1966 Fiat 850 Vanessa by Ghia

My web analytics tools tell me that you're very likely a man (and overwhelmingly so, something like 90 per cent), and so you can feel confident I'm not trying to win favour by saying this: I don't think that men are better drivers than women. I also don't think that women are better drivers than men.

I think that if there was some sort scientific way to sort all this out, it'd probably follow from what we already suspect: gender doesn't affect driving ability in any meaningful way.

Feel free to throw your shoe at your monitor, but it's one of those unknowable answers that we like to temper with stories of personal experience. As many times as I've been cut off by a female driver, I'm pretty certain I've been responsible for performing just as many feats of societal terror.

(I'm not even kidding when I say that I generally pull in to my parking spot during the winter months with a generous tug of the parking brake…)

Assuming that we're all pretty much equal when behind the wheel helps to demonstrate why whenever an automaker dreams up a vehicle designed expressly "for women", it ends up appearing hopelessly out of touch.

As you may have guessed from its name, the Vanessa was designed for women, and includes enough girlie kit in its interior to make a Barbie Dream House look like the inside of the dumpster behind your local Taco Bell:

  • Automatic transmission
  • Integrated baby seats
  • Opening side hatch to aid with loading shopping
  • Swiveling seats (to avoid awkwardly leaving the Vanessa while wearing a miniskirt!)
  • "Safety backrests" for the front seats
  • Padded drawers and cubicles in the dashboard for makeup and other accessories
  • Carpet-lined front trunk
  • All gauges removed; instead the speedometer is just a series of square lights that illuminate to indicate speed—making the dash look like a single row from a bingo card…
  • Fire extinguisher that will also pump a flat tire
  • Interior fabric sourced from a single Grimace pelt

Frivolous, right? Based on the Fiat 850, the Vanessa was never going to be a performance machine, but Ghia's studio made no secret that this car was built exclusively for women.

Of course, the world was a much different place in 1966, and the idea of a vehicle designed exclusively for women—however unpalatable the idea is to many of us in 2015—was an acceptable project for the time.

Sadly, that's just about all the information I've been able to gather on the car—which has likely since been crushed.

Godspeed, Vanessa.

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