Peg and the 1914 French Grand Prix Winning Mercedes

It is one of life’s joys: finding someone who is a bit special. There she was, this woman in latish middle age, just like you’d see in a library, awaiting Jeffrey Archer’s latest to be returned. But there was something about her.

She was sitting in a golf trolley in a roped off area, right by the car that won the French GP in 1914. The centenary was celebrated in the spring by the three victorious Mercedes re-running the course, courtesy of French officialdom. It was featured in Classic and Sportscar.

Peg01 Peg with George Winguard

The owner of the winning car, one George Wingard, an ex-Senator from Eugene in Oregon, USA, is well-known for his collection of vintage racing cars, many of which have graced the Goodwood Festival of Speed in his hands over a 30-year period.

He was setting up the car ready to begin the complex and time consuming starting procedure. George is known to be approachable but I assumed he would prefer me to wait to interview him so I stood back, near the golf trolley. Peg smiled at me so we started chatting.

She had an air of confidence so there was no excuse for my first question being patronising in the extreme.

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“What are you doing here?” was almost an accusation of being not only merely a woman but being near a car. I apologised immediately. She smiled again and waved away my apology and the conversation started.

Peg: “I’m the mechanic for the Mercedes.”

The car is a brute, it is flimsy, it is powerful, the drums look as if when they are applied the car goes faster.

Me: “Seriously?”

Peg: “Not like you think. I ride in the car and help George.”

Me: “I know what a riding mechanic does. I find it more unbelievable than that you might change wheels and grind the valves. That must be one hell of a ride.”

Peg nodded. “It is exciting.”

Me: “How did you feel the first time you went up the hill?”

Peg: “The flint wall frightened me. It was so close.” This was said in a tone of voice that seemed to be asking for understanding.

Me: “I can understand that. It must have been terrifying. So you’ve been up the hill before?”

Peg: “This will be my seventh year. George, well this must be nearly the 30th time for him.”

Me: “What cars have you been in?”

Peg: “Well, the GP cars, let’s see: there was the 1904 FIAT, the 1908 Mercedes and the 1911 FIAT.”

Me: “What do you do?”

Peg: “I pump the gas in this one.”

On the video above, George can be seen building up pressure in the fuel system. It doesn’t seem particularly easy. He stands in a convenient position. Once under way, Peg would have to lean back and pump behind herself.

“I have to keep the pressure up. It’s not hard I suppose. But I have to lean out on the corners as well, to keep balance. And I start the car.”

Me: “What, crank the handle?”

Peg laughed as if this was the first thing that was unbelievable: “No. I’m in the seat. I have to set the car up and then check it.”

Me: “Is it enjoyable?”

Peg: “It’s thrilling.” She sniggered a little and shrugged her shoulders, just as if she was admitting to reading 50 Shades of Grey and liking it.

She was then called over to help start the car, George pointing to a button on the floor and saying that she should step on it regularly to oil the camshafts. She nodded, then pointed to something else in the footwell: “What’s that?”

George: “That empties the sump of oil.”

So best not, one assumes, to get them mixed up.

It was clear that George had a degree of confidence in her. He chatted about systems and the plan for the hill. She listened intently, nodded on occasion, but asked few questions.

A remarkable woman.

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2015 Goodwood Festival of Speed

I met with Peg and George again this year at Goodwood. There was a significant change though. Here is a picture of the FIAT S.76 in which the redoubtable Peg and George ascended the hill.

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As one would expect from a Wingard car, it was presented superbly, not over-restored, looking like it might the day before a GP.

And so to 2016

This time they brought a 200hp 4-seater Mercedes. It was massive.

200hp Benz3

200hp Benz1

200hp Benz2

Peg was her normal bright, confident self, almost as if she was going for a picnic.

See you next year.

Next Year

It’s the Goodwood Festival of Speed, it’s 2017 and I met up with the Winguards again. This year they brought the 194 GP Merc again, still looking tremendous. Peg was her chatty self. She said that she felt a bit nervous in the car going up the hill as she could not lean out on corners. The logic escaped me.

She explained what her function was in the car. The biggest test, it would appear, was getting the pair of them in the car. Despite the cutaway on the offside, because of My W’s long legs, he was unable to get into the car from that side so she would get in first and he would enter via the nearside. I was upset that I had missed such an opportunity for a viral video.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her job was to keep up the fuel pressure by hand-pumping the pump on top of the tank. It’s the brass item with the lever sticking up into the air. Also, and very similar to patting your head while rubbing your tummy, she had to oil some various bits as well using the foot-operated switch which can be seen on the left, below.

I’m sure it is more difficult than it looks despite it looking very difficult.

One of the great attractions of Goodwood is the attitude of the exhibitors and competitors. I had around half a dozen conversations with those who brought or were working on cars, and chatted to other visitors.

Another feature is that one is passed by these absolutely fabulous cars as one is strolling around.