Oakland women find belonging in women’s-only vintage car club
on December 4, 2013
When Elizabeth “Betty” Ann first came across the body for her 1949 Kaiser Traveler, it was just the rusted, dented-out shell of an old car that her brother recovered while operating his tow rig and had left on the side of their family’s chemical plant in East Oakland.
“It was just a seat and a steering wheel. No brakes, no wires,” Ann said. “Whatever was left of the wires was eventually stolen by bums anyway, so there was just nothing left on the car.”
A long-time vintage car buff, Ann decided the buy the body from her brother. Over the course of the next three years, she would build the vehicle from the ground up, and even use a two-by-four to massage out the many dents that pockmarked the exterior. The vehicle is now fully functional, and she can even use it to drive on the highway to pick her seven-year-old daughter up from elementary school.
While Ann cultivated her own passion for cars, she also wanted to be part of a community. She began to hunt for an all-female car club, and when she failed to find one that she liked, she founded the Lady Luck Car Club. The group has been operating for five years and has 24 members, mostly in the Bay Area. “We’re not partial to anybody in particular. Just individuals who are strong and females who can work on their own cars,” Ann said.
Apart from fixing up their vehicles and going to car shows, the group also does charity work. Ann models for a pin-up car calendar, and they sell the calendars to raise money for hospitalized veterans. They’re also trying to organize a ride to raise money for lupus since one of their members was diagnosed with the disease.
While tens of thousands of people across the US participate in vintage car clubs, men far outnumber the women, according to Ann. The Antique Car Club of America in Hershey, PA has over 63,000 members worldwide, and the Illinois-based Classic Car Club of America has over 5,600 members.
Tempe “Pepper” Harris, one member of the Lady Luck Car Club, said that her “sisters” in the group made her feel welcome in a way she didn’t feel in mixed-gender clubs.
“You feel pushed to the side, you don’t feel a part of it,” Harris said. “There’s more men who have hot rods and classics than women… I felt like being with an all-female car club would give me sisterhood and respect from my peers for whatever work I’ve done to my car.”
Harris, who is half-black, half-Puerto Rican and formerly identified as a lesbian, also said the Lady Luck Car Club gave her a sense of belonging that other female-only car clubs wouldn’t. Before joining Lady Luck, she checked out one group in San Francisco only to find that she didn’t feel welcome there because her race and sexual orientation didn’t fit with the classic image of 1950’s America.
“But the Lady Luck Car Club made me feel like I wasn’t just this black girl with a vintage car who was in to the Rockabilly lifestyle, but didn’t really fit. Because my sisters make me fit.”
Ann said one of her biggest reasons for leading the club is her desire to set an example for her daughter. “It really inspired me to show her that girls can do anything. They’re not necessarily going to have the brute-force strength, but I bet they can figure out how to operate a hydraulic lift and get that thing where it needs to get.”
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