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Meet Some Of The Most Influential Women In The Automotive Industry

NEWS
Gerard March 8, 2015 11:00

March 8 marks International Women’s Day 2015 with the theme Make It Happen, encouraging effective action for advancing and recognising women. As a car site, we at Carlist.my are taking a look back at the women who have contributed some of the most significant and important contributions to the automotive indsutry.

Stephanie Kwolek

In 1946, Kwolek started working at DuPont as a chemist with the aim of discovering polymers that can be used in the production of tyres. During those times, the anticipation of an oil shortage prompted the need for a strong and lightweight tyre.

Through various experimentation and usage of techniques, one of the world’s most recognisable materials came into existence in 1965. That material was called Kevlar.

With its high tensile strength and relatively low weight, the material was first used commercially in the early 1970s as a replacement for steel in racing tyres. Another more notable application of the material is in bulletproof vests, responsible for saving thousands of lives, and in various sporting equipment to provide just the edge needed to win over the opposition.

The automotive industry has benefitted from Kevlar as well. In modern vehicles such as the Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, the fuel tanks that store the hydrogen are made out of Kevlar to prevent leakage in the event of an accident. Formula 1 teams also employ Kevlar fuel tanks due to its lightweight, high strength nature as well.

Additionally, Kevlar utilised as clutch linings have resulted in less frequent service or replacements as compared to standard clutch linings.

The application of Kevlar in the automotive industry is vast and for that, we have Stephanie Kwolek to thank.

Mary Anderson

We take this invention for granted but the windshield wiper came about due to the good observation and problem solving skills of Mary Anderson during a visit to New York City during the winter of 1903.

Whilst on board a trolley car, she noticed that the motorman drove with the front window open because he had trouble ensuring the windshield was clear of falling sleet (ice pellets) which obstructed his vision.

Upon returning back to Alabama, Mary came up with an idea for a hand-operated device to keep the windshield clear. Working with a designer and a local company, she managed to produce a working model of her invention which she proceeded to patent in 1903 for the very first windshield wiper.

Her device had a lever inside the vehicle that controlled a rubber blade on the outside of the windshield. The lever was used to operate a spring-loaded arm to move back and forth across the windshield and a counterweight ensured contact between the wiper and the window.

Of course the invention was made better with electric motors and rain sensors but without Mary Anderson’s ingenuity, driving in the rain, especially in our country, would be much more hazardous.

Bertha Benz

As the wife to the inventor of the world’s first automobile, Karl Benz, you may wonder what Bertha Benz had contributed to the automotive world. Well, she is the world’s first test driver.

In 1886, Karl Benz applied for a patent for his motor car but as brilliant as the inventor was, his business judgement was a little lacking. His wife however, saw the potential and significance of her husband’s invention, encouraging him that his motor car would be a success.

During that time, there was no definitive proof that the motor car was reliable and could undertake a long distance journey. This didn’t hinder Bertha Benz because she took it upon herself to go on a long test drive with her husband’s invention just to prove that his motor car was very much capable of doing just that.

Starting the city of Mannheim, Bertha would travel 180 kilometres to her place of birth, Pforzheim. And so, at the beginning of August, when the school vacation period began, she shared her plans with both of her sons. They sneaked the car out of the factory and quietly pushed the vehicle out of the workshop until it was a good distance away from their home before beginning the grand journey.

Before she left, Bertha Benz left a note on the kitchen table for her husband, telling him that she was making the trip back to Pforzheim – without a single mention of the “test drive” she was taking. Karl Benz later found out that his invention was missing and that his family weren’t travelling by train as he thought earlier.

The journey was filled with obstacles for Bertha and her children because as the first motor car, many features have not been created for it yet, including a large fuel tank (or even proper fuel for), an efficient engine cooling system, or even a proper brakes for that matter. Any mechanical problems encountered would have to be fixed by Bertha Benz herself using her own ingenuity like using a hat pin to clean a blocked fuel line.

Karl Benz eagerly waited news from his long-distance travellers via telegram as well as their return to Mannheim several days later. Upon completing the first long-distance journey in automotive history, Bertha Benz proved to her husband and defied those who doubted the future of the automobile. The rest as they say, is history.

Michèle Mouton

Rally racing was the domain of Mouton. In 1972, while pursuing law in college, her friend, Jean Taibi asked for her assistance in preparing for the 1972 Tour de Corse rally and although she was inexperienced, she managed to acquire the basics of rally navigation and became Taibi’s co-driver at the 1973 Monte Carlo Rally and several other races during the 1973 World Rally Championship (WRC) season.

The risks associated with motorsports was a concern to Mouton’s father. He decided to make a deal with her: He would purchase an Alpine-Renault A110 for her to race with and if she could prove herself in one year, she can continue racing but if she couldn’t, she had to move on to something else instead.

And prove herself she did. During her trial year, she managed to complete her first international rally at the Tour de Corse and also won both the French Ladies Championship and French GT Class Championship. In 1981, she signed with Audi Sport and a year later, guided the famous Audi Quattro to help the manufacturer win its first manufacturer’s title.

1985 saw Michèle dominate the famous Pikes Peak International Hill Climb by winning not just the event but also setting a record time in the process with her Audi Quattro.

After the WRC banned the infamous and highly dangerous Group B class of cars from rallying, Mouton decided to call it a day.

Clärenore Stinnes

Entering the world of motor racing at the age of 24, Clara Eleonore Stinnes was touted as one of the most successful German race car drivers in Europe by 1927. Her greatest achievement however was accomplished with her Swedish cinematographer, Carl-Axel Söderström, as they were the first people to make the trip around the world by car.

The car chosen was an Adler Standard 6 and with only a freight truck full of spare parts and supplies, the group began its epic journey on 25 May 1927. After two years and one month, and covering a distance of 47,000 km, Clärenore completed her journey around the globe in a car.

The journey brought her from Germany through to Balkans, Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad, Moscow, Siberia, and Peking. After a transit via ferry, the group continued on to Japan, Hawaii, South America, Vancouver, New York, Washington D.C., Le Havre, and finally ended their round-the-world expedition by arriving in Berlin on 24 June 1929.

About Gerard

My first impressions of a dream car should be a ridiculous top speed with physics defying cornering capabilities, namely the Ferraris, Paganis and what not. Deep down, I just want something that makes you feel special when you drive it, expensive or not.

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