For some, the average vintage car owner might look like someone you’d see at the Amelia Island Concurs. However, the world of classic car drivers is as varied as the cars themselves. And just like racing, it’s a world whose female representation is slowly growing. Slowly but surely, women are becoming a greater part of classic cars’ public presence. But while there’s still a lot of ground to make up, vintage car owners and enthusiasts can help that presence expand even more.
Women are increasingly driving and getting involved in vintage cars
In absolute terms, female vintage car owners are still in the minority, the New York Times reports. However, Hagerty’s recent survey found that the insurance company’s number of female policyholders grew by roughly 30% from 2010-2020. And to those saying that the younger generation isn’t interested in cars, you might want to think again. That same survey noted that the biggest policyholder increases were among Gen X (41-56 years old) and millennials (24-40 years old).
It’s worth noting that Hagerty’s survey doesn’t reflect women who jointly own vintage cars with their partners, NYT notes. In other words, the increase in female policyholders comes from women deliberately getting involved in classic cars. And it’s not just Hagerty that’s noticed this increase. In 2020, Lichtenstein’s Classic Car Trust ran a survey through its official magazine, The Key, that reached over 1,100 women across multiple nations. And over 70% of those women said that they respond to vintage cars “emotionally, with ‘positive’ feelings,” NYT reports.
While that might be surprising to some, it really shouldn’t. Women have been involved in cars, vintage or otherwise, literally since the automobile’s invention. Bertha Benz took the world’s first car trip on Karl Benz’s Motorwagen. Sandra West requested burial by Ferrari 330 America. Racecar driver Lyn St. James still loves driving the 1990 NA Miata she bought new, the Wall Street Journal notes. And former All Girls Garage contestant and current co-host of Motor MythBusters on MotorTrend, Faye Hadley, is currently restoring her dream car, a 1989 Toyota Supra.
The growing presence of women in the vintage car scene hasn’t gone unnoticed. This year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, for example, ran a forum called “Women Who Love Their Cars,” featuring, among other notaries, Lyn St. James. Bonhams online auction site The Market now has a female general manager, Caroline Cassini. And after decades working with antique tractors, Tabetha Hammer is now the CEO of America’s Automotive Trust, Hagerty notes.
Despite this growth, barriers still exist for female vintage car owners
Unfortunately, as in motorsports, female vintage car owners often face sexism, discrimination, and other derogatory attitudes. Recall that The Key survey mentioned above? The results stressed that women, especially younger women, “’ask for gender equality,’” NYT says. Though to be fair, it’s not always men that have “preconceived notions,” Hagerty reports.
It doesn’t help that the vintage car world doesn’t have a significant number of female mentors. Or rather, for a long time, these potential mentors weren’t widely recognized. For every Jessi Combs or Sabine Schmitz, there are scores of women in the automotive field whose accomplishments remain unknown. The NYT reports that, in researching his book Fast Ladies: Female Racing Drivers 1888 to 1970, author Jean-François Bouzanquet “cataloged nearly 600 women who played important roles…in shaping automotive history.”
It’s difficult to imagine doing something if you never see someone who looks like you taking part in it. And if vintage car enthusiasts want their world to grow, they need to open the gate so anyone who wants to can enter.
What can you do to help?
While the monetary side of classic car ownership is hard to tackle, there are ways to improve the situation for future female participants.
The first is to amplify female voices and let women tell their stories in a supportive environment. Another is to support organizations that promote female participation in motoring events, such as the Rebelle Rally. And ultimately, make women feel welcome in the vintage car sphere, free of judgment or pre-conceived notions.
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