Dorothy Levitt

(born Dorothy Elizabeth Levi c. 1882 or 1883, died 18 May 1922) 


Date Location Driver Driver Country Vehicle Power Speed over
1 Km
Speed over
1 Mile
07/1905 Brighton Speed Trials Dorothy Levitt England Napier 80hp   79.75mph  
1906 Blackpool Dorothy Levitt England Napier K5 100hp 146.25 km/h 90.88mph
(146.26 km/h)

Dorothy Elizabeth Levitt was a motorina, sporting motoriste and scorcher. Levitt was a renowned pioneer of female independence, female motoring, motor racing, the most successful female competitor in Great Britain, victorious speedboat driver, holder of the water speed record, and holder of the Ladies World Land speed record. She was described as the first English woman ever to compete in a motor race, albeit that the French woman Camille du Gast had raced from Paris to Berlin two years earlier. She held speed records on land and sea and was described as The Fastest Girl on Earth. In her book The Woman and the Car: A chatty little handbook for all women who motor or who want to motor she suggested women "carry a little hand-mirror in a convenient place when driving" so they may "hold the mirror aloft from time to time in order to see behind while driving in traffic", thus inventing the rear view mirror before it was introduced by manufacturers in 1914. 

In July 1905 Dorothy Levitt set her first Ladies World Speed record when competing at the inaugural Brighton Speed Trials, in which she drove an 80 hp Napier at a speed of 79.75 miles per hour. She won her class, the Brighton Sweepstakes and the Autocar Challenge Trophy. Her diary records that she "Beat a great many professional drivers .... Drove at rate of 77.75 miles in Daily Mail Cup."

In 1906 Dorothy Levitt broke the women's world speed record for the flying kilometer, recording a speed of 91 mph (146.25 km/h) and receiving the sobriquet the "Fastest Girl on Earth". She drove a six-cylinder Napier motorcar, a 100 hp (74.6 kW) development of the K5, in a speed trial in Blackpool.

1903 – Set first water speed record
1903 – First English woman to compete in a 'motor race'.
1903 – First woman to win a motor-race
1905 – Record for the longest drive achieved by a lady driver from London to Liverpool and back.
1905 – Set her first Ladies World Speed record at the Brighton Speed Trials
1906 – Set her second Ladies World Land Speed record at Blackpool Speed trials
International motor-boat racer

Photo of Dorothy Levitt from frontispiece of the book The Woman and The Car, 1907.

Clipping from The Los Angeles Times Los Angeles, California 18 Nov 1906, Page 47

She burst onto the motor scene in 1903, winning her class at the Southport Speed Trials driving a 12 Hp Gladiator. In 1904 she raced an officially entered De Dion car in the Hereford 1,000-mile, but mechanical problems on the final day (which she repaired herself) prevented her winning a gold medal. In 1905, she won the inaugural British International Harmworth Trophy for speedboats at Cork, Ireland, achieving 19.3 mph.

In the same year, Ms Levitt established a new record for the 'longest drive achieved by a lady driver' - 205 miles - by driving from the De Dion showroom in Great Marlborough Street, London, to the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool in 11 hours, and completing the round trip in 2 days. She travelled without the aid of a mechanic , but with an official observer, her pet dog Dodo, and her trusty revolver. This was without the aid of a road map, road signs or petrol stations, none of which had not yet been invented - petrol was obtained from hardware stores and chemists. She rounded the year off by winning both her class and the Autocar Challenge Trophy at the annual speed trials in Brighton.

The following year of 1906 saw Ms Levitt break the women's world speed record by reaching a speed of 96 mph, followed by 91 miles per hour in a speed trial in Blackpool. She also set the Ladies' Record at the Shelshey Walsh Speed Hill Climb in a 50hp Napier (7790 cc), making the climb in 92.4 seconds, 12 seconds faster than the male winner and three minutes faster than the previous women's record. Her record stood until 1913. She was now the 'fastest girl on Earth'.

Forbidden from the new Brooklands circuit in Weybridge, (which rejected women drivers until 1908), in 1907 Ms Levitt won her class in the Gaillon Hillclimb in France, driving a 40HP 6 cyl Napier. In 1908, she won a silver plaque in the Prinz Heinrich Trophy at the Herkomer Trophy Trial in Germany, was second fastest of over 50 competitors at the Aston Clinton Hill Climb in Buckinghamshire, and completed the La Cote du Calvaire hill climb at Trouville in France.

Not content with her achievements as a racing driver, she enrolled to qualify as a pilot at the Hubert Latham School of Aviation in France.

An author and journalist as well, her book The Woman and the Car: A Chatty Little Hand Book for Women Who Motor or Want to Motorwas published in 1909 to great acclaim, and she published upon motoring for the Graphic illustrated newspaper. In true pioneering style, she recommended that women use a hand-mirror to see traffic behind her - the rear-view mirror was not invented until 1914!

Women followed in her wheels, including her close friend Barbara Cartland. She deserves to be remembered, not just as a pioneering female driver, but as one of the greatest early racing drivers regardless.




Dorothy Levitt drives Warwick Wright's Minerva in the 1907 South Harting hill climb.
Dorothy Levitt was a pioneer motorist both on the road and the sea. In 1903, in the inaugural Harmsworth Trophy, she piloted the winning launch, much to the surprise of other competitors.

Dorothy Levitt and the right to drive

By Justin Pollard Published in Engineerig and Technology Friday, June 16, 2017

This is the story of how a woman racing driver took one of the first major steps to create equality in the motoring profession.

Few hobbies have required engineering skills more than early motoring. Primitive engines on basic chassis, riding over roads designed for horses, made it necessary for drivers to take a ‘riding engineer’ to deal with inevitable breakdowns. The high speeds – sometimes cruising at around 20mph – and the need to know the ins and outs of a misbehaving engine meant one thing: motoring at the beginning of the 20th century was clearly a man’s preserve.

This was news to Dorothy Levitt. Coming from a wealthy London family, she had secured a job with motor manufacturer Napier as a secretary. However, working for one of the first British motor racing companies did bring her into contact with that most glamorous creature of all – the racing driver.

Selwyn Edge was an Australian driver and a director of Napier, and in Levitt he saw just what he needed. Racing a Napier in the 1902 Gordon Bennett Cup, he noticed there was only one thing better than a racing driver for bringing publicity to a car manufacturer. That was Camille du Gast – a female racing driver. Looking around for his own Camille, he found her typing at Napier’s.

Edge arranged for Levitt to take a six-month apprenticeship at a French car maker. The apprenticeship involved not just driving, but chauffeuring and engineering. A driver in 1903 didn’t need simply to know how to drive their car – they needed to know how it worked.

Levitt likened motoring on the cart-rutted roads of Europe to steeplechasing, and when she returned to England she made her living teaching the aristocracy, including Queen Alexandra, to drive.

Edge persuaded her to become a works driver for Napier. In April 1903 Levitt became the first English woman to compete in a race. It was not a victory, but she was hooked and wrote in her diary: “will do better next time.”

She did. Over the next five years she competed in speed trials, hill climbs and endurance events. In the Hereford 1,000-mile endurance race, she completed the course in five days without any ‘riding mechanic’ and was only prevented from winning when a needle valve came loose on the last day. She fixed it herself, but it took more than the 20 minutes allowed and she was disqualified. In March 1905, she recorded the ‘longest drive achieved by a lady driver’ when she drove her single-cylinder De Dion Bouton from London to Liverpool and back again in two days, making her own repairs.

Speed records soon followed, and in 1906 she took the women’s world speed record with a flying run averaging 91mph in Blackpool. The newspapers dubbed her ‘The Fastest Girl on Earth’. She was also probably the coolest, noting casually that, when the bonnet catch came loose during the run, “had I not pulled up in time, might have blown back and beheaded me”.

Levitt became the darling of British motor racing, christened the ‘Champion Lady Motorist of the World’. Napier also made marine engines and at the inaugural British International Harmsworth trophy for motor-boats in 1903, Levitt took the helm, won the event and set the world’s first water speed record: 19.3mph. Typically for the day, however, as the boat was owned and entered by Edge, the trophy reads ‘S.F. Edge’.

Yet her story ended sadly. After 1910 she simply disappeared from the record, apparently giving up racing altogether. She died in 1922, alone in her Marylebone flat, aged just 40. Her records were soon beaten, but Levitt did have one major legacy.

Outside of racing she had become a journalist and her greatest topic was a woman’s right to motor. She produced a book called ‘The Woman and the Car: A Chatty Little Handbook for all Women who Motor or Who Want to Motor’. This proved a powerful, early call for women to be accepted in motoring and engineering. Filled with practical advice and photographs of her repairing mechanical faults, it included, among other innovations, the first suggestion of using a rear-view mirror.

Most importantly, it asserted the right of women to be treated equally in this engineering-based profession. Despite claims from male manufacturers that women were unsuited to driving, let alone racing, she proved this was simply nonsense. As she put it: “If a woman wants to learn how to drive and to understand a motor-car, she can and will learn as quickly as a man. There are many women whose keen eyes can detect and whose deft fingers can remedy, a loose nut or a faulty electrical connection in half the time that a professional chauffeur would spend upon the work.”