Women and the car: A success story from the very start
Bertha Benz – the strong woman at the side of a brilliant inventor
Louise Sarazin helped Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft on the road to early success
Again and again it was women who achieved pioneering deeds with the automobile
Stuttgart. Women played a crucial role in the success of the automobile, which was invented almost simultaneously by Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz in 1886. The first long-distance journey in the Benz Patent Motor Car – which was also the first promotional tour and the first endurance test in automotive history – was undertaken by a woman: Bertha Benz. And the breakthrough for the revolutionary new German invention was achieved in France, thanks to the enterprising spirit of a woman: Louise Sarazin. The first person to pass a driving test was a woman, Duchess Anne d’Uzès, who was also the first person to be fined for speeding. And the first person to round the world in a car was, yes, you guessed it, a woman – Clärenore Stinnes.
The two inventors of the car, Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz, were greatly encouraged in their work by their wives. The book
,Daimler – Benz. Wo das Auto anfing, pays tribute to their contributions to the invention of the automobile: "For the wives of the pioneers not to give their advice in decisions really would not have been in keeping with their position nor with the sacrifices they made." As the saying goes: Behind every strong man there is a strong woman in support.
Bertha Benz undertakes the first long-distance drive in automotive history
The wife of Carl Benz played an extremely active role in the history of the automobile. Bertha Benz not only constantly strengthened her husband's resolve, encouraged him when he was on the verge of giving up in the face of seemingly insoluble problems, or was a good partner to him for constructive discussions, she even used her dowry to support her husband's plans.
In addition, she was the first woman to help further develop the automobile. After the first long trip (and first endurance test) with the Benz Patent Motor Car from Mannheim to Pforzheim and back in August 1888, she knew as driver what definitely had to be improved. One thing the vehicle needed was an additional gear for hills, as Carl Benz recalls in his memoirs, which were transcribed by his son-in-law rather than Benz himself: "And the moral of the story was: 'The engine is too weak for mountain tours.' So the engineer gladly accepted the proposal and fitted a third gear for uphill travel."
Apart from the valuable practical insights that led to further improvements in the new vehicle, the bold trip that Bertha Benz undertook with her two sons was the first promotional tour for an automobile. The press reported at length on the horseless carriage and so drew attention to Benz’s new means of transport, which was shortly after presented in Munich, where it was heralded as the "fully-fledged substitute for horse and carriage".
Gottlieb Daimler trusts Louise Sarazin
The year 1888 was an important one for the breakthrough of the automobile in economic respects, too, and once again a woman had a major hand in it. Louise Sarazin took over business operations for Gottlieb Daimler that year in France, the country of technophiles where the revolutionary new vehicle first aroused people's enthusiasm. While Germany took a rather sceptical view of the German invention, from France the automobile set out to conquer the world.
The sale of Daimler engines in France began with an amicable relationship between Gottlieb Daimler and lawyer Edouard Sarazin, who the German inventor knew from his days at the Deutz company. With a handshake, Sarazin acquired the rights to exploit all future Daimler inventions on French territory. But then the Frenchman fell ill and died on 24 December 1887 at the age of 47.
On his deathbed, he instructed his wife to continue his work of propagating Daimler's invention throughout France. This she did. "You will now want to find a new representative for France," Louise Sarazin wrote to Gottlieb Daimler. "But as I have a knowledge of all past negotiations and am informed of all details to date, I too offer you my services for your work until you have found a suitable replacement for my husband."
Gottlieb Daimler accepted "wholeheartedly" and assured her "that you will continue to share in the transactions, but I am as yet unable to tell you in what way. In any case I shall do nothing in the near future without seeking your advice." Author Friedrich Schildberger wrote that it was typical of Daimler's sure instinct that he clearly recognised the exceptional abilities of this woman.
Other men lacked this instinct, however. Louise Sarazin first had to prove that she could make a worthwhile contribution as a woman and hold her own as a business partner. But she was not about to let it get her down and proved highly persuasive on behalf of the new engines and their possibilities for use in private vehicles. On 5 February 1889 Gottlieb Daimler and Louise Sarazin signed the contract that finally sealed the introduction of the automobile in France: Daimler would get 12 percent of the purchase price for every engine which Madame Sarazin as concession holder built or had built.
Gottlieb Daimler remained true to his business partner when other parties showed an interest in manufacturing the Daimler patents under license subsequent to the World Exposition in Paris from May to October 1889. On 1 November, 1889, he gave Louise Sarazin a written promise that she could exclusively exploit all French and Belgian patents, the only condition being that they must bear the name Daimler.
Women self-confidently conquer the automobile
The Mercedes brand is named after a girl
Motoring not "ladylike" in the early days
Women as early motifs for automotive publicity
Whereas Bertha Benz and Louise Sarazin "actively" contributed to the growth of the automobile, on the consumer side prospective female buyers quickly lined up. One of the first Benz vehicles sold went to a woman: "I still recall with great pleasure that among the first buyers was a woman teacher," we read in the biography of Carl Benz. "She came from faraway Hungary to see the Mannheim miracle with her own eyes. She was very enthusiastic, but unfortunately her financial strength was not proportionate to her enthusiasm. But an enthusiastic woman is never short of options. She managed to convince a colleague to share her enthusiasm, and he too sacrificed his savings for the car. It was an 1888 model. My son Eugen took it by rail to Vienna, but from there on was forced to drive it himself. The road to Hungary was nothing less than a via triumphalis. The car was received with great delight when it arrived at Samorin near Bratislava. Triumphal arches were raised, wreathed maidens paid homage, and to the cheers of the local populace the motor car was soon turned into a flower cart."
Mercedes is a woman
A woman's name enriched the automobile world in another way too. Around 1900, using the name of his daughter, Mercédès, the energetic businessman Emile Jellinek coined a brand name for Daimler automobiles that quickly became known throughout the world.
Driving is strenuous
It is not surprising that women drivers were invariably looked at with amazement initially, for in the early days cars were not very easy to operate. It took a lot of physical effort to steer them or simply get them started. Even in the early 20th century there were reports of motor sportsmen and taxi drivers getting bloodied hands and burns on their legs from hot oil spurting from the inadequately insulated engine compartment as a result of frequent engine overheating. None of this was considered particularly ladylike, and given that most people took a dim view of the automobile in its early years, it is hardly surprising that for many the idea of a lady voluntarily putting herself in the hands of this tempestuous monster was difficult to reconcile with prevailing ideas about what was fitting for a lady in the late 19th century.
The authors of a book entitled Frauen in Fahrt described the situation in the outgoing 19th century: "Women were rarely active in the practical technical field. The social conditions around the turn of the century, the early days of the automobile, denied educational opportunities to the large majority and discouraged their intellectual curiosity precisely in the area of the rapidly advancing engineering and natural sciences. Women's achievements were therefore focused mainly on operating the vehicles. But reports of early expeditions, long-distance journeys and sports successes do not feature the names of women drivers either – perhaps to prevent more women from getting ideas of copying others who won races or went on adventures? … To conservative types, of course, women drivers were to be regarded with caution. The newspapers and magazines of these years were full of warnings about women at the wheel."
However, this gave rise to a certain dilemma: "Carmakers and car salesmen fondly remembered the promotional value of the long-distance journey of a Berta Benz. She had proved to critics and doubters how easily and safely cars could be used – after all, as a woman she had coped with the clattering monster that continued to frighten so many of her contemporaries. The companies took advantage of the persuasiveness of this argument and had advertisers draw pictures of women behind the wheels of cars for their posters. It worked. Urged on by enthusiastic women, more and more men began buying saloons."
In addition, from the outset women were at least shown as passengers in sales brochures (for example for the "Victoria" Benz Patent Motor Car of 1895) presumably to emphasise the safeness of the car for family use.
Institutionalisation: Driving licence and automobile clubs
Duchess Anne d’Uzès is thought to be the first person to pass a driving test – in Paris in 1898. The first person in Germany was Amalie Hoeppner in Leipzig in 1909. Moreover, the French duchess was first person to be fined for speeding because she drove at 13 km/h in the Bois de Boulogne near Paris instead of the permissible 12 km/h. "Actually, it used to be much nicer to ride in a coach," she is quoted as having said. "With living horses rather than machinery and 'horsepower'! At first I was against having one of these unspeakably noisy automobiles. But then I found driving to be tremendously enjoyable."
Around the turn of the century the first ladies' automobile clubs were organised where the members jointly planned trips and thought about how to improve the cars' ride comfort and safety. So women were very quick to influence engineers and bodybuilders with regard to introducing vehicle improvements.
The "fairer sex" makes driving a profession
Despite female enthusiasm for motorised carriages, women who wanted to take the wheel of a car were still regarded with scepticism at the start of the 20th century. In 1902 the Allgemeine Automobil-Zeitung wrote: "Without being discourteous, one can certainly venture to say that very few representatives of the fairer sex have those qualities absolutely essential to a good driver: calmness, a quick grasp of situations, instantaneous decision making, cautiousness, and the power to subdue every driver's latent mania for speed."
All the same, the first women taxi drivers are said to have appeared around 1905. In 1909 the Allgemeine Automobil-Zeitung reported on the first professional woman driver in London, a pretty young Irish girl, who had previously worked as a nurse in Africa during the Boer War and whose services had to be hired through a garage rather than a conventional taxi control centre because of bans applying to women drivers.
The automobile also gave rise to an entirely different occupation: In 1907 the Allgemeine Automobil-Zeitung reported that "in many cases elegant, single ladies are buying larger luxury cars" and are in need of a travelling companion: "In Berlin, one Dr. von Papp, who received her theoretical training in lectures at a Berlin institute of technology and had acquired her practical driving skills from training with a garage, was recommended 'for this new occupation'. To make this driving governess socially acceptable, it was reported: 'The congenial young woman is a Hungarian by birth and had the misfortune of losing her husband, a distinguished Hungarian lawyer, some time ago'."
Fast cars as competition
Just as the car was beginning to achieve greater sense of presence and familiarity around towns and cities in the early 20th century, it also gained greatly in attractiveness in part as a result of the journey speeds it made possible. From then many women had to compete with a "tin mistress" for the attentions of their menfolk: "A fast car, the 1909 Manifesto of Italian Futurism declared, is more beautiful to behold than the Nike of Samothrake – the famous statue of the Greek goddess of victory which today stands in the Louvre. This homage to speed showed that in the automotive age mobility was never merely the ability to get from point A to point B. In the outgoing industrial age, mobility increasingly became a metaphor for acceleration, speed and modernity."
Women in advertising
In the period that followed, women enriched car advertising. Whereas in the outgoing 19th century they were mainly used to demonstrate the harmlessness of the vehicle, in the early 20th century they were more often shown in decorative poses in order to boost sales. An automotive history review in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung tells us: "Much as European poster art presented females effectively as eye-catchers for light bulbs, dehydrated soups, cigarettes or laundry detergents, at the beginning of this century it was their job to boost sales of the automobile, that aspiring new means of transport, not to mention stylishly publicise all kinds of indispensable products such as petrol, tyres or spark plugs."
But in motorsport, too, successful women inspired the admen. One of the most memorable motifs of the 1920s is The Lady in Red, a design by commercial artist Edward Cucuel. "The female racing drivers of the Roaring Twenties were first class," we read in the book, Der Stern ihrer Sehnsucht. Ernes Merck, born into a family of industrialists, was one of the drivers of the Mercedes-Benz model S pictured there, which was developed from the short version (K) of the 630 model. And she drove it with very respectable results: "In the 1927 Klausen Pass race she was bettered only by Rudolf Caracciola."
New self-confidence of the 1920s
A graphic image that appeared in the magazine Jugend in 1913 still enjoyed great popularity into the early 1920s. It showed an old lady cradling a Benz automobile in her arms and is captioned, "My Benz!!" Between the two world wars, the self-confidence of women drivers was also reflected in the advertisements themselves. In 1926, the year of the merger between Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft and Benz & Cie., Mercedes-Benz was advertised on a poster depicting four ladies apparently out for a jaunt and in the best of moods; the poster announcing the merger itself also showed a woman. "The advertisement establishes a trend: the woman of the world drives herself." A 1928 advert confirmed this idea: "If she could afford it, the woman of the world seized the steering wheel. Not only the change in fundamental conceptions of the role of women made this possible in the 1920s." The lady shown in the advert "flirts proudly and self-assuredly in her heavy car."
Soon afterwards a Berlin sports editor coined the expression selbstfahrende Damen, ladies who drive themselves, as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung explained: "He occasionally supplied car texts for the exquisite magazine Die Dame. In 1930 he also observed that women played 'nearly as important a role as men' in buying a car, that 'countless thousands of women' already drive their cars themselves, a few of them even 'with remarkable skill and an understanding of the engine, and almost all with a prudence and sense of responsibility which its male creators unfortunately lack all too often at the wheel'."
If the ladies were not being wooed as drivers, they were the bearers of the advertising message in those days. Under the slogan "her Christmas wish" one woman whispers into her husband's ear that it has to be a Mercedes-Benz; another looks up into the sky at the "star of her desire", the Mercedes star.
"It isn't just today's women who buy their cars themselves because they would rather get roses as a present than a car," Britta Jürgs wrote in her book, Flotte Autos, Schnelle Schlitten. Künstlerinnen und Schriftstellerinnen und ihre Automobile (about female artists and writers and their cars). "Fittingly, Virginia Woolf invested royalties from To the Lighthouse, her first commercial book success in 1927, in an automobile and was excited by the way driving expanded the 'world map in her mind'."
Women and motorsports
In the 1920s Ernes Merck offered serious competition for Rudolf Caracciola
Clärenore Stinnes undertook the first circumnavigation of the globe by car in 1927
Underrepresented in Formula One
Today, too, there are women who drive fast cars on racetracks: "Susie Stoddart and Katherine Legge are two successful British women in motorsports who start for Mercedes-Benz and Audi in the DTM," the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported in March 2008. "Only Formula One remains a last bastion."
Fashion designer Jette Joop also criticised this state of affairs: "Women are very good at assessing their own potential and that of others. I would hope to see women drivers in Formula One," said Joop. "The fact that there are no women there probably has more to do with our patriarchal society and less with driving skills. In a sport where women appear as pit babes and let themselves be sprayed with champagne, it's more about arrogant fantasies than driving skill."
Both comments, of course, describe only the current state of affairs. In the 1920s, for instance, Elisabeth Junek from Prague achieved great success in motorsport's elite discipline; and in the 1950s so, too, did the Italian Maria Teresa de Filippis.
And there were outstanding performances, too, in other classes. In the 1960s, for example, Ewy Rosqvist drove for Mercedes-Benz achieving great success in international rallies and road races. And from 1991 to 1996 Ellen Lohr regularly raced for Mercedes-Benz in the DTM and ITC Touring Car Championship of the day. After that, she took part in various truck racing series and rallies driving Mercedes-Benz vehicles.
But competitiveness, guts and an absolute desire for victory – i.e. all the ingredients of competitive sport – were not thought of as suitable attributes for women in the early days of the automobile; instead, they were represented as feminine in a highly stylised way. Even women cyclists learned that from experience in the first official lady's race staged at Berlin Halensee in Germany in 1893: "We neither wanted to present our charms to the spectators, … nor did we want to make money out of the prizes. What we wanted was to show the public that we were the masters of our machines and call out to women: Look at us! Do as we do! We have succeeded at being both," recalled Amelie Rother, one of the campaigners of the day.
On the other hand, sporty women drivers – successors to the first long-distance driver Bertha Benz – existed right from the outset. Indeed some of these caused minor sensations. The English baroness Campbell von Laurentz, for instance, rattled though Britain and France in her car in 1905, covering several hundred kilometres a day. As the first woman writer on the subject of cars, she described her adventures in My Motor Milestones. And she would also have liked to indulge her urge for mobility not only on land, but in the air too. "In February 1909, encrusted with snow, the baroness roared through France in an open-topped car without windscreen, chauffeur at her side, maid in the back (“coughing horribly”). In Pau she attempted to take to the air with aviation pioneers Wilbur and Orville Wright. But they refused."
The sporty woman even made a practical incidental invention. Around 1910 it is said she devised suitable luggage for longer journeys: a leather suitcase big enough for two which could be strapped to the rear of the car by means of a leather belt.
As early as 1907, an Italian couple set off as racing team on a special long-distance journey: Princess Anna Maria Borghese and her husband took part in a rally from Paris to Beijing – and overcame incredible hardship to win the race.
But the image of fast ladies took some time to get used to: "Women racing drivers dressed in overalls – perhaps even smoking a cigar – were considered nothing short of scandalous by many at the time," we read on the "Klausen race page" of the Neue Züricher Zeitung. "No decent woman behaves like that. And yet these women usually came from wealthy or noble families; they were the only ones who could afford this sport and pursued it for pleasure and a love of adventure. Princess Hohenlohe, for example, who drove a Bugatti in the 1924 and 1925 Klausen races. Or Elisabeth Junek, wife of a bank director."
Like many of the women involved in motorsports at the time, Ernes Merck, daughter of a rich Darmstadt industrialist's family, came to racing through her husband or father. And the ladies even competed against them in some cases: In 1927, Ernes Merck was faster than her husband in the Klausen hillclimb. And Ms. Minartz from Nuremberg competed against her own father in 1930. While he came in fifth, clocking a time of 23 minutes and 48 seconds in a Ford, she drove her Stoewer to finish in ninth place in 27 minutes and 48 seconds.
Elisabeth Junek of Prague, who won her first sports car race at the age of 24 and was soon battling on the racetrack against her bank director husband, is regarded as the most successful woman Grand Prix driver. In the 1927 German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring she won the three-litre sports car class driving a Bugatti. After her 34-year-old husband suffered a fatal accident on the same course the following year, she never took part again in motorsport competition.
So whereas sporty women drivers are actually as old as the car itself, there is also a relatively new "species" in racing. The early 1960s saw the advent of a group of ladies who subsequently came to be known disparagingly as F1 babes or pit girls – those famous for touting their anatomical charms around the world’s pit lanes. The first lady to skilfully market her curves in this way was "Miss Queen of Speed at Atlanta International Raceway", Linda Faye Vaughn, who with the help of American car tuner George Hurst and his Hot Rod magazine became number-one cover girl of the racing scene.
First journey around the world in a car
The Adlerwerke in Frankfurt am Main was the starting point for an exceptional pioneering feat on 25 May 1927: Clärenore Stinnes set out to become the first person to circumnavigate the globe in a car. With her future husband, photographer Carl-Axel Söderström, a support vehicle and two technicians, she started out in a brand-new production Adler Standard 6.
At that time the 26-year-old daughter of industrialist Hugo Stinnes was considered Europe's most successful female racing driver. She competed in her first race at the age of 24 and by 1927 had chalked up an impressive 17 racing victories. This woman, who in her own words "was never free of the desire for adventure" from as far back as she could remember, continued heading east so as to circumnavigate the globe and discover it from her own personal experience.
"I had an urge to explore the great unknown. One feels closer to it in the endless steppes, snow-drifted primeval forests and sublime solitude of the mountains," Clärenore Stinnes wrote in her book, Im Auto durch zwei Welten. And that, "despite the efforts of my mother to instill in me a love of womanly work." And despite a social environment that presumably thought a woman incapable of such a hazardous enterprise. "She wears trousers, is small and sweet, looks like a student, chain-smokes and likes nothing better than to laugh and laugh," a journalist wrote about the car-crazy woman.
Her route took her first to Teheran via Damascus, then north towards Moscow, and from there through Russia to the east, across Siberia and the Gobi Desert to Beijing. From the Asian continent she booked ship passages to Japan and Hawaii, then travelled through Central and South America all the way to Buenos Aires, and then back to Vancouver. Having crossed North America to New York City, she went by steamship to Le Havre and then via Paris and the Rhine to Berlin.
As transfer kilometres not covered by car did not count to the overall total, the rules stated that the milometer had to show a final mileage equivalent to at least the earth's circumference. This explained Clärenore Stinnes’ circuitous route. At noon on 24 June 1929, after an absence of two years and one month, the team drove the laurel-decorated cars across the finish at the Avus in Berlin. Including the obligatory lap of honour, the Adler Standard had completed a total of 46,758 kilometres.
The only special feature of the Adler Standard was that it was not in the least special. The only extra it had compared with other production models were the reclining seats fitted for the pioneering achievement.
Buying a car on one's own
Along with design, a car’s safety and environmental friendliness are important to women
Customised cars no longer a male domain
"In Europe about half of all drivers are of the female sex, and half of all new cars are bought by female customers," wrote the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in 1995 in its report on the workshop for women designers entitled, Women and The Car – No Love Affair? "This is in glaring disproportion to the percentage of women employed in the automotive industry, particularly in the design departments responsible for the form and function of the final product."
By way of explanation, the report quotes Mercedes-Benz designer Cathryn Espinosa, who attributes this disparity to the fact that the key to good design is joy in being a car designer, and not a fanatic love of the final product. She feels that this view, widespread among male colleagues, possibly deters young women from choosing the profession. If female influence on future car generations is to be increased, said Espinosa, there has to be a coordinated awakening of interest in the broad programme of transport design in schools and the media.
Women's love for design is nevertheless nothing new. Back in 1925, artist Sonia Delaunay-Terk and some of her female colleagues came up with design ideas for the car. They painted the metal exterior of a car in the colours and patterns of their then highly popular ‘simultaneous’ clothes and fabrics – in blue, red and green squares. The idea of bodywork to match clothing was later taken up by the Bauhaus constructivists.
Not that long ago Mercedes-Benz, too, hit upon the idea of bringing together the fashion world and cars. During Milan fashion week the Stuttgart car brand presented the Mercedes-Benz CLK designo by Giorgio Armani, as it was officially called, which was later offered for sale in a limited series of 100 units. The Mercedes-Benz CLK was equipped by couturier Giorgio Armani, with the vigorous support of the Mercedes-Benz Advanced Design Studio in Como, directed at the time by a woman.
Women make natural car buyers
Women as consumers have become a crucial economic factor for the automobile industry in recent years. "In car marketing women used to be regarded as a silent target group that did not specifically have to be taken into account in model development and brand communication," wrote the advertising journal Horizont in 2004. "In view of the persisting downturn in car manufacturers' sales, this paradigm has increasingly begun to crumble."
In fact the industry had already discovered car-buying women a few years earlier: "More women are buying cars themselves," was the headline of a 1999 article published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung to introduce the eighth joint "Women and the Car" campaign organised by the German motor vehicle associations. "But they have different criteria. When buying a car, women pay attention to practical things; men to prestige."
According to the article, by the late 20th century women were buying almost 16 per cent of new cars in Germany. In 1998 alone, 600,000 German women drivers had bought a car of their own. By 2002, slightly less than a third of all newly registered cars had female owners. Association representatives maintained that the reasons for this growing mobility were the gainful employment and thus financial independence of many women and the growing number of single households. The newspaper readers also learned that the „favourite colour for women when buying a car" was blue, followed by silver grey, black and red, and that by the end of the 20th century women saw environmental friendliness and safety as important criteria when deciding on a car.
If the media is to be believed, this gender difference still manifests itself today particularly in the purchase of a car: "Women pay special attention to interior design and interior materials, to stowage space and trays, and not least of all to the price. Men, on the other hand, focus on engineering, safety, resale value and flexibility," the advertising journal Horizont told us in 2008. "It pays for industry to make note of the differences. Women are one of the auto industry’s most important target groups, because in Germany half of women aged 65 and older have a driving licence, and in the under 40 age bracket the figure is 90 percent. Where learner drivers are concerned, there is now practically no difference any longer: the number of licence holders under the age of 20 is roughly evenly distributed between women and men."
Not just rational
As always, however, surveys show an approximate picture, without ever really reflecting in detail the variety of opinions within the surveyed group. For instance, businesswoman Regina Seidel, President of the Association of German Women Entrepreneurs (VdU), values her car as a constant, reliable companion for business trips, and attached less importance to the selection criteria ascribed to women by advertising experts: "For her, the representative saloon is the ideal company car," she says of her Mercedes-Benz SL 350 in the book Damenwahl. "I love my car because it gets me where I'm going safely. Without a car I feel incomplete. It accompanies me wherever I go. I never travel by public transport."
This businesswoman is above all technically well versed: "When I buy a car I first look under the bonnet and at the chassis number. A girlfriend of mine, for example, is different. She gets excited about a colour or a stylish design. To me that is not so important. When I buy a new car, I expect to get the latest in engineering. I want the most innovative car!"
Women drivers, today as in the past, are not quite as boring and sensible as one might think. In 2000, for example, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported that customising is not by any means purely a male domain. "A crisp sports suspension, a turbocharged engine with a throaty, sporty sound, wide tyres on gleaming light-alloy wheels – normally if a souped-up car like this whips around the corner there simply has to be a man at the wheel. Right – in principle – but not necessarily so. Because women drivers have now also taken to customising their wheels to suit their taste. And their number is increasing."
And so for a while now, the spotlight has turned to women who are not just fascinated by practical things or looks, but simply think cars are great. "The fascination I hold for the Silver Arrows is unbroken ever since I studied car design at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles," says fashion designer Jette Joop, for example. "There is hardly any other means of transport so nearly design perfect as the McLaren M6B. It is a metal witness to a time when racing drivers designed and bravely tested their cars themselves."
Singer Marla Glen, too, sees her car as an expression of her attitude towards life and not simply as a means of transport: "Her car, a white Mercedes-Benz 600, is as much a part of Marla Glen as her pinstripe suit, slouch hat and cigar. … The Mercedes-Benz 600 was once owned by celebrities such as John Lennon, George Harrison and Mary Wilson of the Supremes. … If you ask the musician why she loves this old car, she cynically replies: 'Because I’m an old motherfucker!' But then she reveals that it's mainly the timeless character of the car that impresses her."
So those who think modern women see the car mainly as practical family transport is making a big mistake. Emancipation has long since arrived in the area of so-called irrational cars. Stern magazine wrote about, "women's new appetite for horsepower", and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, commenting on the appearance of the women's magazine Brigitte at the 2007 Frankfurt International Motor Show, doubted whether it made any sense "to bring women (even) closer to the automobile by setting up 'make-up lounges' at motor shows." There really is not much to add to this conclusion of the motor journalists, as: "Women and cars should long since have been accepted as a natural combination."
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