Rear-engined Roxanne is

TARA SHASKEY
Last updated 09:29 12/02/2014
Carmel Graham full
ANDY JACKSON

Carmel Graham with her 1965 Chevrolet Corvair

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Stereotypically the expression car enthusiast is used to identify a car-obsessed male.

However, an ever-evolving gender balance has seen more women take the driver's seat within the traditionally male- dominant car culture.

A true testimony of the change in time is New Plymouth's Carmel Graham, who owns a 1965 Chevrolet Corvair Corsa convertible.

Seven years ago Carmel and husband Ross found the two-door coupe via eBay and had it imported from Utah.

Carmel, who even before meeting Ross had a keen eye for "nice cars", says it was a toss-up between a Corvette and the chosen Corvair.

"We were looking for a Corvette and then realised that there were a lot of them around so we decided to go for something different," says Carmel, who with Ross owns a further four American classics.

Roxanne, which is the name Carmel fondly christened her sporty Corvair, has a four-speed manual transmission and is powered by a rear-mounted flat- six engine - relocating the luggage compartment to the front of the vehicle.

"It takes a little bit to get used to; you tend to go to the back to get your luggage out," says Carmel, who says she often gets funny looks when people see her retrieving luggage from the front of the car.

Copping some flack in its lifetime, it hasn't been smooth sailing for the compact automobile with Time magazine naming it one of the 50 worst cars of all time because of the earlier model's notoriously poor handling.

But, the 1965 model introduced an upgraded suspension system and a 140 hp version engine, improving handling issues.

"We wouldn't have bought one of the earlier models, for that reason."

Since the inception of AmeriCarna in 2007, Carmel - with her girlfriends in tow - has regularly entered the red-and- white American drop-top into the car event, but because of conflicting commitments she will have a friend drive Roxanne in this year's Americarna.

Carmel says it is becoming more common to meet women who have a particular interest in cars and says she has always felt right at home within the subculture.

"We come across quite a few women in Americarna who own their own cars, "she says.

Further emphasising her interest in automobiles, Carmel is not only a keen collector of cars; she also revels in racing them.

When she first met Ross, he raced saloon cars and now she acts as co-driver in their 1977 Torana at speeds of up to 200kmh in the Targa NZ rally series twice a year.

Carmel says she has shocked a few people when mentioning she is involved with the Targa, but she adds she is not the only the female co-driver. "There would be about half a dozen women who do the Targas," she says.

"It's scary at times but I have a lot of faith in Ross' driving ability."

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