For motoring journalist Charleen Clarke – and countless women the world over – cars are synonymous with beauty and freedom…
This is what Charleen had to say about why women love cars so much…
‘I’ve been asked a lot of questions in my career as a motoring journalist. One of the strangest ones was from a German driver trainer who said, “Have you ever driven a truck before?” This after I was flown all the way to Dubai specifically to drive trucks. My response? “Never.” I cracked myself up.
I’m asked these questions because I’m a woman working in what used to be a man’s world. A few of my more feminist-minded female colleagues are extremely offended when I mention some of my experiences, but to be perfectly honest, the questions don’t faze me in the least – because I love my job.
The reason I love my job is because I love cars – and trucks! I get to drive the coolest vehicles on the planet. There’s nothing like blasting around an Italian mountain pass in a new sports car, or testing a heavily laden truck. My record is 256 tonnes, which is quite something – the trucks you see on South African highways run to a maximum of 56 tonnes.
Charleen Clarke’s love affair with cars
Some people find my love affair with vehicles to be strange, and I’m constantly asked how I came to do my job. Most attribute it to my father, who “must have had a real love for cars”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Bless him, he didn’t know much more about cars than the front end from the back. So much so that his recommendation for my first car – a canary-yellow 1980 Volkswagen Fox – didn’t end well. I bought it because I was an obedient child, then discovered it had previously been in a huge accident. In reality, it should have been written off. There and then, I swore my relationship with cars would never involve a man.
Funnily enough, Bertha Benz, the woman who conducted the world’s first road test, had similar sentiments. With her help, her husband Karl had invented the world’s first car – but it was anything but a success. So what did Bertha do? Without chatting to her husband and most certainly without asking him to accompany her, she sneaked out of the house and took the car for a spin from Mannheim to Pforzheim, Germany. It was some feat – and it changed the way the world viewed cars.
Which women have made waves in motoring?
That was back in 1888. Fast-forward 132 years, and many other women are making their mark in the world of wheels. While we don’t currently have any women at the helms of car companies in South Africa, previously, Deborah Coleman headed up Ford; while Moira Moses lead Land Rover SA and subsequently the Premier Automotive Group SA, with complete responsibility for Land Rover, Volvo, and Jaguar. But things are better globally; Mary Barra is the chair and CEO of General Motors, and Linda Jackson is the CEO of Citroën – both since 2014.
Like me, these women love cars. Mary’s love affair started at 10 when she spotted her cousin’s red Chevy Camaro convertible; and Linda’s on her 18th birthday, when she received a Mini. For me, it began when I ditched the canary-yellow horror and bought my very own dream car: an off-white 1969 MGB-GT. Gosh, how I loved that classic British two-door. Its puny 1798cc engine meant I never won any robot-to-robot races. Much like my first boyfriend, my MG was drop-dead gorgeous, if unreliable. Unlike the boyfriend, I still miss it to this day.
Charleen creates motoring memories
Today I’m creating a new set of memories – thanks to my job as a motoring and trucking journalist. I drive trucks regularly (I’m always ridiculously relieved when people say I don’t look like a truck driver). I judge the World Car Awards, and am on the Women’s World Car of the Year (WWCOTY) awards jury, so I’m privileged to work with an incredible group of female motoring journalists from across the globe. Just like me (and so many female motorists), they, too, are obsessed with cars.
It’s not hard to understand why. As Sue Baker, motoring journalist and former Top Gear presenter, told me recently: “Cars are fascinating, frustrating, infuriating. They’re technical, tactile, vocal and energising. They woo the senses, lure the eye, appeal to the ear, respond to the touch. I have been hooked since I first travelled in one as a tiny child, and they have steered my life and career through half a century.”
Who has the best relationship with their motor car?
While cars are undeniably things of beauty, for me, a car is also a symbol of independence; it means I can go wherever I want – whenever I choose. My fellow WWCOTY juror, Lou Hammond, who hails from the US, concurs: “Cars are about freedom. My first was a green Volkswagen beetle stick shift called Herman. Get it? Her-man. I’d travel all over the US and Canada in it for two months at a time. Marta Garcia, who represents Spain on the jury, agrees. “Cars, for me, mean freedom, emotion, passion… While I respect their technological innovation, I like them for their beauty and how they sound. But I also love them because inside them I have cried, laughed, loved and – above all – enjoyed.”
Meanwhile, ask a man why he likes a car, and he will sprout the engine’s specs. No prizes for guessing which gender has the better – and more fulfilling – relationship with their motor car.’
5 things you need to know about your car
Learn how to change a tyre.
It’s easy. You should also know the correct tyre pressures (they’re normally higher in the front than the rear).
Find out how to check the oil level.
Some new cars don’t have a dipstick anymore; you need to check via the instrument panel. The same applies to water.
Things like wiper blades and light bulbs are exceptionally easy to change. Learn how to do this, and you can save.
Stick to the service schedule.
This, of course, means you need to know when it’s due for its next service.
Read the operating manual.
Yes, we know it’s boring, but just do it!
Compiled by Features Editor Stephanie van der Plank