Scarlett Thomas: Fast cars for fast women. Vavavroom!

Who wants to borrow from a boyfriend, or share with a husband? We want our own

It used to be that women's fantasies were all about big romantic weddings, or even having babies (and still are, if you believe Ally McBeal). Well, forget the white lace and confetti, the midnight feeds and the Babygros; today they want slick, turbo-charged speed. In other words, the fastest car on the road. And not borrowed from a boyfriend or shared with a husband. All their own.

According to research published last week, the fantasy of a fast car is reality for a growing number of women. In 1998, no women owned TVRs. Now 533 do.

Porsche has doubled its women owners in the same period. In fact, of the women who already own fast cars, as many as 21 per cent have put off marriage and children in order to maintain their need for speed.

My first car, 13 years ago, was an Austin Allegro that would only start when I hit a part of the engine (could have been the starter motor) with a hammer, which I kept in the glove box. As one old banger merged into the next, I did turn into one of those girls who

can change a fuse or a tyre and knows how to fill up the oil. Dipsticks? Well, how complicated can something with such a silly name actually be? And tyres? You take the big screws off with the martial arts weapon thing and put a new tyre on. Easy! For me, cars are just not the mysterious mechanical monsters that they probably were for my mother and grandmother. However much I yearn for speed, my car isn't that fast, but I've no qualms about swinging it round the lanes of Devon, where I live.

Nor do I fret when it conks out.

Maybe it's because cars don't seem so complicated any more that the relationship between them and the women who drive them is changing. And also - and this may be a contentious point - women do seem to be better at operating machines than men are. In my family, I have always been the one who has had to make the VCR work. And, yes, I can program it.

Of course, the most complicated gadgets that have come on the market in the past 20 or 30 years have been traditionally female products: washing machines, fan ovens, microwaves - even word processors were mastered by secretaries long before their bosses ever knew what to do with them. Perhaps this has been good training for where we are now, where everything about modern Western life is unbearably complicated, and the instructions still seem to come only in Japanese.

Car manufacturers know what's going on. Women have money, know how to operate machines, and are just as likely to own cars as men. They aren't scared of excitement or speed. So instead of creating big red phallic things that go vroom in a vaguely impressive way, they seem to have been creating something a bit different. Fast cars now come with smooth, breast-like curves as often as they look like a dick on wheels. They come in cute colours! They are easy to park! Of course women are buying them. Let's face it, this is a demographic full of people who can be persuaded to go out every single week and buy stuff that they already have - but simply in different colours (lipsticks, eye shadows and so on being the tip of the iceberg).

And then you've got the other lot, men, who traditionally don't really enjoy shopping at all. If I wanted to sell a product today - especially a complicated one - I know who I'd be aiming it at.

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