Hellé Nice was a talented, bold and beautiful race car driver, a true pioneer of the sport in her day.
She went to Paris at age 16, where she found work in some of the city's music halls. She became a very successful dancer under the stage name Helene Nice which eventually became Helle Nice. She built a solid reputation as a solo act but in 1926 decided to partner with Robert Lisset and performed at cabarets around Europe. Her income from dancing as well as modeling became such that she could afford to purchase a home and her own yacht.
Some of her affairs were brief while others were of longer duration that, beyond the wealthy and powerful Philippe de Rothschild, included members of the European nobility and other personalities such as Henri de Courcelles, Jean Bugatti and Count Bruno d'Harcourt.
Nice loved the thrill of driving fast cars and so snatched the chance to perform in the racing event at the annual fair organized by fellow performers from the Paris entertainment world. She was an avid downhill skier but an accident on the slopes damaged her knee and ended her dancing career. Helle Nice decided to try her hand at professional auto racing. In 1929, driving an Omega-Six, she won an all-female Grand Prix race at Autodrome de Montlhery in the process setting a new world land speed record for women. Capitalizing on her fame, the following year she toured the United States, racing at a variety of tracks in an American-made Miller racing car.
Philippe de Rothschild introduced himself to her shortly after her return from America. For a time, the two shared the love of automobile racing. Rothschild had been racing his Bugatti and he introduced her to Ettore Bugatti.
Ettore thought Nice would be an ideal person to add to the male drivers of his line of racing vehicles. She achieved her goal and in 1931 and drove a Bugatti Type 35C in five major Grands Prix in France.
She owned and raced a Bugatti type 35 in the early 1930s, competing at prestigious international circuits like Le Mans, Reims and Monza.
Born Mariette Hélene Delangle, Ms. Nice ran more than 100 hill climbs, rallies and grand prix races, broke a female world speed record at Montlhery in 1929 and set closed course endurance records that still stand, primarily behind the wheels of Bugatti Type 35s and Alfa Romeo race cars.
She was the face of Esso in the USA, and Lucky Strike cigarettes in France
In 1937 while racing in the "Yacco" endurance trials for female drivers at the Montlhery racetrack in France, alternating with four other women, Nice drove for ten days and ten nights breaking ten records that still stand to this day. For the next two years, she competed in rally racing while hoping to rejoin the Bugatti team.
However, in August 1939, her friend Jean Bugatti was killed while testing a company vehicle and a month later, racing in Europe came to a halt with the onset of World War II.
In 1949, the first Monte Carlo Rally after the war took place and Nice was there to take part. At a large party organized to celebrate the return to racing, Louis Chiron, a multiple Grand Prix champion and Monaco’s favorite son, loudly accused her of being a spy for the Gestapo. He, had been racing for the Nazi propaganda Mercedes Benz team, and historian Miranda Seymour, author of Nice's biography went so far as to check the official records in Berlin and was advised by the German authorities Nice had never been an agent.
Chiron's motive for destroying HER reputation and career are debateable, but likely he saw her talents as an obvious threat to HIS racing future, and by destroying her public image, removed her as competition.
Her racing records were quickly forgotten because of the drama of World War II, and she died in 1984, impoverished and largely forgotten.
In the end, she was to be found living alone in a small apartment in a run-down part of Nice, provided rent-free, out of charity, by a sympathetic landlord. Her only income were handouts from a charity organization called “La Roue Tourne”, which helped former theatricals.
The Hellé Nice Foundation will continue to assist young women interested in pursuing a career in racing, through grants and direct support.
The Hellé Nice Foundation, Inc. is a registered non profit foundation in the State of Georgia, and Federal 501(c) 3 status is being approved.
Contact via post or email. Your support is appreciated.
Donations, as well as references to people who have an interest, tips, and to help raising funds are appreciated
Sheryl A. Greene, Founder
The Hellé Nice Foundation, Inc.
320 Knox Bridge Trail
Canton, GA 30114
Sheryl's interest in cars began as her father enlisted her as his helper. “My first car was a Triumph Spitfire, purchased for $230, when I was 16. We towed it home and my dad and I got it running.”
Years later, she found a fantastic deal on a 1971 E-Type Jaguar and joined the local Jaguar Club. One thing led to another, and before long she was running slaloms with her E-Type and became a certified Jaguar Concours judge.
She now has a degree in speech communications and theatre, has worked behind the scenes in television and the costume industry, and managed an auto restoration garage.