Famous Racing drivers – Eliška Junková

Eliška Junková (16.11.1900 – 5.1.1994)

The best of the Czech female racing drivers of all time, in the 20 century the worlwide fastest among women and the only one able to cope with men in the Grand Prix series. During her long and fulfilled life where she shined not only behind the wheel racing jewels brand Bugatti. She had contributed considerably to the reputation of Baťa’s tires; she drove a range of the Škoda cars, for example with one of the first pieces produced Š1101 “Tudor” and was at the beginning of the National Vintage Cars Club.

Eliška? Alžběta? Elizabeth? The answer to the question regarding the forename of this small stature, but otherwise undeniably eye-catching, smiling lady you can see this at the registry entry. Olomouc native was born on the 16th of November 1900 and in her case the Entry in German provided the name Elisabeth and the religion Catholic. The additional note corrects the original statement with the information, that according to the notification of the district political regulation at the Smíchov (Prague), she changed her religion from Catholic to Protestant on the same year as her marriage in 1922. And finally here is the latest update: “The District National Committee in Prague 1” by the final decision on the 14th of August 1972. This allowed already registered “child” to change her name from Alžběta (Elisabeth) to Eliška. She was at that time 72 years old and everybody knew her as Eliška and under this name she published at the Olympia Publishing house a memoir of “My recollection is the Bugatti”. At that time the normalization was in progress and in some matters linked with the “bourgeois” career of her first husband Čeněk, who was the banker and the boursier, she conducted herself in respectful manner. Regarding to human envy she hold back the number of the of GP Bugatti’s, that went through the hands of the “Fastest household of the Czech Republic”.

But let’s go back to the beginning, to Olomouc at the turn of the century. Alžběta Pospíšilová was born to the family of the craftsmen. Beside the love to the flowers and the animals, soon she expressed her talent in the study of foreign languages. As a smart sixteen years old, Eliška joined the bank branch, which was managed at that time by six years older Vincent “Čeňek” Junek. He was one of the six children of a poor tailor from Čermná (at the Ústeckoorlická) and thanks to his enormous talent and diligence he was experiencing a very decent career in the banking sector.

After a transfer to Brno, he took along with him also the assistant clerk Alžběta. Already in 1918, after she finished a music school, where she was a student of Leoš Janáček, the young lady went on the internship to France, to improve the language of the Allied Powers. She worked in the gardening business at Antibes and was trying to get on the English ship, so she could take a dream trip to Ceylon and India.

Although the recently established Republic was still recovering from the aftermath of the First World War, the couple had enough resources to be able to think of buying a high-end automotive technology. Moreover, they were young charming people, who gained from their passion sympathy. In 1922 the couple got married and Eliška as a one of the few women in our country acquired a “guiding list – driving licence”. When the examiner asked her about the speeding, her answer apparently was: “On the road 41km/h, in the town 15km/h and in the cornering 6km/h.

Already in October Junkovi bought directly at the Paris Motor Show at the exhibition booth, the racing car from the “Patron” of Ettore Bugatti, the type 29/30GP. Until then Junek chased mainly a massive Mercedes cars. The eight-cylinder OHC and the engine valve head gave performance of 79kW. It was a special one, which was driven by Ernest Friedrich at the French Grand Prix few months ago. With the additional headlights was soon registered for a normal use in Prague.

Čeněk was older and more experienced, but Eliška proved to be a very docile pupil, perhaps with more sensitivity to the machines than her husband. Also thanks to the technical superiority over less quality machines opponents, she already won her first solo race. She started on the 7th of September 1924 at the Lochotínska, in the sports cars category up to 2 litter’s capacity. In the following years, she appeared at the highest places several times. Let’s recall at least success at the Zbraslav – Jíloviště, Karlové Vary and on the rout Brno – Soběšice. At the 10th edition of the uphill race Zbraslav – Jíloviště (9th of May 1926) she was able to achieve on Bugatti T30 something incredible. She defeated not only her husband with the stronger type 35, but she has become – probably the first woman in the world – the absolute winner of the international automobile race.

“For the German Grand Prix was enough for us send a woman, even she is such as Mrs. Junk. When she sits behind the steering wheel, she exceeds her records.”

Eduard Bass by one of his popular poems in “Lidové noviny” celebrated another Eliška’s brilliant victory. In 1927 she had won her category at the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring.

Physically and technically very challenging race Targa Florio (the “shield of Florio”) at which she participated in the seasons 1927 and 1928, belonged to the top of her career. It was run on the 5 rounds, while the circuit with the mostly gravel surface measured 100km and 1500 non-memorable turns – we repeat, it was necessary to complete the race 5 times. Furthermore it meant to get from the sea level to a height about 900 meters of a safety fence above steep cliffs, what most of the rides could only dream of.

Eliška completed the route 50 times already at the training and at the downhill she had “bigger heart” than Čeněk and was even faster than him. At the first round of the race she was ranked at the fourth place, but in the second one, for the defect she had to give it up. It didn’t defer her from the second attempt in 1928. This time she competed on the Bugatti 35B in-line eight cylinder engine of 2.3 litter turbo compressor. By the way, the main contribution of E.Junk to a motorsport industry includes the elegant and clean driving style to compensate the lack of physical strength. Men used to have a tendency to pass the curve until they tear their hands into blood, but small Elizabeth helped the elongated pedals and sometimes even the cushion on the seat – yet drove clean track.

At the Tarsus in 1928 was Eliška after the first round on the fourth place again, first after the second round and second after the third and fourth round. It remains a mystery, how two boulders appeared in her way on the fifth round at the 38km of the track. Although by the hat trick she managed to avoid it, but still lost the time and this natural event scattered her. However, Eliška Junk was a great fighter and the final fifth place with the time 7:2:40 hours meant only 8 minutes gap to the winning master steering Diva.

The tragic accident of her husband Čeněk Junk on the 15th of July 1929 on the melted asphalt road of the German circle at the Nürburgring, broke her promising career. The driver was thrown out from the car and slammed his head into the rock. Eliška ended her career, moreover also for the obvious psychological reasons, which certainly played a role with the financial demands on the professional sport. The incomes dried up and in addition the World economic crisis started. Havel and his family left Eliška for a time to live in their beautiful flat in the Lucerna Palace.

Eliška got directly from Ettore Bugatti a touring car type 44 (serial no. 43271) for her business trips to Ceylon. Since August 1929 was using Bugatti 43 in Prague (serial no.43271), which still had the Uhlik’s bodywork and the engine of type 44.

Let’s remain that Ettore Bugatti had a weakness for the young couple and not only because they were prospective customers. There is also a letter from the 9th of April 1924, where he confided to them with the project of the type 35 and linked the sketch depicting the characteristic lines of that eventually most famous model in the history of Molsheim brand. Junks also received well in the purchase reference over the other candidates with more famous names.

Interwar Europe, formed after the collapse of the German, Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires into a colourful mosaic by the number of the independent states that were characterized at the present time with awfully high tariff barriers – the luxury tax, and similar compilations for those who were interested in the import of foreign cars. In order the Junks managed to over pass the obstacles and were running most of their Bugatti between Prague and Molsheim by the “axis”. Buying a new car was masked by the fake overhaul of the already supplied model directly to the factory – it was a habit of “conjuring up” with the documentation. At the high prices of the Formula Grand Prix the risk was worth it.

Junks frequently used on their cars these licence plates: N 469, N 496 and N 498. The part of their fleet was bought by the other Czechoslovak racers like their friend and industrialist – Hugo Emmerich. In the years 1922 – 1928 Junks purchased eight Bugattis for racing. For the normal travel they had Mercedes and after the phaeton Panhard-Levassor. Therefore they took from the Molsheim Bugatti 29/30 “Babuška” (serial no. 4001), Bugatti 32 “Quick Turtle – Rychlonohá želva” (serial no. 4059), Bugatti 35 “Otakárek” (serial no. 4328 or 4329), Bugatti 35 (serial no. 4572), Bugatti 35B (serial no. 4815), Bugatti 35C (serial no. 4831), Bugatti 37 (serial no. 37246) and Bugatti 35B (serial no. 4868).

After her husband’s death, Eliška Junk began to travel and also helped to build the Bugatti Trade Agency in Ceylon. Then she worked for Baťa, who at the beginning of the 30-ties had established the tires production. The former racer personally met with the council of the Greats – from the design Engineers Porsche and Ledwinka (she also drove Tatra 77) to the manager of the Mercedes Benz team Alfred Neubauer and a lot of other competitors and the characters of the both, local and foreign “Better societies”.

She remained in this industry even after the nationalization of Baťa’s concern, than she continued at the Ministry of the Chemical industry. Her contacts in the industry, her personal charm and knowledge of German, English, French and Italian language was a very good advantage. However, she was allowed to go abroad with Alois Samohýl, on Laurin & Klement the type G in 1966, when she attended at the memorial route on Targa Florio. After war she married again, this time to a journalist Ladislav Khás.

Eliška Junková lived from the 1928 until her death in the building of the Swedish Embassy, from where is one of the most beautiful views at the city. Thanks to the friendly relations with the Ambassador and office workers, she possibly supposed to have a significant part in the Nobel Prize for the Literature to Jaroslav Seifert. The Queen of the steering wheel” reminds until today the memorial plague on the building of the Embassy (Úvoz 13/156, Praha 1 –Hradčany). In Hostivař – Prague and Olomouc – Droždín are some streets named after her. Eliška Junková died on the 5th of January 1994. She was 93 years old.