The following is the first part of, uh, what seems to be turning out to be a full blown novel which I don’t have time to write. Most likely I will not be writing nearly as much for the rest of the challenge. Also be warned, some parts are a bit overwritten because I haven’t had a chance to edit and very large chunks of what follows is drama, as opposed to what I tend to write, which is action and thriller.
For the TL;DR, here is the vital information:
Driver: Annabel Herrington
Background: Anna is the granddaughter of the founder of Armada Motors, Arthur Herrington. A fiesty, impetuous engineer who isn’t afraid of getting her hands dirty, she laments the crumbling legacy of her late grandfather in a manufacturer that is now more concerned with building practical ecoboxes that sell instead of pure sports cars. Marginalised by her poor relationship with the executive board of the company, she wishes to revive the brand by crafting a legend so great that the company will have no choice but to see the wisdom in staying true to the original brand vision. As for how her participation in the race transpires… you’ll have to read on.
Car: 1984 Armada Motors Group B EVO RC
With 719bhp of engine-swapped boosted AWD, the modified car retains much of its rally roots, but also features arch flares housing much wider wheels and a drivetrain lifted from a modern supercar. Emphasis placed on reliability and drivability despite that amount of power, given the rigors of the journey ahead.
Woman on a Mission
A brief foreword, if I may: this tale takes place in a world of men, and sometimes, men and their women, for behind every great man is a woman. The woman in the title, however, is determined to stay behind no man. Yet, thanks to the nature of this world, it will take many lines of many men to explain the circumstances of her ascension, and the legend of her mission. Yet for this, her spirit will prevail, and her deeds will most certainly extend far beyond the reaches of this episode, etched indelibly into the history of an entire motoring marque.
This is the story of the women of the founding family of Armada Motors.
Of Suits and Sportscars
We begin in Hethel, a small country village just southwest of Norwich, on the Eastern head of that grand country known as Britain. Home to the formerly-warehouses factory of Armada Motors, founded by one Arthur “Ableman” Herrington. Arthur was a mechanical engineer, graduating one day, drafted the next to the Navy for the duration of the Second Great War. What he did during the war was a lot of wrenching and never mind the rest. After the war, he knew two things: one, that he never wanted anything to do with war ever again, and two, that cars were the future and the Brits would love their sport. And there were no shortage of like-minded men, emerging from tanks and jeeps and planes, who wished to partake in this vision, for want of honest work, and for building things once more instead of knocking them down or blowing them up, so it was that several dozen of them joined forces and, under the makeshift spotlights in the abandoned sheds of a healing nation, they set about creating the joy of four-wheeled power.
Time, and a generation passed. Arthur wed his university sweetheart, Maisy, and they had a daughter, Christine. Armada Motors thrived in the heady fumes of gasoline, racing and placing and just sometimes, even winning. The faithful bought their cars for their thrill and their risk. The afficionados bought them for their uncommonness under the hood. These were not the machines to multiply by their hundreds of thousands, but like all other great things British, gradually to be collected and become revered for the tales of their exploits. This was how the hundreds of Armada Motors flocked to the local legend, with names such as Sprite, Trident, Talon, yes, how could anybody forget the Talon, and of course, the most bonkers of them all, the Evo RC.
But sometimes, legend alone is not enough to preserve the legacy of survival, propogation and persistence. Which was why, like all great things British, they kept running out of money. Other companies had ther factories closed down, their ownership transferred offshore with each ebb of the economic tide. As for Armada, just as their misadventures rivalled their own rivals, so too did the regular rounds of near-crippling deficits and dead-end projects that left gaping black holes in their ledgers, and all through the eighties, theirs was the plentiful company of debt collectors, the boys in blue and the Crown knocking at their doors. To top it all off, Arthur’s dream was to enter the Evo RC into Group B rally, thus cementing its place among the legends of legends, but on the cusp of their preparation, Group B crashed and burned, along with the fiery remains of its cars and drivers, and the dream ended before it began.
In 1987, Arthur, at the ripe old age of 69, dispensed with the drudgery of a possible retirement plan in the confines of a gaol cell, and skipped straight to shuffling off his mortal coil by virtue of a coronary. At this time, he, finally admitting his acumen was for engineering and not business, had just assigned the task of reviving the dream of Armada, through whatever means necessary, to the sharp-looking bespectacled finance-looking type, one Graham Streeton. Graham’s gift lay not just with numbers, however, but also with observation, all the world’s information filtering through the prisms of his lenses into a picture for his mind’s eye. And his mind’s eye was always spotting the trends just as they were engendered. In the case of the 80s and motoring, it was the rise of the hot hatch. Armada may have done much with small cars, light cars, fun cars, but never quite such a thing as the front-engined hot hatch, but Graham made a compelling case. Armada rose to the occasion and made a not-so-compelling hot hatch. It did little to impact upon their fortunes, and so Arthur died under the impression the company was to die with him, scattered along with his ashes, the memories of what they achieved to follow him through the Pearly Gates.
But Maisy and Christine survived Arthur, Christine herself already married and with a daughter, Annabel. And as three generations of Armada Motors women, they witnessed Graham’s labor starting to bear fruit. The first Fore may have been fussy and confused, but the second generation, starting in 1991, came to critical acclaim and the promise of a new generation of followers. Seeing this, Graham knew what it was that needed to happen. And that is where we stand today: with him having just emerged from an executive board meeting having reached a consensus to squash any notion of a follow-up to the legendary Evo RC and its tipo 308 from across the Channel, on the grounds that its relevance had long been buried along with Arthur’s ashes.
“Graaaaaaaham! What is the meaning of this!”
There it was, the British lilt of rising indignation, come to assail him. Sure enough, in all her twenty-three years of frizzy brunette and freckled complexion pocket rocket, was Annabel Herrington, Arthur’s granddaughter, Armada’s crown princess. In her, Graham saw Arthur’s hopes, dreams and passions. And complete lack of business sense. For her part, Annabel saw in Graham a fusty suit with a receding hairline and old mothballs for testicles. As it were, she was marching across the factory floor, in her stained coveralls, hands on hips and war writ on her face, a scowl beneath her greasy warpaint as she approached.
“I thought we had an understanding, that the Evo project was to remain open.” Annabel stared laser beams, piercing his lenses, searing into the back of his eyes. But Graham had the numbers, and he would stand upon them.
“The understanding was conditional on our fiscal situation allowing it. Which it hasn’t.”
“Bollocks,” Annabel clipped. “You said yourself we were back in the black.”
Graham adjusted his glasses, perhaps trying to get those blasted laser beams to refract somewhere else. “That was insofar as we had enough to cover the production costs of the Fore Gen 2 and the engineering costs for a third.”
“I don’t care about the third gen. My grandpa died of a broken heart, Graham. Broken because he saw our motorsport days coming to a close, because we’ve had nothing worth racing since Group B died. And if we lose the same passion that he had, then his vision too will also have died.”
“Annabel-” Too late he realised his mistake, when Annabel’s eyes flashed: “Don’t Annabel me!”
“Anna.” Wiping away the cold sweat with a handkerchief he kept in his breast pocket specifically for when Anna harangued him, Graham resumed. “Passion alone doesn’t guarantee survival. Your grandpa hired me for the singular purpose of saving this company. That meant tying up all the loose ends. Paying back unpaid debts. Streamlining the workflow. And most importantly, focusing on the investments that yield the most. Of all the things we were able to do, this is the best, and dare I say, the only option for us. Rest assured that I will respect your grandfather’s wishes, first and foremost, by keeping Armada’s doors open.”
Anna wrung her hands. “I know that. I’m not saying you’re not doing a grand job of that, either. It’s just that to see us being reduced to an ecobox company-”
“Since when were we becoming an ecobox company? The Fore has superior handling and the Eagle superior performance to their direct competitors.”
“But the Birdie comes with an optional slushbox. Remember the last time the company tried that? Remember the Feltram? Last I saw the Birdie variant didn’t do awfully well and still isn’t. That’s what we get when we turn our backs on the spirit of the company. If we don’t have that-”
“What if I told you that the Fore represents the future of motorsport? That it will become the ideal platform for World Champhionship Rally?”
“Well I would say that I don’t like it and you and all the suits running the show aren’t looking in the right places. Yes, Group B was unsafe. So was F1 for that matter. But fans are pining for something daring, and they look to us. The Evo RC was incomplete, it borrowed an engine from the Italians. It should be our mission to finish what we started, even if, especially if what we create is unique in the world.”
Graham’s brow knitted. This was why he was getting wrinkles: when an unstoppable force such as Anna came along, he had to be an unmoveable object, but being an unmoveable object to Arthur’s granddaughter was a special task. Why does she have to be so like you? Graham cursed under his breath.
“You should give the Fore a chance,” Graham insisted. “The world is changing and we have to change before it does or we won’t even survive the present. Trust me, there’ll come a time when it forges its own legend worthy of any other Armada name.”
Anna stared at him, chewing her lower lip, arms crossed. Finally, she spun on her heel and stormed away. “We’ll see about that,” she shot, not even bothering to look back as she vanished through the giant roller-door and into the England grey.
Portrait of a Young Man and his Queen
A man’s home was his castle. The rundown Wymondham shanty Edward Cox shared with Anna and three others may have been a far cry from a castle, but he fancied Anna, and he reckoned Anna fancied him too (why else would she agree to live with him after all of high school), so he might as well have been the bloody king and she his queen as far as he was concerned. And no less for the reason that Anna was motoring royalty, granddaughter to the founding father of Armada, which technically would have made her a Princess, perhaps. Either way, the analogy fell apart a bit for he was no king, though as an aspiring journalist (in motorsports no less), his vocation was surely no less noble.
Right now, at the unholy hour of eight in the evening, as he was scouring the sports pages for clues in his future rivals’ travails, Anna was pacing up and down, her slippers going plap plap plap on the linoleum. All that plapping was starting to perturb him.
“Anna dearest,” Edward murmured, “It’s not healthy to frown so deeply.”
Anna ignored him. Well, she was deep in thought, so it probably wasn’t ignoring him. Suddenly she snapped upright, grabbed the plastic chair and dragged it to directly opposite Edward, plonking herself into it so she straddled it, chin propped on folded arms, and stared at him. “Ed, I’d like your thoughts on something.”
Edward blinked, his heart skipping a beat. With a gaze intense and purposeful, Anna did not look the part, but Edward knew a damsel in distress when he saw one. Tilting his imaginary visor, he prepared his most chivalrous voice, only for his mouth to fill with cotton when he saw the legs of her coveralls riding up her thighs, exposing her tan lines from the balmy Summer sun. Averting his eyes and licking his lips, he tried again. “M’lady how may I avail thee.”
Anna’s frown deepened, at least, one half of it, and she stared at him for a moment before continuing. “Can you predict the future of motorsports?”
Edward gaped for a moment, before remembering that this was Anna, his Anna, that was the way she had been since he’d known her. Not like normal girls, no, but perhaps that was part of why- Well, no, of course he couldn’t, so he went for bluster instead. “Maybe. Let me consult my crystal ball. Maybe it’ll tell us who’ll win at Snetterton and we can make a quick buck.”
Anna rolled her eyes. “I don’t mean that you smart-arse. What I mean is, in your journalistic pursuits, have you picked up on any trends or inside news in the codes about how the codes might change across Britain and Europe.”
Edward slowly raised his shoulders into a shrug. “…why would you want to know that?”
“Because I don’t have a controlling stake in my grandpa’s own company and the guy who’s in charge wants to ruin it,” she harumphed, then started muttering under her breath, “I’ll be damned if that Graham turns the company into an ecobox procession just because rally cars are going back to milk carton displacements…”
Ah, the black knight, Graham Streeton, planting the seeds of poison in her mind, to usurp the throne, and oust her from her empire. It was up to him, then, the white knight, to fend him off, and pour the sweet ambrosia of salvation to her lips-
“I mean, wouldn’t you agree that motorsports that got slower instead of faster was dull, unexciting? Not good for fans?”
Edward jolted back to the platonic present. “Yes, yes it would, and fans indeed get upset when the thrill of the racing becomes secondary. Although to be honest with you, the big focus right now on the big codes is safety, because fans also get really upset when their favourite race driver dies in a crash. Just last year, Aryton Senna-”
“Yeah I know about all that, but F1 is a bit of a basket-case anyway. And it’s not like Armada Motors was ever going to be about that.”
“But that just begs the question, what is Armada Motors about now? Because-”
“Exactly!” Anna pounded her fist into her other palm. “We haven’t made a big impact on the enthusiast scene for over a decade, and-”
“Actually,” Edward held up a finger, “The Eagle GTi is making a big impact; great reviews, improved sales-” Irritated, Anna cut him off.
“I know very well about all of that and don’t need to hear it again thank you. And before you say it’ll be the future of motorsports, need I remind you it was very mediocre when it ran in the BTCC.”
“Ok, ok,” Edward capitulated, muttering under his breath something about how Armada’s form in actual competition motorsports was patchy throughout all of history and that was just the way the world turned. “Anyway, what do you think Armada Motorsports should be about? If it’s not about the Fore?”
Anna’s eyes went starry. “Real sports cars, naturally. Roadsters. Coupés. Little mid-engine rockets. Delivering near-supercar performance on a budget. And no blasted ecoboxes.”
Edward looked at Anna’s radiating, regal self and almost caught himself sighing. A gem as rare as this needed not only to be treasured by one worthy, who appreciated her true worth, but also to be cut and polished to reveal her true brilliance! Fleeting visions flashed before him, of Anna storming the fort and defeating the rigid, crumbling Black Knight, of a crown atop her curls, and him at her side, dispensing the new rule of the land with his knowledge and wisdom, a rule of the love of the sports car, all stemming from her seeking his aid! But before all that, the work that needed doing started now: “Anna, that is a pure and beautiful vision and I love y- it. We need to lay the foundations to make it happen.”
“Well Ed, that’s exactly why I’m talking about it now. See, the way I see it, Graham’s missing a huge opportunity here, canning the Evo RC successor, what with the rally grey-market imports really making the money among the real enthusiast scene. And beyond that, the world desperately needs another Talon. The problem is, how do I even get Graham to listen?”
Edward put on his best wisdom face. “A dry, earthly mortal like Graham clearly only cares about one thing: money. That is why you’re in this predicament. Convincing him means convincing him that sating the fans demands will translate to money. And what does that?” Edward didn’t wait for an answer to his rhetorical question: “That’s right, word of mouth! Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday! The fans pass on their recommendations and it filters through to the general public.” Edward puffed up in preparation for his moment of glory: “And so it will be the duty of motor journalists such as I-”
Anna popped his bubble. “Yeah, but, you can’t have words without deeds.” Edward’s face fell while Anna mumbled on in deep thought. “Besides, the Fore’s success was despite the whole Winning On Sunday thing not actually happening. The last real victory we had was the Pikes Peak record in 1984, and of course that was in the Evo RC. Which we can’t even enter into the European Rally Cross because different regs. Not that the board would ever approve factory support for a race team, unless we look to sponsor privateer, but these days they only appear in historical and classic rallies, which isn’t relevant for creating a legend, which leaves us with…”
Edward tried to regroup: “Anna dear, you shouldn’t underestimate the written word. The fans will rally around the romantic notion evoked by my articles, that is what holds real power-”
He was once again interrupted, this time by Anna jumping upright, kicking the chair away with a clatter. “Of course! Why didn’t I think about this sooner!”
Crestfallen, Edward couldn’t help but ask. “Think about what?”
“I’ll do the racing myself.”
“I’ll find a code that’ll take me, and if I don’t, well, the wannabe boy racers have another thing coming!”
Once again Edward found himself struggling to find words, but this time, not due to brain-blocking hormones, but sheer shock. “T-t-that’s… have you flippin’ lost it? That’s crazy! And dangerous!”
Anna squared off, hands on hips. “Make up your mind Ed. First you’re agreeing with me that the fans need some excitement. Now you’re telling me that racing is dangerous and I shouldn’t. Is the thought of putting one’s money where one’s mouth is so scary?”
“But, but, why does it have to be you doing the racing? And on the street?”
“Why not? All the boys seem to be doing it. Is it because I’m a girl?”
Emotion swirled through Edward, threatening to destabilise the fragile conception of his kingdom. A coup of the heart, a mutiny of the sexes. His sweet princess, queen, now given to be a warrior, slipping away from his grasp. The dangerous glint in Anna’s eye loomed large, but in his youthful emasculated turmoil, Edward lacked the preternatural instinct to recognise the thin ice he had ventured way over.
“Well, there’s a reason racing is done by the boys. Brutish, testosterone laden, it’s patently unladylike.”
In the blink of an eye, the glint had turned into a flash and then a conflagration. “Unladylike, huh? Pray tell, what would you have me do and not do, as a lady? I was born and raised with motorsport in my blood, and be damned if some feckless pillock deign to advise me on the delicacies of my constitution by declaring me unfit to drive.”
Feckless pillock!? Surely this was just asking for a joust. There came a time in every man’s life when man must assert his strength and stand his ground, and stand he would, for surely Anna would expect no less! So Edward put his paper down and thrust his jaw out. “There is a good reason why there are so few women in motorsport. Name one who was successful-”
“Michèle Mouton,” Anna answered even before Edward had finished.
Edward faltered. “I said successful.”
Her lips pursed, her voice clipped, Anna bit out each word, “Four rally wins, a hundred and sixty two stage wins, a Pikes Peak record and a Le Mans class win, I daresay she was successful.”
“Walter Röhrl still beat her to the championship.”
“But she still wiped the sexist smirk off Ari Vatanen’s face.”
Edward was running out of legs to stand on, and started fumbling at his collar. “She’s the only one! And she retired nearly ten years ago! To have kids!”
By now Anna’s voice was bordering on a shout, not in volume, but intensity, the straining cords in her neck working her jaw furiously as it strangled her words. “She retired, because Toivonen died, and Group B died with him! Don’t you understand?”
Completely flustered now, both by the conversation and the fact that he was currently witnessing both hot and cold kinds of fury emanating from Anna, Edward flung his hands wide. “Understand what?! Come now, you’re being completely unreasonable! No woman in their right mind looks to go racing just because-”
No longer was the fury radiating from every pore and every hair; it had coalesced into the fire in her eyes, and the squaring of her jaw. “The world of motorsports needs more Moutons. Clearly I should take up her mantle, and others after me. And the suits and the pillocks will naysay, but we will persist. Wouldn’t that be something to write about.” She turned on her heel and strode away, out of Edward’s kingdom, transcending the elements into yet a higher, divine plane. It was at that moment that Edward knew that she was mad, and madly out of his league, and he could say no more.
The other two chapters will be posted as soon as I’m done. If I get the time I may also sketch Anna. HT to accent for very entertaining portraits!