By Will Rubin

The Bulletin

If you go

What: Bend Classic Vintage Trailer Rally

When: Public open house today from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Where: J Bar J Youth Ranch, 62895 Hamby Road, Bend

Cost: Free

Contact: 406-461-3714 or dalsmilie@aol.com

The Central Oregon Classic Chevy Club’s annual Flashback Cruz event started Friday in Drake Park, anchored by a free, public Show ’n’ Shine on today.

Hundreds of cars will take over the park with acres of shiny chrome and retro paint jobs on cars and trucks dating no earlier than 1979.

It’s a popular event each summer, but who exactly brings those hot wheels into town? A quick glance around the world of gear heads would seem to show a one-sided demographic.

Television shows like History channel’s “Counting Cars” and longtime British hit “Top Gear” feature all-male casts. More than 70 percent of subscribers to Popular Mechanics magazine are male; nearly nine in 10 readers of Car and Driver magazine have a Y chromosome.

Don’t let those numbers fool you. Women are fast becoming a noted, respected part of attendance at car shows and in body shops around the country.

“A lot of women own their own cars or work with their husband on one,” said Redmond insurance agent Nadine Katz, who specializes in insuring classic cars. “Some even build cars; they know so much about the mechanics.”

Katz started the Iron Maidens classic car club nearly a decade ago when she noticed an uptick in women seeking to insure their vintage automobiles.

She herself had just purchased a red and black 1955 Pontiac Chieftain. She then realized that while there were a lot of women at area car shows, they lacked a cohesive faction of their own.

Katz and her friends Wanda Frisby, Barbara Kwiatkowski, Janice Reiss and Shannon Smith were the inaugural members of a group that now has 60 Oregon women on its email Listserv.

“We thought, let’s blow this theory apart that this is just a masculine hobby, and make a statement,” Katz said. “Surprise, surprise, a lot of women were open to that.”

All five got together late last month at Smith’s house, each arriving in a car straight out of Robert Mitchum’s “Thunder Road.”

Cars ranging from a steely orange 1946 Studebaker pickup truck to a baby blue Chevrolet Malibu lined the driveway as a backdrop to share their lifetimes of experience under the hood.

“We have something here that we can have so much fun with,” Frisby said, gesturing around the semicircle. “It’s not just how much we like the bling; I detail my own cars. I don’t get greasy or anything, though.”

“I’d rather work on my car than clean my house, anyways,” Kwiatkowski added.

Bowling Green State University research fellow Chris Lezotte focused on women and their relationships with automobiles while in pursuit of her doctoral degree in philosophy.

In 2013, she published a paper entitled “Women with Muscle: Contemporary Women and the Classic Muscle Car” in the Ohio State University periodical Frontiers, a Journal of Women’s Studies.

“Women like the car culture, they like the social aspect,” said Lezotte, who received her doctorate this past spring. “They learn enough to know when someone asks a question, they can answer it. They get pissed if people ask their husband about their own car.”

Lezotte also focused much of her work on the different ways in which married women relate to their cars compared to their single counterparts.

While all parties enjoy a degree of independence in owning a classic car, she found that married women predictably view the hobby as a way to share something meaningful with their husbands or significant others.

Bend resident Virginia Shapen has been riding in the passenger seat of cars her husband, Bernie, collected since they met in 1960. She estimated that number to be around 75 cars, a number he scoffed at.

“When we lived in Burbank (California) in the 1970s, I used to buy all sorts of cars,” he said. “I’d clean ’em up and flip ’em for a profit right there on the sidewalk.”

The Shapens often traveled to car shows up and down the West Coast until recent health issues slowed them down. They even took a cross-country road trip to car events in a jet-black 1940 Ford Coupe.

Both took great pleasure in showing off their gleaming 1950 Chevrolet Bel-Air, which looked as though it had rolled out of a Detroit showroom the week before.

“We’ve both met a lot of interesting people all over who we wouldn’t have met without the common car interest,” Virginia said. “I wouldn’t trade the time we’ve spent together like that for anything.”

Nor would the Iron Maidens dream of forgoing their time together. “How can you put a price on a passion?” Smith wondered.

It’s fair to ask whether the stereotype this group is best dispelling has little to do with cars. Many people think of older women sitting in sewing circles or bragging about the family lineage.

Neither happens when these gals get together; each is more likely to make a quip about car bras or times people thought their cars belonged to nonexistent husbands than compare offspring.

“My daughter asked me once why I don’t carry any pictures of my grandchildren in my wallet,” Katz explained. “I carry a picture of my Pontiac, but not of my grandchildren. Well, everyone has grandchildren. Not everyone has a Pontiac.”

— Reporter: 541-382-1811, wrubin@bendbulletin.com

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