The Mystery of Dorothy Patten & her 1938 Peugeot 402 Darl’mat Competition Roadster – Part 1

Text: David Cooper & Peter Moss Images: Courtesy David Cooper

Research to restore a rare Peugeot competition Darl’mat roadster to the way it was raced in 1939 led to an amazing discovery: there were two Dorothy Pattens associated with this car!

Dorothy Patten with her Darl’mat in front of Tom Knowles' workshop in London, 1939

Uncovering a Mystery

Tim and Jill Watson were browsing in a secondhand shop around 1980 when they found a scrapbook about racing a Salmson and a Peugeot Darl’mat in the 1930s. They quickly realized that this scrapbook was assembled by Dorothy Patten, the race driver of the two cars. The book included photographs, newspaper articles, receipts and tickets, race entry lists and more. Based on the scrapbooks, Tim published a two-part article about Dorothy Patten and her racing career in both cars, in Sporting Car magazine in 1981.

That might have been the end of the story, but the Darl’mat was deteriorating in a back garden in Sussex after the owner had passed away in 2009 and was purchased by a collector from the Netherlands. A restoration was executed by Tony Paalman and the car debuted at Retromobile in 2016. The authors saw it there and were struck by the ivory colour. Eighteen months later, the Darl’mat was offered at the Gooding and Co. auction at Pebble Beach and the authors’ client purchased it. Photos of the car racing accompanied the car. The new owner wanted to know more about the history of the car and its first owner, Dorothy Patten.

Darl’mat painted ivory Gooding Auction 2017

Coincidentally, the scrapbook was sold as part of a lot of auto memorabilia in a Bonhams auction in 2018. One of the authors of this article, David Cooper, acquired it from the winning bidder just after the auction.

A second coincidence: the co-author of this article, Peter Moss, came to visit the Cooper Technica’s restoration workshop in Wisconsin. When he walked in, he immediately noticed the Darl’mat and was astounded to learn that it was Dorothy Patten’s car, as he had written a short article about this very car for the SAHB (Society of Automotive Historian in Britain) website in 2017, though he did not know where the actual car was at that point. While Peter and the author were meeting, the box containing the scrapbook arrived and they opened it together.

We both finally understood how Howard Carter felt when he looked into Tutankhamun’s tomb for the first time. The collection of information was extraordinary. With this information as a starting point, and with the assistance of other researchers, the authors were able to assemble the record of Dorothy Patten’s racing career and acquire many supporting documents about her life.

Jill Watson had noted that someone had changed the dates in the scrapbook’s photographs—by twenty years! 1936 became 1956, for example. Jill thought the motive might have been vanity. It turns out she was right. In our research we discovered that Dorothy Patten had lied about her age as well her past, her family background and many other things throughout her life. But maybe she would not have been as successful if the truth were known…

The most amazing fact she lied about was that in the late 1930s she had a younger and prettier stand-in, who strongly resembled her, to appear as her with her racecar in newspaper and publicity photos. Photos of the two women appearing in the same clothes at the various races can be seen in the scrapbook. Dorothy left the photos and articles that revealed the secret in the scrapbook, but no one realized what she had done for many decades.

The Two Dorothy Pattens

Here are photos of the two Dorothy Pattens, which we are calling the elder and the younger. The elder was the talented racer whose extraordinary life we traced. She had a square face, prominent chin, and she became quite stout as she aged. The other, similar in appearance but slender, looked much younger, had different eyes, a thinner chin and nose, and was more photogenic. The younger posed in the late 1930s as Dorothy Patten in newspaper photographs, though she herself was not a racer. The two Dorothys may have been sisters or possibly mother and daughter or aunt and niece. Compare the photos on the right and left taken from the scrapbook.

The younger was engaged briefly to Captain Anthony Ryan in 1942, though the engagement was broken off only two weeks later. The newspaper described her as a ‘young and very attractive and amusing widow’. The article said that her husband was killed in a hunting accident in Pau in 1938. But the elder’s husband, Rainer Dorndorf was still alive, and was interned in Ireland during the war as an enemy alien. Was the engagement broken off when the truth came out and Capt. Ryan discovered she was not Dorothy Patten? It is not known if the younger Dorothy ever married.

Later, the younger may have moved to the South of France. A note to Jill Watson from racer Monica Whincop states she heard this from a mutual acquaintance, according to Eddie May. But it seems that neither Eddie May nor Monica Whincop knew of, or publicly mentioned, the two Dorothys. If the two Dorothys appeared in the press, wearing the same clothes, other racers and Dorothy’s first husband, Rainer Dorndorf, would have known about it. But everyone kept the secret. Still the scrapbook contained the only known photo of the two Dorothys together. Perhaps the elder Dorothy wanted the true story to be discovered...

The only photograph of the two Dorothy’s together, mid-1950s

Rare & Unique Vehicles Magazine

This article was revised and adapted from Rare & Unique Vehicles Issue 9, Winter 2023 Reprinted by permission.

For the second part of this exciting story, tune into deRivaz & Ives Magazine tomorrow (The Mystery of Dorothy Patten & her 1938 Peugeot 402 Darl’mat Competition Roadster–II (


David Cooper is a historian and restorer specializing in pre-WWII French and Italian cars. With workshops in France and Wisconsin, he is known for his commitment for authenticity and historical accuracy. David is also the Associate Editor of Rare & Unique Vehicles magazine.

Peter Moss is a chemical engineer and industrial consultant with a passion for motoring history. A longtime member of the Society of Automotive Historians in Britain, Peter has published many articles and books on Rolls-Royce and Bugatti motor cars.


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