British Rally Driver Rowena Purdy’s passion for motorsports has afforded her opportunities to compete internationally and she continues to share her experience with younger women
THE BOLDER WOMAN TELLS THE STORIES OF WOMEN OVER 50 FROM AROUND THE WORLD WHO ARE COMPETITIVE IN A VARIETY OF SPORTS
Presented by Chris Stafford
Podcast length: 38′ 37″
Rowena Purdy has reached the stage in life when she has all the trophies she wanted from Rally car racing but she is still in search of more miles to conquer and memories to cherish either driving or navigating. At the age of 76 she will mark her 50th year in the sport this year and she plans to mark the occasion competing in the British Isles. Rowena started rallying in a 1969 FIAT 125 in Malta and since then has competed in road, stage and historic regularity rallies, from Closed to Club to International status, in Malta, Britain, Hong Kong, and Europe as driver, co-driver, navigator, organiser, instructor, marshal and official in a variety of cars including a Simca Rally 1, a Lancia Fulvia Coupé, an Air Portable Land Rover and currently her 1966 Porsche 912 SWB. Spending time in the Royal Air Force she learned electronics and some mechanics which has proved helpful while racing in remote areas. During almost half a century in motor sport, Rowena has taken part in nearly 100 rallies. Most recently she has competed in the 2018 HRCR North Yorkshire Classic and the HERO ‘Summer Trial’, and has also entered the 2019 ‘Summer Trial’. Rowena plans to enter as many of the 2019 HRCR Motorsport News Clubman’s’ Championship rallies when other activities allow. She also takes part in local Track Days with her Porsche 912. When she is not driving or navigating she is giving back to the sport and encouraging women to take up Rally driving. Beyond that she is enjoying sailing and has her sights set on crossing the Atlantic.
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Although born, and identified as male, in England at the end of the Second World War, Rowena spent most of her younger days living in Cyprus, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and then Kenya. After school in Kenya, Rowena continued her education at University in Northern Ireland before coming down to join the RAF as an aircrew officer. After training as an Air Electronics Officer she flew both the maritime Shackleton Mark 3 and the Vulcan bomber with a period carrying out Intelligence duties overseas, before retiring to join industry as a Far East marketing specialist owing to her knowledge of Chinese. She then accepted a place at Oxford University to read Oriental Studies with Chinese, gaining her MA in 1998. This was followed by a period as General Manager of an small electronics factory in China until her return to the UK in 1997 when she became a Reserve Officer with the RAF taking the post of Staff Officer in a 3 star HQ. Rowena retired (again) in 2005 and has since lived in Lincolnshire.
In 2011, Rowena was diagnosed with gender dysphoria and spent 5 years transitioning to female, but this has not stopped her competing – or living life to the full! Rowena currently holds the position of Register Secretary for the 912 Register for the Porsche Club Great Britain with the responsibility of supporting all the Porsche 912 owners within the club and is a committee member of her local Women’s Institute.
Rowena started rallying in a 1969 FIAT 125 in Malta and since then has competed in road, stage and historic regularity rallies, from Closed to Club to International status, in Malta, Britain, Hong Kong, and Europe as driver, co-driver, navigator, organiser, instructor, marshal and official in a variety of cars including a Simca Rally 1, a Lancia Fulvia Coupé, an Air Portable Land Rover, a 998 cc Imp, various Ford Escorts and currently her 1966 Porsche 912 SWB.
Rowena won the Co-driver’s award on the 1976/77 Rothman’s Hong Kong National Rally Championship navigating a 1200cc Honda Civic which led to her selection as co-driver for the FIAT (Hong Kong) ex-works FIAT 131 Mirafiori on the 1977/78 South Asia Rally Championship.
On her return to the UK in 1977, Rowena was chosen to lead the RAFMSA entry on the 1979 Mintex International Rally in an RAF Landrover as co-driver, winning the Musgrove Trophy and the IRDC Newcomer’s Award.
In 1999 she contested the HRCR Clubman’s Championship and RAFMSA Road Rally Championship and eventually, in 2004, she achieved second overall in that year’s RAFMSA Rally Championship – but first overall road rally driver – in a self-prepared 998cc 1969 Hillman Imp.
Rowena has completed the 2000 Classic Marathon in her Hillman Super Imp (875cc before its upgrade), raising over £1500 for Epilepsy Research. She has also completed four Poppy Rallies in Belgium as well as four Cape to Cape Charity Marathon drives in the Porsche 912 raising over £13000 for Macmillan Cancer Support. She also completed 3 Norwich Union / Aviva Classic Tours, also in the Porsche.
Whilst in Hong Kong, Rowena was trackside commentator and race reporter for Commercial Radio (HK) at the 1976 Macau Grand Prix and Paddock Marshal in 1982. Rowena currently enters the local Porsche Region’s Track Days at Blyton Race Park near Gainsborough.
Rowena has also written rallying reports for Motoring News (now Motorsport News), RallySport, RAF Active and acted as Commercial Radio (Hong Kong)’s motor sport correspondent. She now writes a regular monthly column in the Porsche Club GB’s magazine ‘Porsche Post’ as 912 Register Secretary.
Over the past (nearly) 50 years in Motor Sport, Rowena has taken part in nearly 100 rallies and has recently started rallying again. She competed in the 2018 HRCR North Yorkshire Classic and the HERO ‘Summer Trial’, and has also entered the 2019 ‘Summer Trial’. Rowena plans to enter as many of the 2019 HRCR Motorsport News Clubman’s’ Championship rallies when other activities allow. She also takes part in local Track Days with her Porsche 912
Rowena has also recently started sailing with both Tall Ships Trust 72’ Challenger Yachts as well as ‘smaller’ cruisers with a sailing school in the Solent. Rowena has undergone training with the Clipper Round the World organization with a view to competing on a leg of the Round the World Clipper Race but sadly had to withdraw after injuries sustained during the Level One training periods. She holds a Day Skipper qualification.
Having always refused to fly a glider owing to the lack of motive power, Rowena recently took the controls of one.