Behind the Shutters: Katie Bushell, Bright Young Sparks Winner 2023
When did you get started with cars?
I don’t really remember a time when I wasn’t into cars to be honest. Both of my parents are into cars and I spent a lot of my childhood at car shows (special mention to the Max Power era), so I didn’t really have much choice!
I was always the weird kid at school that just banged on about cars to anyone and everyone. I was forever helping my dad in the garage on a weekend tinkering with our old Mondeos, or hosting car shows with my Hot Wheels on my bedroom floor.
What do you own now and what have you owned?
I’ve got my 1990 VW Scirocco GT2 (don’t tell the others but that’s my favourite), a 1990 Audi 100 Avant that I co-own with my parents (they drive it and break it, I fix it), and I recently bought a 1989 VW Golf GTI, albeit in kit form.
It’s currently just a shell with all the bits in boxes, but I’m looking forward to making a start on it!
I own four cars currently, and I’ve only ever owned five, so I’m not very good at getting rid of them. My first was a 2004 Fiat Panda 1.2 Dynamic. I paid £400 for it, and it was that really nice bright blue colour.
My god, it was slow. It had 59hp from factory but I think a few of the horses had left the stable! That’s the only one I’ve managed to get rid of, and I replaced it with a bright yellow Abarth 595.
How welcoming is the automotive industry to women and to what extent does the modern repair/rental trade differ from the old car scene?
I’ve been quite fortunate in that the places I’ve worked for have been welcoming to me, and for the most part, don’t treat me any differently for being a woman (I do however get some stick for being so small!)
The only grief I’ve had is from customers. For some reason, certain van driving blokes seem threatened when a woman is fixing their van. There’s definitely still some people in the trade who are perhaps a bit old fashioned and think women can’t do the job or aren’t as capable.
Working on modern stuff and in rental is a world away from the classic world, mainly because people don’t care nearly as much for hire vans as they do about old cars!
Technology is so advanced now too in modern vehicles, so much that when I work on my own stuff at the weekend, I almost end up finding it more difficult because of how simple it is!
How do you think more women can get into the old car scene and into automotive jobs?
I think women need to be shown (or even told) that the old car scene is a space for them, and automotive roles are jobs they can do. The only reason I ended up in the trade myself is because I grew up around cars and tinkering with them, and my parents encouraged me to pursue that passion.
I think a lot of women sadly don’t have that same support network, and from the outside looking in, it can look like the automotive world or classic scene in particular is a bit of a boy’s club, but in actual fact, a lot of those ‘boys’ are actually quite welcoming and willing to help.
Sadly there are still a number of people in the classic scene who seem to carry the same views as the era their car is from, but I’d like to think these are the minority, albeit rather vocal. I also think more young girls should be encouraged to pursue a career in automotive, at least when I was still at school I was never encouraged to be a mechanic; quite the opposite, in fact. There will be numerous girls out there who watch Formula 1 with their dads, and would excel in a career in automotive or motorsport, but it’s never suggested as a path for them.
How has the old car scene and industry treated you so far?
Is there more that can be done to welcome everyone, including youngsters?
I’ve been fortunate that for the most part, my experiences have been positive. The main backlash I get in the old car scene is that people can’t seem to grasp I own my cars, and not my dad!
I do still think there is a way to go, however. I think young people are such an important part of the classic car hobby, they are literally the future of it.
It’s great that certain owners’ clubs now have young member registers, I definitely think more clubs should do that, and pass down the knowledge and skills of maintaining those marques to the next generation.
Unfortunately, some older people tend to be a bit uptight and unwelcoming to young people, when really they should be opening the door for them, otherwise you risk the club fading into the past, especially clubs for marques that no longer exist.
A big issue for young people though is the massive price increase in classic cars lately, sadly a lot of the ‘proper’ classics are just way out of our price range now, which is a shame. On the plus side, it’s giving the cheaper, less loved classics a chance to shine!
Where do you see the industry going in terms of roles for women?
I think things can only go up from here.
It does seem so strange to me that women in automotive or women in STEM is seen as this new thing on the rise, when during World War One and World War 2, women filled a number of male-dominated roles to help the war effort, and managed to do those roles just fine!
I think it’s a real shame that they were basically cast aside once the war ended, and so many skills went to waste because of it
Imagine what the industry would look like now if those women continued to work in those fields, and passed down those skills to their daughters and granddaughters? It’s definitely long overdue, but I’m very glad more and more women are entering these fields again, this time to stay.
Would you like to see more shows and meets specifically for women?
What form would you like to see them take?
I attended the International Women’s Day car meet hosted by The Passenger Seat Podcast at Sywell Aerodrome on 5 March this year, and really enjoyed it. I didn’t realise how important a women-only meet would be.
It was fantastic getting to know other women, hearing their car stories and how they got into cars, and being able to chat about our cars without having to prove ourselves, or worry about silly comments.
A few brought their husbands and mentioned how nice it was to have people chat to them about their cars, instead of completely looking past them and going straight to their husbands.
I think more meets like these are really important, and would offer a safe space for any woman looking to get into the car scene but perhaps might be a bit nervous.
The Women Driver’s Social Club [run by The Passenger Seat Podcast] has recently formed off the back of that meet, so I’m looking forward to seeing what events are organised there!
Finally, how is your YouTube channel, Wrenching Wench, going (and what shows are you most looking forward to this year)?
The channel is going well! I’m steadily closing in on 1000 subscribers (sitting at about 880 currently) and I’ve got some exciting things planned for that, and also a lot of Golf content to come!
Probably the show I’m most looking forward to this year is RADwood, it was my absolute favourite last year and I cannot wait to go again.