By Alex Matthews
Two motor-mad pensioners are gearing up to take on the London to Lisbon race after being reunited with their rally car from the 1970s.
Bronwyn Burrell, 72, and 77 year old Tina Kerridge-Reynolds competed in the car they christened ‘Puff the Magic Wagon’ when they took on the gruelling World Cup Rally nearly five decades ago.
The pair, along with their co-driver Tish Ozanne, made it as far as Argentina in the Austin Maxi before the car landed in a ditch and they missed out on making the next stage by 20 minutes.
Since then, the trio had lost touch with each other and the car, and settled down into more sedate lives.
Sadly Tish passed away in 2009, but Bronwyn was reunited with Tina in 2013 after randomly Googling her and discovering she had given a talk at a motor club.
Now together again with their car, the duo are fired up and ready to relive their experience.
They will be racing in the London to Lisbon Classic Rally alongside a host of other pre-1987 cars.
Former pin up girl for Castrol, Bron said: “I never thought I would be doing this again. It’s just such a thrill. We have so many stories with that car.
“I got a hint of a chance and I had to go for it. I want to do it now because I can.
“It’s a great way to relive my youth.
“It won’t be quite the same as course, as the car is a lot slower, but I don’t think I’ve lost any of my driving ability.
“I’ve got my racing licence again and I’m raring to go.”
The ladies competed in the London to Mexico World Rally Cup in 1970, when Tina was 30 and Bronwyn just 25.
It began at Wembley Stadium on April 19 and ended in February, with a route that wove all through Europe and South America.
It was considered the hardest race in the world, and the all-female team was a novelty.
But they braved rivers, deserts, jungles, mountains, possible bandits and lack of sleep to make it as far as the Andes.
Bronwyn has incredible fond memories of the event and the race, until their gut wrenching elimination by 20 minutes.
She said: “It was fantastic and such a great experience. People were amazed an all-female team was competing, but we just got on with it.
“We would sleep in the back seat surrounded by supplies, while the other two drove and navigated.
“I had colour coded underwear so I knew which ones to wear.
“We made it to Lisbon as the 35th, in the first 70 cars, and so had a space on the boat to South America. We were really proud.
“We got to Buenos Aires before the 200 mile trek across the Pampas.
“We were 150 miles through the stage but then slid on a corner and straight into a steep 4ft ditch. We could not get the car out.
“Eventually the tow truck came, but we got to the end of the rally stage 20 minutes after it had closed.
“We just sat and cried. The car was running beautifully again and we could have gone on.
“It was so sad and frustrating.”
After their elimination, Tina returned to England to see her children, while Bronwyn and Tish, the car’s owner, decided to push on and cross the Andes.
They were 13,000 feet up when they came across a village in the hope of finding petrol and a mechanic.
But sadly, once they had turned the engine off, they could not get it started again, and they did not have a spare rotor arm to replace their cracked one.
They ended up getting a lift with suspected KGB agents to Mexico, before returning home.
All three of the women gave up rallying.
Bronwyn said: “I came back to the UK and had to get a job. I had to concentrate on my life.
“I never went back into rallying and I never told anyone I used to be a rally driver.”
It was only four decades later that Bronwyn and Tina managed to get back in touch.
Tina had located Puff in 2009, and through her Bronwyn got a call that the car would be making an appearance at a fair in Cambridge.
Bronwyn said: “I Googled myself but there was not that much there.
“But one thing that caught my eye was that Tina had given a talk at a motor club in East Anglia.
“I emailed the club and asked to be put in touch.
“We had not spoken in 40 years, but we started chatting again immediately. It was so lovely.
“In 2013 got a phone call that Puff was going to be at the Fenland Fair, so I rushed up and there she was.
“I was delighted to see her again.
“I was all ready to drive her but when I jumped in the car and started her up the clutch was horrendous and the brakes didn’t work.
“I had a go anyway – I’m a rally driver and I’ll drive anything.
“I kept seeing her and the owner at various fairs, and eventually I told him she’s a rally car and she should be doing what she was designed to do.
“He agreed to sell her to me for the price he paid, which was extremely kind of him.
“He said he had 27 cars and did not need a World Cup Rally car.”
Bronwyn has already had a few test drives with Puff at Race Retro and the London Rally School and is happy the car is good to go.
She said: “It felt very nostalgic sitting in the car 43 years on.
“It was rather mad but comforting. You remember so many things.”