First published on Heritage Insurance website
High upon the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, a sandstorm blinded many of the drivers who were on the 1937 Morocco Rally. Mrs Marguerite Mareuse and Anne Cecile Itier were racing in a Cabriolet for the Hanomag team, unaware that this German team were also conducting an intelligence mission for the Abwehr, analysing the French Military forces in Morocco. Itier and her co-pilot were stuck amongst the dunes. Fellow Hanomag teammate Hushcke Von Hanstein hopped into the Cabriolet and drove Itier down the mountain, whilst his co-pilot drove Mrs Mareuse. Just short of the check point at the bottom, the drivers all swapped back to their allocated cars and no points were dismissed.
With this intriguing rally in mind, for this instalment of the Women in Motorsport series I would like to introduce you to Anne Cecile Itier: Born in 1890, in Pomeys, near Lyons, France, this determined redhead married and subsequently divorced a Scotsman. Anne made the most of her divorce settlement by moving into a fashionable apartment on the Jardin des Tuilleries in Paris. She also purchased a house just south of Bordeaux which she called ‘le Volant’ (The steering wheel), and a Supercharged 4-cylinder Bugatti Type 37A.
Anne started out as a pilot, then in 1926 at the age of thirty-one she moved to motor racing. She started with hill climbs and rallies, winning the La Mothe-Sainte-Heraye hill climb outright on her first attempt, an achievement she would repeat in 1928 and 1932. In 1929, in her Bugatti Type 37A, she came second in the June Montrepos Hill Climb, raced at the Grand Prix Féminin at Montlhéry, and entered the Grand Prix race in Bordeaux for small cars in a 500cc Sima Violet.
Over the next seven years, Anne raced her Bugatti against the best racing drivers such as Raymond Sommer, Robert Benoist, and Helle Nice.
1931 was a good year in racing for Anne in her Bugatti Type 37A; in March, she was seventh in the Tunisia GP, and in August she was fourth at the Circuit du Dauphine. For 1932 Anne although finishing thirteenth for the Tunisian Grand Prix, she received her first win at the Trophee de Provence in Nimes.
In May now switching to a Bugatti Type 51A, 1933 Anne came first once again for the Grand Prix de Picardie in May and fourth in the Grand Prix d’Albi in the August. By 1934 a podium third place at the Grand Prix in Picardie along with eight place in for the ADAC Eifelrennen cars in June, followed by ninth in the Berne Grand Prix. Amongst the mid-grid and non-finishes, Anne and her Type 51A was a force amongst the field. In the summer of 1934, Anne raced for the first time at Le Mans circuit with Charles Duruy in a MG Midget PA, finishing in twelfth place.
By 1935 Anne still in her Type 51A finished in sixth place at the Picardie Grand Prix in May and once again on the podium in third place at the Grand Prix des Frontieres in June. Incidentally, and you might recall from my article on Elsie Wisdom, Le Mans that year saw the most female entries to this day, with Elsie Wisdom, Kay Petre, Gwenda Stewart, Gordon Simson, Doreen Evans, Barbara Skinner, Colleen Eaton and Margaret Allen and Joan Richmond. Including Anne, that makes a total of ten women in the same race for 1935. Anne finished in eighteenth place in the Fiat 508S at Le Mans with Robert Jacob.
In 1936, she bought a second Bugatti Type 51A, chassis no. 51142. Before the Grand Prix race at Picardie her mechanic managed to roll the car and damage the chassis, so she raced her old Type 51A and came in sixth. The damaged Bugatti would come to play a role in Itier’s history, but we will come to that…
By 1937 still racing the Bugatti Type 51A, she did not qualify for the Picardie Grand Prix, but she raced a Fiat Balilla in mainly in sports car events, she was second in class in the Marne Touring GP and competing in the Le Mans 24 hours race that year, Anne raced a revolutionary stream-lined German Adler Triumpf 1500 saloon for the Adler works team, sharing the drive with Baron Hushcke von Hanstein, following that Moroccan Rally she had raced a month earlier with Marguerite. It was Hanstein’s debut in the 24-hour race; however, they did not finish.
This co-piloting experience started an affair between Itier and Hanstein, which makes me wonder how Anne and everyone else in the motor racing world could have insinuated that Helle Nice was collaborating with the Germans, when Anne Cecile Itier herself had an affair with the same chap!
Meanwhile, back to facts: Anne had competed in over thirty races and hill climbs in the Bugatti Type 51A alone, including five Le Mans 24hour races, reaching twelfth as her best win in 1938. In 1938, in the Paris Grand Prix at Montlhery, Anne partnered with Germaine Roault in a Delahaye 135CS, and then a Hanomag Diesel for the Monte Carlo Rally in 1939.
Just before hostilities began in 1939, Anne and fellow Bugatti driver Jean Delorme, formed the ‘Union Sportive Automobile’ and organised races, specifically a woman’s support race at the Picardie Grand Prix in June of that year, with Renault Juvaquartre Cars. Helle Nice and Yvonne Simon were amongst some of those fast ladies in the seven-lap race. Three weeks later the outbreak of World War II put a stop to all racing and Anne founded a unit of military couriers, carrying letters under fire of machine guns and saving refugees right up until armistice, her dashing Baron Von Hanstein was not so lucky, he was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943 and sent to the Russian Front.
After the war, Anne continued racing. She entered the Monte Carlo Rally in a Renault 4CV six more times until around 1953 and rounded her racing career off with a couple more runs in a Fiat 508S Balilla. Anne Cecile Itier lived out the rest of her days on the Cote Azur, where she opened a tea shop. She passed away at the age of 89 in 1980. I would like to think Helle, and Anne overcame their grievances… who knows.
Recently, there is much interest about Anne Cecile Itier, as when her beloved Type 51A’s racing life was over, it was transformed into a sports car with a 2-seater roadster coachwork replacing the racing body, which is often the case with retired Grand Prix race cars. This car has recently received a lot of press, and it has had quite the journey since it left Anne.
Only forty-one Type 51 Bugattis were ever built and only eight of them were the 1.500cc Type 51A specs, so distinguishing this as one of the cars that Anne Cecile Itier owned would be easy research. Her decision to purchase the Type 51A was cunning. It allowed her to race against more powerful engines with an equal footing . Bugatti took a Type 35 from their stock and converted it to a Type 51A with the chassis no. 51142, so whilst investigating the origins of the transformed car, it is no surprise that they found elements of a Type 35, a Type 38, and of course the Type 51A of the Itier original.
The engine was replaced by a larger yet less powerful 2 litre T38A engine. A new registration of the vehicle emerged in 1951, describing the car as a T38A two-seater Torpedo, which at this point it was owned by Mme Suzanne Lenglet, wife of mechanic Pierre Lenglet. He already owned a T37 and could have sold this to purchase the older transformed Itier Roadster. The car was for sale again in 1957, transformed even further and bought by Danish driver Erik Nielsen. He had to pay more in Danish import duties than the actual cost of the car! In 1959 he undertook a restoration of this mixed car and removed some of the newer additions.
The car was once again sold in 1964, this time to a Swedish gentleman called Alan Söderström, who was more intrigued with the supercharger and missing GP steering wheel. He removed the newer engine and there the car rested for the next twenty or so years.
In 1996, the infamous vehicle was bought by architect Henrik Schou-Nielsen who had previously seen this concoction of a Bugatti resting in Söderström’s garage. With research and dedication Schou-Nielson called in the experts and examined the finer details, discovering the frame was the ex-Anne Itier 51142. He decided to return the car to its original specification, and this time the car would finally return to its true iteration.
They discovered the damage from the crash that her mechanic had in 1935 at GP de Picardie at Peronne, so they straightened the chassis and replaced the sports body with Grand Prix body taken from another Bugatti bought in 2008.
But here, ladies and gentlemen, is the research I find most pleasing: Schou-Nielsen went on the hunt for major components of the car in the Czech Republic where he knew many parts were available from the spares for the cars of Elizabeth Junek, whom you may recall from my previous article, was a major promotor for Ettiore Bugatti.
So, with the Anne Itier Bugatti T51A returned to its authentic original GP iteration, the donor car bought in 2008 now transformed into a sports saloon and these two cars have recently received a considerable amount of press from their outstanding restorations, bringing both Anne Cecile Itier and Madame Junek back to the forefront of Bugatti racing drivers.