Virta Warrens: Ahead of Her Time and Gone Too Soon
By David Kanally and Susan Tucker
Virta Jones Warrens was born in September of 1912 in Portland, Oregon. A few highlights of her remarkable career were provided by Susan Tucker, Virta’s daughter.
“She was quite a daredevil”, recalls Susan, “And she would often strap on a crash helmet and take a Bantam down over a bank or on some other performance test. She also raced stock cars and was a fierce competitor. She was an accomplished mechanic, but never lost a bit of her femininity. But I remember being embarrassed as a teenager when my dates would ask my Mom how to fix their cars...and she would show them! Now I think that was great!”
As beautiful as she was daring, Virta was Miss Rose City at age 18. She married Holt W. Warrens in 1932.
Susan adds, “My recollections of taking rides in the Bantams were extreme fun and remembering her wearing her helmet to do yet another “daring” run near the Portland Zoo...handling the car while maneuvering it up and down the sloped banks between the spiraled road on the way (up and down) from the zoo. She learned a great deal about car engines (from my father) and could at any time, turn on the ignition and tell you immediately if you needed a tune up. She held the Bantams (and Austins) to be the catalyst to her auto sucess and always raved about their mobility and performance anywhere. She was very proud to be associated with them.”
“We don’t have a lot of photographs of my mother,” says Susan, “but I did find a few, including one of her as Miss Rose City and one of her racing career at the Portland Speedway...usually she raced stock cars, I think this “midget racer” was a car owned by my mother and father but driven by a fellow named Jimmy Reardon. She drove everything though, as long as it had a steering wheel!! She was the first woman stock car driver in the Washington/Oregon/Idaho region.”
Susan continues, “Her passion was poetry and music and she never stopped composing and writing although she never tried to get anything published. She remarried when I was 5 1/2...and she and my stepfather went into the restaurant business during the Second World War. They were quite successful and later bought a dining house (“Cathryn’s”, 4 star) and did quite well there. They were highly recommended in the presigious Duncan Hines directory, quite a feat at the time.”
“As I grew older, I realized she had so many talents....she was an astute businesswoman and loved every minute of it. She became quite ill in 1949 with a liver disease. She would have been an excellent candidate for a transplant, but in those days no such thing was even thought of.”
“Virta Warrens passed away on December 25, 1954 at age 42. I was just 19 at the time and it was a devastating ordeal to see her leave us so very young. However she was suffering mightily and at last found peace. I cannot imagine if she had not become ill what else she might have accomplished....truly she was astonishing.”
Susan also shared her appreciation for the Northwest Light Car Company promotional film provided to her by the Austin Bantam Society. It has been difficult for her to describe her mother adequately to her children.
Susan writes, “Can you imagine a movie showing up 60-plus years later--something that I knew nothing about--my children had many wonderful experiences with my father, but only saw the few pictures I have of my mother...nothing to compare to viewing someone alive and enjoying their work and life as she did. I cannot tell you how remarkable this is.”