SHE was an engineering pioneer, a champion racing driver and behind the design for the Galloway, a car with the memorable tagline "built by ladies, for those of their own sex."

Dorothee Pullinger smashed the glass ceiling in the automobile industry and her trailblazing work a century ago is set to be celebrated with a new display at the Riverside Museum in Glasgow.

Her story makes for fascinating reading. In 1910, Dorothee got her start as a draughtswoman at Arrol-Johnston in Paisley which, at that time, was the largest manufacturer of motor cars in Scotland.

She followed in the footsteps of her father Thomas Pullinger, a successful car designer who had honed his craft in France before returning to the UK to work for the Midlands-based manufacturers Sunbeam and Humber, then later as manager of Arrol-Johnston.

By all accounts, Dorothee aspired to a career in this field from a young age. The eldest of 12 children, she was born in France in 1894 and arrived in the UK when she was eight.

Dr Nina Baker, an engineering historian from Glasgow, has spent countless hours researching and documenting the remarkable life of Dorothee Pullinger.

"When her father was traipsing about France working for one designer after another, Dorothee was the oldest child and would have been the privileged one who got to have the occasional ride in the car," says Dr Baker.

"She was immersed in all of this from birth. Her mother worked in one of the very first factories to make incandescent light bulbs. Dorothee was surrounded by this very technical atmosphere from the beginning."

According to Dr Baker, when the Pullinger family moved to the Midlands, Dorothee didn't speak a word of English. "She was sent off to boarding school in Loughborough because her parents were busy with a rapidly growing family and the business.

"By the time Dorothee finished school in 1910, she could have gone to university – certainly there was some money and she had the general qualifications – but she was hellbent on being an engineer.

"Her father was very traditional and conservative – socially and politically. He hated the trade unions and they were a very pious, Catholic family. He expected his oldest daughter to stay at home and help her mother.

"She badgered him and eventually he agreed. Because he was managing director, he was able to open the door and make it possible for her to start an engineering apprenticeship at Arrol-Johnston in Paisley."

In 1914, Dorothee applied to join the Institution of Automobile Engineers but was turned down on the grounds that "the word 'person' means a man and not a woman".

When the First World War arrived, car manufacturing ceased as the war effort took over. Dorothee, then 22, was headhunted in 1916 to oversee female munitions workers at Vickers in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, which made bombs for the front line.

She ended up being responsible for around 7,000 workers and introduced a canteen system that provided cooked meals for the women.

"Dorothee was a tough lady," says Dr Baker. "She wasn't on the shop floor but had to make sure they were all there and kitted out, followed the rules, dressed, fed, washed, watered and housed."

After the war, Dorothee was finally accepted into the Institution of Automobile Engineers as its first female member and awarded an MBE for her war work.

She returned to Scotland and completed her apprenticeship. Dorothee became forewoman of the foundry and then a director of the Galloway Engineering Company, a subsidiary of Arrol-Johnston at Tongland near Kirkcudbright.

The facility had originally been built to manufacture aeroplane parts while offering university level engineering training for female workers. Dorothee persuaded her father to keep it open as a car factory, employing local women.

In 1920, the first plans for the Galloway car began to take shape. "After the war you have to find something new to do," says Dr Baker. "Thomas Pullinger had employed all these women munition workers and had the experience of seeing his daughter's success as an engineer.

"He had seen these very motivated women and knew they could really do the business. Thomas also knew that thousands of women had learned to drive during the war on their war work and that middle-class women wanted to be more independent than they ever had been.

"He and his daughter, one of the things they shared, was that they could spot a coming opportunity and I think they saw a market."

The goal was to build a cheap, simple motor car. Dorothee managed production of the Galloway with the designs influenced by her father and based on the Fiat 501, a model of which was bought and dismantled in secret at the factory.

Soon afterwards production of the Galloway began at Tongland. The car had several features to appeal to women drivers such as the promise of a more reliable engine and introduction of a rear-view mirror.

"There is a delightful book which is a guide for women drivers in the very early days," says Dr Baker. "It suggested taking your hand mirror off the dressing table when you went out in the car. The idea was to drive one handed, looking into your dainty ivory-backed mirror to see behind you."

There was no need for such antics with the Galloway, described by Light Car and Cycle in 1921 as "a car built by ladies, for those of their own sex".

It came with extra storage space, a raised seat and lower dashboard, smaller steering wheel and another innovation being the positioning of the brake and gear levers to make it easier to step in and out wearing long skirts.

Dr Baker has had the opportunity to sit inside a Galloway and a comparative car from same era. The contrast, she says, was night and day.

"The cars of that period had no power steering, no power brakes, everything was huge and clunky. I'm 5ft 4in – Dorothee was even smaller than me – and I could hardly see over the dashboard. The steering wheel was enormous and full of other bits of mechanism.

"The brake and gear levers were really long and crossed over in the doorway. Back then, you were not in trousers, you would be wearing a long Edwardian skirt. That said, even if you were wearing a flapper dress, getting in and out was awkward.

"It was very noticeable that in the comparable car I couldn't push the pedals right down to the floor and I couldn't see over the dashboard – all these problems were obvious."

As for the Galloway car? "I could tell the difference immediately," says Dr Baker. "Things like helping women to see all four corners of the car by putting in wing mirrors and rear-view mirrors.

"There was no great technical innovation, nothing that was world-changing patentable. It was just thinking: 'What can we do with the existing technology, so it suits the market?'"

But the 1920s were challenging times for independent car manufacturers. Tongland closed and production of the Galloway was moved to nearby Heathhall in 1923. Within five years that factory shut its doors too. Only 4,000 Galloways were ever made.

Today around 15 still survive worldwide, the majority of which are in Australia. "There are three in Scotland – one in running condition, one not running and one in the Riverside Museum in Glasgow," says Dr Baker. "Dorothee's son, who still lives in Guernsey, also has one."

Yet, that's far from the end of the Dorothee Pullinger story. As well as making cars, she also loved to be behind the wheel and enjoyed success competing in races. Dorothee took part in the Scottish Six Day Trials, with the Galloway winning the event in 1924.

After Dorothee left car manufacturing, she set up a laundry business in London and later Guernsey. "She built the place from a standing start, chose all the machinery, ran all these women and kept the trade unions out," says Dr Baker.

Dr Baker, herself a former merchant navy deck officer, research engineer and Green Party councillor, was instrumental in Dorothee – who died in 1986 aged 92 – becoming the first woman to be inaugurated into the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame seven years ago.

She believes it is vital to sharing stories like this. "This year is the centenary of the Women's Engineering Society and Dorothee was one of its founding members," says Dr Baker.

"My mission is to make the general public aware that women have been doing engineering very successfully for more than just the post-Second World War period. Sometimes they have been busy behind the scenes or might have been prominent in their day and since have been forgotten."

Heather Robertson, curator of transport and technology at Glasgow Museums, has been working on the display which will be unveiled this week with Dorothee's daughter Yvette Le Couvey in attendance.

Robertson and fellow curator Neil Johnson-Symington liaised closely with the family to create Driving Force: Dorothee Pullinger and the Galloway Car at Riverside Museum.

"We were looking at female stories in the museum and wanted to make sure there was a good balance and there weren't any hidden histories," says Robertson.

"While we have a lot of things that relate to women in more of a social history context, such as tram conductresses, we wanted to tap into women in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics].

"I had been putting together a trail that visitors could follow picking out the stories of different women. A colleague said: 'What about the Galloway car?' I didn't know the story to start with and then I learned all about Dorothee Pullinger and her work as an engineer.

"The Galloway car was up on the car wall, but it didn't have any of that information. I teamed up with Neil and we worked on an idea that would take the Galloway off the car wall and make a display around Dorothee and her work in the car manufacturing industry."

That car – a 10.9 Galloway Coupe model built in 1924 – will go on show beside objects that include an engine plate that came off the production line in Dumfriesshire and various documents relating to the Galloway car such as catalogues and worker's guides.

"We have a photograph of Dorothee standing beside a Galloway car before she goes into a race," says Robertson. "A historical costume maker has reproduced the clothes she is wearing including a lovely 1920s cloche hat, a skirt and a blouse. There will be a mannequin in the car wearing that."

There is a medal awarded to Dorothee for competing in the Edinburgh and District Motor Club race in 1922 and a sketch book of watercolours from 1908 when she would have been 14.

"One of the things we are trying to get across in the display is tying in with research that by the age of 10, many girls have already decided what is and isn't for them in terms of the subjects to study at school and careers to follow," says Robertson.

"Even now STEM subjects are often not considered by girls to be an option which is sad. We have quite a lot of creativity in the display and we're trying to get across the message that if you are a creative person, then actually engineering is something to think about going into.

"It is nice to have these paintings that Dorothee did as a teenager. It shows she wasn't all about maths and engineering, she was interested in lots of different things."

Robertson believes that Dorothee's story can continue to inspire and provide a strong role model for girls and young women today. The display will include three films, one of which features interviews with two teenage female rally drivers who compete in the modern era.

"We showed them photographs of Dorothee in her car and they talk about the differences in safety," says Robertson. "She was racing in a car with narrow tyres and that you had to start with a hand crank. There was no roof and no seatbelt. She just wore a little hat and jacket.

"Whereas today they have great big seatbelts, fireproof suits, helmets and a roof on the car. Dorothee was racing fast through the countryside in a car with no safety features. These two young drivers are in awe of what she did because they can't imagine driving a car like that."

For Robertson, the human side of the story proved every bit as enthralling. "It sounds like she was a real character. She loved to drive – and to drive fast. When Dorothee lived in Guernsey, she was famous for tearing around corners.

"Her family showed Neil some old letters and from the way that people talk about her, she was obviously a strong-willed woman. Dorothee knew what she wanted and wasn't afraid to go up against men to manage factories and work in new ways. She was very courageous."

Driving Force: Dorothee Pullinger and the Galloway Car will be on show at Riverside Museum in Glasgow from Friday. Visit