Ladies With Drive – Charlotte Vowden

Car Servicing & Restoration


Elise

Written by Elise

13th July 2020

Ladies With Drive – Charlotte Vowden
Blog   >    Car Servicing & Restoration   >   Ladies With Drive – Charlotte Vowden

Ladies With Drive – Charlotte Vowden

While male-dominated, the classic car world is by no means exclusive to men. Among celebrities, figures like Dita von Teese, Kendall Jenner, Jodie Kidd and Amber Heard are regularly seen out and about in their vintage vehicles. Supermodel Kendall Jenner is often seen zooming around in her 1956 aqua and white Corvette. And notoriously enamoured with retro and vintage style, picturesque Dita drives a burgundy red 1931 Packard, regularly turning more than a few heads in LA.

And what about ladies closer to home? There are a good deal more women interested in classic cars than we think.

In fact, we were lucky enough to chat to some ladies who experience their passion for classics in their own style. They were kind enough to tell us their story, what they drive, and what drives them.

So, it’s our pleasure to bring to you the first article of a new blog series: Ladies With Drive. Up next is our first guest, Charlotte Vowden.

Charlotte Vowden (@charlottevowden)

Ex Sunday Times writer and a petrolhead with a soft spot for classics, Charlotte Vowden cherishes her classic British roadster, nicknamed ‘Frisky’. It belonged to her grandfather, ‘Dodo’, whom she remembers by extending the rich life of the beautiful vehicle he left her.

How did you get into classic cars?

“Three years ago, my grandfather passed away and we were very, very close. He owned a 1960 MGA Roadster called Frisky. I was lucky enough to inherit his car two years before being made redundant, when the Times and Sunday Times announced the merging of the two titles. It was a huge blow. But in that time, I’d already started thinking ‘I want to do something with this car’.

I managed to convince my dad of this crazy idea to drive the car to Everest base camp on the northern side, by China and Tibet. We were due to depart in March this year. The car was due to be shipped out in February and we would have travelled to Bangkok and driven across Southeast Asia, China, Tibet, through Nepal, then have it shipped home for Calcutta. My life had fallen apart by that point. I thought, “I’m going to take the thing I’ve been working on for two years, try to get my voice heard and my experiences shared with other people.” But then the world imploded [over COVID-19] and it was just this hugely stressful time.

We’ve all been affected by this, but it was my passion and it still is. And that’s what this car has become in my life. Something that I never understood before: how a car can mean so much to an individual, to a group of people and to a community. And what this car has given me is a community, and it’s given me hope.”

Charlotte as a young girl in her grandfather’s 1960 MGA Roadster.

So how did you move on?

“I started writing about my experience of driving the car, owning the car, and also what that was like as a female. That can be as intimidating at the car itself. There’s a lot involved: you want to protect it, cherish it, but you also want to use it. I wanted to share it with people. And I wanted to inspire other women, particularly because I’m not a mechanic – though thankfully my dad is. And I’m not ashamed to say that I need to learn, and I want to learn. You don’t have to love the mechanics of a car to enjoy it. Cars are objects, and it’s what you do with them and what they inspire within you that matters. You know, is it travel? Is it writing? Is it photography?

I think what we need to do is change the narrative. We need to make it more accessible to everybody. Some motor clubs are actually working really hard to change the perception and make it a younger person’s hobby, open it up to more people and give women a voice.

People, particularly men, talk to my dad and not me, even though I’m invariably in the driver’s seat! He corrects them, but it’s one of the intimidating things about the industry, and I want those perceptions to change.”

Sounds like you’ve found your mission. And you’ve certainly built a community! Tell us about Driven Collective.

“Thanks to Instagram, I met some incredible people, and together we’ve launched something called Driven Collective, a community all about leading an example in expanding the motoring world. The founders are all women, but it’s really for anyone who loves cars. We launched on International Women’s Day, and then coronavirus happened.

What we want to do is go into schools and talk to kids about cars. One of our goals is to get them involved in projects around car design, travel writing and sustainability. Also, supporting each other as women in the industry. I’ve had incredible support from Driven Collective.

It’s the power of networking, the power of shared knowledge, it’s the power to inspire people. We want more men to get involved! It’s not about creating a divide, it about getting voices – all voices – heard. The idea is to champion each other and send off for help when we need it.

We get told ‘no’ so much, because as a female it’s not reflective of what [certain groups] want or are all about. But if we want to preserve the life of classic cars, we’ve got to get the next generation inspired and involved.”

What’s your view on car restoration?

“It’s such a complicated issue, with so many opinions around! Originally, Frisky was Iris Blue, with white trim wheels and left-hand drive. There are thirty years of her life I have found impossible to research. Now she’s bright red and right-hand drive. She’s had a complete restoration. But she’s still Frisky!

To preserve the life of classic cars, you have to restore them. I think that’s great. You’re giving new life to an old car. I was speaking to some auctioneers; there are technical arguments that changing certain elements like the chassis would affect the status and value of a car as a classic, but if you want to use and enjoy your car, you’ve got to restore it. It’s way better than letting it fall apart and sit there covered in a garage.

There’s a lot of judgmental people out there and some of the stuff I’ve done to Frisky people wouldn’t agree with because it’s not true to the original – for example I’ve replaced the fuel cap so it doesn’t cut my finger each time I open it. I’ve also added in-car chargers so I can charge my phone when I’m on the move – it makes her more functional. I’d never replace her engine with an electric one though, it wouldn’t be the car it is now without it – but if the technology was there, maybe I’d go hybrid. I’ve also replaced her bumpers to protect the ones my grandad had, and a new grille made which helps the air flow to keep her engine cool, but they can be put back on any time.”

It’s said classic cars are as much about people and the memories you create with them as about the cars themselves. So, what remains a moment in time for you?

“There’s an iconic picture of my granddad and I, a selfie. We both have a hair flick, where the wind is whipping both of our hair up! That photo to me is what the driving the car is about. A bit wild, fun, and a single moment captured. He was quite old by then, but as soon as we hit a straight road, by goodness did he put his foot down! He was really cool anyway, but Frisky really brought out something in him that was just like ‘Grrrr’.”

“There’s another picture of me as a little girl with my nose only just past the door, because the car is so low. But there were awful moments as well: I was driving along the M25 once and the car was failing. I pulled over and opened a door, making a bottle roll out onto the road…. I threw myself after it, like an absolute idiot. Most terrifying experience of my life.

The best moment I’ve had was the summer after he passed away. We were driving at night in Wales, when the sun was still just about there. The sky was pastel lilac and pink, just awash with really beautiful colours. We had some music, the air was cool, we’d just had dinner. You know when you just shudder? I said to my mum, “Dodo’s here.” Then his song came on and we started singing along. And I got it. I got why he loved that car so much. It was the first time I sensed his presence since he passed away. I connected with the car thanks to that moment. It’s not just a car. It gives you so much more.”

Finally, what advice would you give to other women fascinated by the classic car world?

“There are other women out there who want to share their knowledge and experiences with you. I was lucky with my background so I could build my network and friendships from my work, but my most meaningful connections with people have been on Instagram. Find a community, and find friends! Get in contact with us on @drivencollective, and let us know what you’re interested in. Be brave. We know it’s intimidating.

Turn those digital relations into real meet-ups at car shows and salons! We’ll go around the show with you.”


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