Did you know that the world’s first vehicle with an internal combustion engine, designed by Karl Benz, was financed by his wife Bertha – who was also the first person to test it on a 121-mile drive? Or that Florence Lawrence invented brake lights and the indicator, only for her inventions to be usurped when she omitted to patent them? And that Mary Anderson (thankfully) patented the windshield wiper in 1903?
We’re shining a light on women in the industry. Find out how and why these women got into the scene, and where you can follow them for inspiration. Some are members of the A-Plan team, others are clients, others are driving club contacts. All are inspiring.
Oomph car specialist
Carlie Norwell is part of A-Plan Thatcham – our specialist vehicles team – and has a hands-on passion for “cars that have a bit of oomph!”
“I have been interested in vehicles since the age of five – my uncle Paul is a panel beater and sprayer and I would spend every school holiday helping him in the garage. I would masking tape cars ready for respray – my little fingers could get in all the hard to reach places in the body work. My grandad was also a mechanic, so we would regularly worked together until it got dark and we could no longer see what we were doing, he was my best friend growing up.
“With my interest in cars growing, I wanted to do metalwork and resistant materials in school – but I was instead directed to textiles and cookery classes, like all the other girls! Regardless, I got my way – I was the only girl in the class and I got the best grades!
“I’ve made so many friends during my six years with A-Plan – they aren’t just clients to me. That includes my neighbour, Graham, who has insured me on his Robinhood kit car! It doesn’t come for free though, when work needs doing I am on call to chip in – and learn along the way.”
Classic car specialist
Emma Airey is part of A-Plan’s Classic Car specialist division, RH Specialist Insurance. Emma has owned a wide variety of classics over the past 30 years, including a 1958 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud Series 1, a Marcos LM500, a BSA Bantam and a race-prepped 1969 ex-Modsport champion – TVR Tuscan.
“I bought my Silver Cloud at a Bonhams auction, the timeless quality really appealed to me, and it was a change from my TVRs. I’m both a petrolhead and into the vintage/classic car scene – primarily British or Italian with V6, straight six or, better still, V8 power! You can’t beat a thunderous V8! Despite my experience, I have come across stereotyping – I was sitting in the driver’s seat of my Marcos LM500 at an event and a man asked me if he could speak to the owner. I told him I AM the owner, and he laughed and said, ‘Come on… where is he? He can’t possibly let you drive that!‘”
Author and adventurer
Jacqui Furneaux is the author of ‘Hit the Road, Jac!’ and has travelled all over the world on her Royal Enfield.
“My journey started back in 1976. I was a nurse and mother of two – I actually started to ride a motorcycle in the heatwave as it was the only way to keep cool!
“Later, I was lured by the freedom of the open road courtesy of a Dutchman on an Enfield I’d met while backpacking, and as a result, I bought my 500cc Classic Enfield Bullet in India, in 2000! We travelled together for a while, then I continued on my own, until arriving in the UK. Since then, I have ridden across Europe and Morocco, even Australia. If it hadn’t been for the pandemic, we would have also explored the US!”
Custom car specialist
Kelly Martin is the proud owner of: “2x Mini R53s, 1 x R56, and a Range Rover – but the car that I have done the most work on is Milo, the Track R53!“
“I brought Milo, my Track R53, for just £100, so I decided to make it my project track and show car. My partner and I own a welding and custom shop, so Charlie (our in-house fully qualified female welder) got to work on designing a one-of-a-kind custom exhaust, while my team and I prepped the bodywork for a custom respray. I fitted bucket seats, removed the rear seat, added a half roll cage, and custom painted the interior, while the engine had a full rebuild! I really wanted this car to stand out and be a good ad for our business!
“I got into this when I started working with my partner in a garage, I enjoyed the evenings working away on our own cars – we now own around 15 between us! Unfortunately, I have dealt with negativity about being a female in this line of work. I have been talked down to, and my way of working belittled – I even been told I ‘wouldn’t be able to handle’ a test drive on a car I completed work on! Charlie and I (pictured) are both proud to be women in this industry – and would love to see more women getting into jobs like these.”
Follow Kelly’s welding and custom shop, Venom, on Instagram.
Elizabeth Barrett is A-Plan Group’s General Counsel and the proud owner of the ImprEscort – a Suburu WRX STi disguised as a Mark 1 Escort.
“I’ve always loved classic Fords – but I’ve never been terribly keen on how they drive. I had started assembling the parts to put a BMW M Series engine and drive chain into a Ford Mustang fastback when I found the car of my dreams – the ImprEscort! Just under 400bhp and a 4×4, it handles beautifully. The fuel lines run inside the cab, so people can smell that you’re a petrolhead from 2 metres – it also spits flames and has launch control. I love it!
“My dad is to blame for my love of cars. He taught me to weld, repair and machine parts. I have enjoyed some amazing opportunities over the years; I am a FANY (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry) and have had the opportunity to work with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, complete my military Landrover driving conversion course and I was a member of the Armed Forces Rally Team.
“Frequently when I am out with my car, and despite me standing next to it, or more amusingly in the driver’s seat, to my dismay, people do start asking the nearest man questions about it. This becomes amusing when it is a friend who spins up a nonsensical story, getting everything wrong and leaving the unsuspecting offender entirely baffled and me in hysterics.”
Kit car marketeer
Ruth Hall is the Marketing Manager for Great British Sports Cars, one of the UK’s leading sports car manufacturers.
“I grew up around cars, it was very much part of our family life. From a young age I enjoyed track days – doing my very first track day the same week I passed my driving test! My dad and brother were so passionate about remote control car racing, which I got involved with (I own a purple Mini remote car), then they built a kit car. It was great to watch the whole build process and then enjoy the car they built.
“Years later, my brother Rich founded GBS. I started to work freelance for the business, and ten years later I’m the Marketing Manager. I love what I do – cars, photography, ecommerce, events, graphics – and to top it off I get to work with a great team and customers. It’s great to see the excitement when our customers pick up their cars! I’m so proud to hold a senior position with Great British Sports Cars as this is such a male-dominated industry, and would encourage other women to jump in!”
VW Campervan cruisers
Julie Pinker is a retro VW campervan owner, mum of two and a member of the A-Plan marketing team.
“When I was made redundant it was the chance to pay off some of the mortgage, but I felt like I’d have nothing to show for it. As a mum of two, having started a new full-time job, I felt we weren’t enjoying enough family-time and something needed to change. My husband and I had always dreamed of owning an old-style VW campervan so, instead of denting the mortgage, ‘RustyCake’ (a name picked by my girls), a VW Type 2 Early Bay, joined our family.
“We do as much of the work on him ourselves, but as he was born in 1972, there are times when the professionals have to get involved! We’ve taken him to France and Belgium – the highlight was driving him round the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. I used to be a big F1 fan so to follow in the tyres of such greats as Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost was a dream come true. ‘RC’ has even had his moment of fame by appearing on a Sainsbury’s advert!
“We’ve built some wonderful family memories, made some great friends – and kept a bit of motoring history alive. Although we hold up traffic, particularly up hills, we get a lot of smiles and waves – that’s enough to make anyone feel good!”
Lizzie Paton is trimmer by trade, and the proud owner of Clara, a 1936 Austin 7 Pearl and Oggie, a 1969 Morris traveller.
“Clara is an Austin 7 Pearl Cabriolet – I bought her in 2021 but I had always aspired to owning one since seeing one driving around our village each day in the 80s. I am a trimmer by trade, so bought her knowing I had a whole interior and hood to do – she is currently in the middle of a total restoration, including engine rebuild and body frame replacement. She gave me a lot of pleasure last summer, and was the last mode of transport that my father drove in before his death in October – she has a very special place in my heart.
“I bought Oggie as a restoration. He will be off the road for a while but offers ‘smiles for miles’ – he will be my daily driver. I love the contacts you make through the clubs and meets. The cars are local celebrities, but it does make me laugh when people are surprised when I lift the bonnet to adjust something.”
Find and follow Lizzie via #trimlizzie #oggie.
Kirsty Watts is a scooter enthusiast, owner of ‘Baby T’ (plus others!), and part of our specialist motorcycle and scooter insurance division, Allstyles.
“Baby T is my Vespa Douglas 1980 Small Frame – engineered to fit a Vespa T5 (bigger) engine. It was welded and fabricated specially for the back end to come off with inner sub frame, unlike most scooters which are made in one shell, and comes complete with custom sign writing. It was originally designed to be a rally machine, now transformed into a long-distance scooter. I’ve now seen more of the UK by a Lambretta and Vespa than any other mode of transport!
“I was brought up with soul, ska, and punk, plus my dad owned several scooters – to this day my husband and I live and breathe the scooter scene, and of course working at Allstyles means I get to do what I love every day! Riding a two stroke with 8- or 10- inch wheels is scary enough, but a woman who does it well does seem to shock! We’re keeping this in the family, my husband and I have already bought a 2-stroke mini motor for my little girl who is due very soon!”
A passion for specialist vehicles
If you are a petrolhead and looking to insure your vehicle, or considering owning a classic or modded vehicle, you probably want to work with someone as passionate about it as you are! RH Specialist Insurance, Allstyles and our Thatcham branch are just a phone call away if you need a steer in the right direction.
Sources: Find out more about International Women’s Day here. History facts courtesy of Exchangeandmart.co.uk