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06 Jun 2024

Photos by Simon Jessop / Archive Delwyn Mallett

A classic Porsche as unique as its first owner

Remembering the remarkable life of Betty Haig behind the wheel of her very special early 911  

Betty Haig was truly a one-off. Hailing from the famous family of Scottish whisky distillers and the great-niece of Field Marshal Douglas Haig, she was an accomplished and successful rallyist, hillclimber and circuit racer who competed in the Monte Carlo Rally and the 24 Hours of Le Mans in successive years in the early 1950s. The latter, while sharing a friend’s Chinetti-run Ferrari, was when she first encountered a “weirdly strange” 356.
 
Later, she involved herself in car clubs and motor racing organisations with equal energy. She was an early board member of Porsche Club Great Britain, an organiser of and participant in the first historic race in the UK and a founding member of the Historic Sports Car Club. She did all this while managing to own more than 100 cars throughout her lifetime.
 
Her closer association with Porsche started in the mid-1950s, when it was still an unorthodox choice. Neither the cheapest nor the fastest of sports cars at the time, they were, however, well-engineered and undeniably distinctive. That, together with a connection to concessionaires AFN stemming from her association with Frazer Nash, would appeal to the non-conformist Haig. Her first foray into ownership was a 1956 356A coupé bought in 1957. It wasn’t kept for long – a recurrent theme – but a similar 1958 model in solid rather than metallic blue was bought new shortly thereafter.

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Now getting into her stride, Haig next acquired a 356A coupé in silver with the slightly stronger Super engine. She liked the car, but nonetheless moved on to what was possibly the only UK-supplied RHD 356B Super 90 Roadster. The open car was, in turn, followed by a return to a couple of 356B coupés and most of her various 356s survive to this day. She preferred the A for journeys between English and Scottish homes on grounds of economy; if she stayed below 80mph, the hard-driving Haig calculated the A returned 40mpg while the B in Super 90 trim did rather less.
 
Haig switched to a 912 for a year or so before buying her first 911 in 1967, when she was in her early sixties. The new car was blue again and carried the registration BLH 7 – a plate first seen a few years earlier on her Jaguar XKSS. She kept the 911 for more than 10 years, but still wasn’t quite finished with 356s. In 1970, she acquired and renovated a split window pre-A coupe that was one of the oldest in the UK and which is now owned and displayed by Porsche Cars Great Britain. A couple of years later, she bought a pre-A Speedster from the automotive designer Dawson Sellar, who worked on the design team for the 928.
 
In the late 1970s, the older cars were gradually sold and replaced with a modern 911 SC. She also held meets for fellow enthusiasts at Shellingford House, the home she shared with her friend and regular co-driver Barbara Marshall. Her remarkable Life Behind the Wheel, as her biography is appropriately titled, came to an end in 1987.

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But Haig lives on through her cars, and I was recently involved with one excellent example – an early 911. The first right-hand-drive 911s appeared in 1965 and were not an immediate sales success, meaning the earliest cars are rare. Haig’s was built in May 1967, but was not bought by her until September. It’s possible it was ordered for stock rather than a specific customer, or maybe the newish S variant was more popular. As a result, the car would have been slightly dated when Haig acquired it because the first cars from the following model year were starting to appear. Maybe she negotiated a canny deal including having some options fitted to the rather spartan ex-factory spec on that basis.
 
The most striking thing about the car today is its exceptional condition and originality. It
has clearly led a sheltered life and been extremely well looked-after not only by Haig, but also by subsequent keepers. A second owner bought the car in the late 1970s and his family only sold it at the end of last year. The paint is original, with the odd slightly carefree touch-in, and the interior looks hardly used. The speedo shows an exceptionally low but believable total of less than 25,000 miles and the history file suggests that the vast majority of them were driven by the car’s first owner. Haig had the car serviced at AFN in Isleworth and, despite its limited use, it has more recently been cared for by specialists in Oxfordshire.
 
The Kardex notes that the only option the car was supplied with was a loudspeaker. However, a number of well-chosen additions and modifications – as would be expected of such a keen driver – can be seen in period photographs and on latter-day inspection. Externally, there are under-bumper fog lights and Fuchs wheels. Interestingly, there is no door mirror. Inside is a smaller leather-trimmed steering wheel, a radio, an outside temperature gauge and a Saint Christopher medal for luck. Less obvious, underneath, are suspension changes including a rear anti-roll bar, made at the suggestion of her friend Dickie Stoop and to which Haig attached great importance.

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The result is a car that reflects her tastes and preferences and one she very much enjoyed driving. Haig talked about using the 911 on long, fast road trips to Scotland and, after a trackday at Goodwood on newly fitted wider wheels and fresh tyres, happily wrote “it was possible to set the car up for each corner, then open it up in the right gear and see what happened: I was delighted with the result”.
 
The car has carried the registration BLH 7 from new. It also has a GB plate on the back from a continental adventure or two, possibly including a factory visit with the Club. It would be nice if it were now seen a little more often than has been the case in recent years. After all, it’s a reference car for those who appreciate that sort of thing as well as a reminder of the life and times of its distinguished first owner.
 

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