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June 19, 2009

News & Features

Women's work: The Piston Packin' Mamas love their hot rods through thick and thin

Special to NWautos


The Piston Packin' Mamas (left to right): Fritz, Beverly Nelson, Monique Aranjo, Kim Kalliber, Melissa Reese, Majenta, prospective member Alicia Sigala and Ginger Rivera. (Photo by Cody Ellerd)

Hot rods conjure images of drive-in movies, drag races and backseat shenanigans. But when the ladies of the Piston Packin' Mamas, an all-female hot-rod club in Seattle, were asked about their most glorious memories in their cars, no one could come up with a thing.

Ask them about their worst memories, though, and the stories start firing on all cylinders.

Most involve breakdowns. One was about a fire under the hood at a bike rally that spectators assumed was set on purpose just to be cool (it wasn't).

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  • The Piston Packin' Mamas' next event will be held around Christmastime. For event details or to attend a meeting, contact the club through its MySpace page.

Ginger Rivera, who drives a white 1959 Pontiac Bonneville wagon, recalls a trip from Vancouver to Seattle when her wheel cylinder broke, sending her off the highway and into a tree. Stuck in the dark and rain, she called not a tow truck for a ride, but a car-repair hotline for advice. She fixed her car then and there and got back on the road.
"So actually, I guess that's one of my best memories," Rivera says.

Monique Aranjo, who drives a 1967 Plymouth Fury, once found herself having to change out her water pump on the side of the road. She fashioned a gasket out of a microwave-popcorn box, and it's still in the car today.

"Yeah," Aranjo says, "even when something bad happens, it still turns into a proud moment."

The Piston Packin' Mamas have been together as a club nearly five years, united not only by their love of old cars -- their sounds, smells, vibrations, shiny paint and sexy curves -- but by their passion for working on them. At their monthly meetings they exchange knowledge and resources for parts, and when someone's car needs fixing, they all take the opportunity to get under the hood and learn something.

"It's empowering," says Rivera. "There's something great about being able to work on your own car."

The Mamas currently have seven members and one prospective member, all in their 30s. There's a graphic designer, a personal assistant and a tattoo artist. They all have matching piston tattoos on their wrists (and countless others everywhere else). Almost everyone also has a motorcycle. Three are moms.

Twice a year they put on a car show where they and anyone else can show off their rides. At their May 31 Spring Opener, held at Goldie's Airport Way bar and co-hosted by the male-only hot-rod club Rat Patrol, bands played throughout the day and Pabst Blue Ribbon flowed from the taps.

Each person who registered a classic car or hot rod was entered to win prizes such as Zippo lighters, flasks and T-shirts, or the grand prize of a custom-welded piston trophy. At this event, as at all their shows, they donated the proceeds from car registration fees to local charities.

Club President Kim Kalliber says that while membership in other hot-rod clubs in the area is often limited by the year or type of car, the Mamas are more inclusive. "There aren't a lot of restrictions," Kalliber says, "but you've gotta really love old cars, and you've gotta be willing to get greasy."

And perhaps just as important, you've got to fit in. "We all have very strong personalities," says Melissa "The Militia" Reese, who drives a royal blue 1960 Thunderbird, "but we all get along."

Prospective members have to hang around for quite a while to make sure their personalities mesh with the others'. Being a Piston Packin' Mama, they say, isn't something that can be learned. It's how you're born.


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