Vintage Autos: Not Just for Boys

The guys call it “The Purple Twinkie.”

RyAnn Leep, 29, calls her lavender and pearl 1953 Chevy Bel Air “Violette.”

“[That car] is my passion and my hobby so it doesn’t matter what [people] think,” she said.

Leep, part of the “Rockabilly” scene, got into vintage culture through her grandmother.

“When I was 16, I started dressing like she did in the ‘40s,” Leep said. “I looked at pictures and [did] my hair like her. I put on red lipstick and it was all over!”

The cars followed naturally. A lot of women, according to Leep, get into hot rods because they love the old music or the clothes and get turned on to the cars. For Leep, it happened while she lived behind an auto shop where friend Dallas Patterson worked. Leep woke up to the sound of air compressors.

“It was all location and timing,” said Leep, who would wander in to watch Patterson work. “I thought, ‘If I have access to this knowledge, I might as well learn something.’

“I worked on my own car but I had to use a book [at first],” Leep said. “It’s confusing as hell if you don’t have a car background.”

Little by little Leep got into car maintenance, modification, and culture.

“[The scene] is addicting,” she said. “You want to go to every function.”

One such function is the Classic Cruise Parade of Lights, Wednesday, December 7th in El Cajon’s Historic District. Hot rod owners park amidst vendors of vintage paraphernalia, rockabilly musicians, and fellow devotees – and most of these car owners are men.

Leep wants to change that. She and friend Tracy Caccavelli started brainstorming a car club for women in 2000 when Leep bought “Violette.”

“We want to park our cars together, not next to the boys,” said Leep. “[We want to] say, ‘yes, I can rebuild a carburetor and I [can] sand down a car. I don’t just ride with my boyfriend.’”

Leep also learned the hard way that men don’t necessarily know about cars themselves – another reason for women to have their own scene.

“I made the mistake of asking an ex[boyfriend] to lower my car” said Leep. “He did it incorrectly and it [was] dangerous for me to [ride] like that.”

It’s not easy to go your own way as a woman in the hot rod world, though, said Leep.

“It’s intimidating to be a girl and to take your car to some mechanic,” said Leep. “They look at you and say, ‘There’s a girl; we can take advantage of her.’”

Mustang owner Hillarie Goetz noticed the same thing.

“When I get parts for my [1965 Mustang], I always get looks,” said Goetz, 22. “People don’t understand a female working on classic cars and understanding what she’s doing.”

The Mustang was Goetz’s first vehicle, and the reason she started working on cars.

“I learned how to replace pumps, hoses, radiators, and other things,” said Goetz. “But it never fails when I take her[sic] out I get some comment. It’s usually, ‘Nice car. Is it your husband/boyfriend/father’s?”

Goetz stopped driving the Mustang because of rising gas prices, but, she said, there’s a sense of pride in knowing she can fix anything on it, no matter what others say.

Not all women who work on cars find the same attitudes Leep and Goetz have. Some, like Marlee Goodman, 37, get involved in classic cars and find respect – and an income.

Goodman and her grandfather started working on a 1962 Jeep CJ7 when she was 12. She started working a series of odd jobs and eventually stumbled into her current one: installing screens and rebuilding classic cars.

Goodman’s boss is a wiry man in his 60s, with chaotic grey hair and two days’ stubble. He chain-smokes, stepping over a cat, while approaching one of his 11 vehicles. They occupy every square foot of yard. Some are covered, lined up on the lawn; some have their guts in boxes, waiting to be reassembled once the body work is done.

Russ Brunstch’s screen business pays the bills; he and Goodman rebuild cars out of his Clairemont Mesa home for fun. Goodman has been his assistant since 2000. Nine [classic] cars, a house, a man, and three cats keep her plenty busy, she said.

“It’s a two-man operation,” she said. “I do the grunt work and he makes [the cars] pretty; I’m better at welding but he’s better at painting.”

Brunstch’s house sits just blocks from Clairemont Town Square, where car enthusiasts meet every fourth Saturday to show off, but even Brunstch’s prize-winning ’76 Corvette hasn’t made it there yet.

“I’ve never done shows [with his cars],” Goodman said, “but [we should] finish the [1932] Chrysler. It’s a definite classic.”

It took Goodman two weeks to scrub the rust off that Chrysler when they started on it. That, she said, was how Brunstch saw she wasn’t afraid of getting dirty.

Brunstch doesn’t need an employee year-round, but out of respect he keeps her employed. Although she’s gotten plenty of cat-calls driving Brunstch’s cars, Goodman said she’s also gotten more respect than Leep or Goetz have.

“If a woman walks in[to a parts store] with a head gasket,” said Goodman, “they don’t have a problem handing [her the parts].”

This entry was posted in journalism. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>