joy was still a child, her dad had shown an appreciation for a proper British car that oozed class, luxury and style. Unfortunately, the Riley RME became a very short love affair for her father and Joy was very disappointed when it went, though this disappointment was short-lived when the replacement arrived – a Jaguar XK120.
Joy’s father displayed a flair for exuberance in driving this car and Joy became accustomed to seeing 100mph on the speedo. A little later, the family workhorse was a Holden FC and one of Joy’s first experiences behind the wheel was piloting this thing around a short track that she had devised in the paddock at their home.
When still a teenager, Joy’s father was persuaded to purchase a gleaming new kart for her and this was subsequently fitted with an old 98cc Villiers lawn mower engine. Joy was ecstatic but very nervous – she was going into a competition for the very first time and was so aware that her dad would have ‘expectations’ – and maybe higher than her own confidence level.
Finding confidence and speed in karts
However, this confidence was soon established when the results of the race came in – she was fastest of the ladies! In those days, the fastest in practice went to the back of the grid but, in her first official race, she again came in first. The last race of the day was a mix of both the smaller engined and larger engined karts and again Joy took the lead – but, unfortunately, the old Villiers had had enough and coughed its last.
Such was the way of the world before the revolution of the Sixties, that her prize was a set of embroidered sheets – whereas the guys all got a silver cup!
In a kart designed and built by her father, Joy again won her next few races, due in part to her father’s tuning of another Villiers engine which, in her words, ‘was putting out quite a bit more power than the others’. These Rainey karts were very successful and always finished in the top places when driven by other owners.
After an incident at her home town track, she was blamed for ‘dangerous behaviour’ but actually she was innocent. Although she ran into the back of another competitor – no competitor expects the car in front to virtually stop while going around a hairpin bend!
Resigning from this club she joined the Western Suburbs Go-Kart Club just outside Melbourne and competed with a very highly modified Villiers-engined kart. Unequivocal success yet again. Finally, this Villiers engine had had enough and virtually blew apart during a race there. The promise of an even faster, McCulloch engined kart of new design was promised – to build on Joy’s success and obvious talent at the wheel.
At around this time Joy was old enough to drive on the road and her father brought her a Morris Minor with 9,000 miles on the clock. Extensions were made to the pedals and Joy polished and fettered the car with enthusiasm. Although the driving test did not go entirely smoothly – she hit a steel pole outside the police station – she did pass. Somewhat influenced by her father’s exuberant driving style, Joy employed maximum revs at every opportunity driving the little Minor.
Following an early marriage failure, due in part to Joy not being content with a ‘homely and domestic’ life, she found herself on a flight to Heathrow. Very soon, Joy was the proud owner of a Jaguar E-type. Again, she was not noted for ‘gently cruising’ – but more for laying rubber.
After four months, Joy decided to return home and her father once again involved her in the world of motor racing. When once they flew to Philip Island, upon landing, the door of the Cessna was opened by no lesser luminary than Graham Hill. Within a short time, Jackie Stewart and Jim Clark appeared too – and a great party ensued.
Living in her home country for about a year, Joy felt that her job (as a receptionist), socialising and spectating at race meetings just wasn’t ‘doing it’ for her and she once more set sail for England. This time a Triumph Spitfire provided the wheels and got taken to Italy when Joy decided she would really like to learn Italian.
Racing in Italy
An early foray into motor racing proper came when her father entered their Morgan Three-Wheeler in races at Monza. The Three-Wheeler was not well known in that country at the time and there was some derision from competitors during the practice sessions. However, her father, with Joy at his side soon showed the assembly that this little Morgan was not to be laughed at. When the actual racing started the Morgan was placed at the back of the grid and about 20 yards behind the last car. Her father was given strict instructions to keep well over to the left so that all the other cars could lap him safely!
Contrary to the general thinking, Joy’s father passed several cars before the first bend and then diced very effectively with an MG TC and eventually took the lead – only to be thwarted by a loose flywheel and thus a failure to cross the line. When once more back in England, Joy had the opportunity to drive the Morgan at Gaydon – and put up faster times than her father!
Alongside such excitement, a living had to be earned but Joy soon became very involved with the Vintage Sports-Car Club (VSCC) and was as a regular at the famous Phoenix Inn at Hartley Witney where that illustrious body was inaugurated in 1934. Her father by this time was piloting a Ferrari GT, a car in which she was seriously disappointed – in her view the E-type was far superior in so many ways, not least in its looks.
A great influence on her at this time was meeting some of the great motor sportsman of their day – those who had raced on the banked circuit of Brooklands. One of these was the great Kaye Don who’s motoring career had ended tragically in 1934 when his riding mechanic had been killed in a race and Kaye had spent six months in jail for manslaughter.
The atmosphere at Brooklands was heavily laden with great people, great feats of driving and wonderful machinery – and in the 1970s Joy and her father joined the Brooklands Society. She continued to socialise with such luminaries as Leo Villa, who kept her enthralled with tales of the Campbells.
The Spitfire really needed to be replaced and Joy’s love affair with the E-type once again came to the fore. With limited funds she was just able to afford a 1970 FHC advertised at around £300 less than any other she had seen. However, the price of £1400 was reflected in the general condition – the car was filthy, the rear axle wined and there was a terrible clatter at the front of the engine. Joy diagnosed the faults and their likely costs and aggravation to put right – and bought it.
From circuits to hillclimbs
After fettling, the idea of competing in it at hill climbs was raised. Shelsley Walsh was the first event and Joy held her head high with a ‘mid’ time. The following day she came third outright and first on handicap in her class. This was a game changer for her and she knew she wanted to compete a lot more. At this point her father came to the rescue in offering her a competition drive in his pride and joy – an Alfa Romeo 8C (above). Her first time driving this car up Shelsley Walsh was 0.9 faster than her father!
Now convinced that the E-type was a fine everyday car, but that it should retire from competition, a 1600cc Lotus-powered Dastle Clubman open wheel race car was purchased. With considerable – and very difficult modifications required to match Joy’s small frame – the car was finally ready for racing.
Prescott was chosen as the inaugural meeting. While it was good experience in getting to know the car, her times were not spectacular. More experience was gained at Gurston Down, Loton Park, Wiscombe Park and Shelsley Walsh. After a total engine failure, a larger Cosworth FVC engine was fitted and now – in a new class – Shelsley Walsh was attacked again.
Unfortunately, motor sport being the expensive hobby it is, that resulted in yet another engine failure and zero awards. Once rebuilt though (and to higher specification), the car was back at Prescott – but the wet weather put paid to any outstanding times. However, the second outing was far more fruitful with Joy coming in with the best time of the day (BTD) and a win in her class with – later in 1979 – a magnificent Ladies’ Record at Shelsley, shaving a whole second off the established time. Success now became more attainable and at Gurston Down Joy had another class win, followed by yet another at Prescott two weeks later. A few weeks later, Joy broke her own Ladies’ Record and earned another class win.
The Hewland gearbox was a little tedious on occasions and refused to go into gear smoothly. While her father advised using bruit force; at Prescott, Joy adopted a different tack altogether and started in second, completing the entire course in that gear! Convinced it was a slow time, she decided to pack up and go home. She was somewhat surprised therefore that she’d shaved yet another two tenths of a second off the Ladies’ Record. The system had worked so well, she tried it again and with a time 47.86 put up yet another Ladies’ Record.
At Shelsley the same year, Joy broke the sub-30-second barrier with a time of 29.75 – the first woman to beat that threshold. At Prescott, Joy had lowered her time by 4.84 seconds in a year. She had done a lot of racing and while not walking away easily with everything – had won a number of significant trophies.
Further commitment to motor sport
For several years Joy had been dissatisfied with her job as Principle of the Language Centre of Guildford and eventually she sold the school and moved to Worcestershire. She continued to campaign the Alfa at hill climbs and had great fun doing so. Eventually, though, the real competitor in her lead Joy to purchase a Pilbeam (albeit without an engine). A 2.3-litre Hart engine found its way into the chassis in a very short time and the trophy cabinet was soon gaining silverware at significant rate.
Joy not only competed a lot in fast cars but was also instrumental in making motor sport more accessible for disabled drivers. It is because of her efforts that a wheelchair user can compete under Motorsport UK rules in a hand-controlled car. Sadly, Joy had gone into business with a man whom she had known as a friend for many years – but who turned out to be anything but a friend. By devious methods he managed to take over the lucrative business and leave Joy with nothing.
However, a little later, a new venture importing Aboriginal products, paintings etc. worked well and before long thoughts of resurrecting the Pilbeam raised their head. Despite the appalling condition of the car after its enforced storage for several years, Joy worked on it for many hours to bring it back to condition. Her father – now in his mid-eighties – was not able to rebuild engines for her anymore, so Joy did the best she could with the knowledge she had.
The new business was sold and a contract to write articles for the Daily Telegraph following competition weekends was signed. These ‘dairies’ are a fascinating read today, laced with famous names, times and cars – and talk of four-wheel drive cars – plus reference to her dear father still competing at 84 years old in his beloved Alfa!
Still competing with the Pilbeam in 2001, Joy also drove a 1900 Clement in the London to Brighton Run, loaned to her by Marc Haynes of the Haynes Motor Museum.
Entering the London-Sydney Marathon
In 2004, Joy and her co-driver, Trevor, decided to take another Morris Minor 10,000 miles in 30 days, competing in the London to Sydney Marathon. Sponsorship was the only option as the entry fee was £23,000 and the cost of buying and bringing a car up to ‘scratch’ for the event was believed to be around £30,000.
Eventually, a Minor was found and £500 secured the purchase. In her autobiography, Joy recalls in some detail the effort that went into getting this car ready. Some real engineering thought was involved in devising a system that would allow both her and Trevor to be able to drive the car. Clearly, Trevor could not drive thousands of miles with Joy’s upgrades to pedals and controls permanently fixed to the car.
The car and the duo performed brilliantly and the Minor arrived in Sydney with not a dent on its flanks – unlike many other competitors. Joy was determined the car had to come back with her to the UK – she had become very attached to it.
Sadly, we lost Joy at the age of 77 in January 2020. She will always be remembered for demonstrating that size really doesn’t matter. Her autobiography, Fast Lady, is a book of devotion and enthusiasm – and a fitting record of her ability to overcome challenges which many of us would be unable or unwilling to confront.