Marissa Simos says there is a special sort of pressure on her to be a representative of her gender within the automotive industry. Simos, works as a marketing assistant at Excelerate Performance, a tuning shop in Branford. She also repairs cars and motorcycles at home, and photographs cars as a hobby.
In a culture where many women are employed as grid girls, wearing minimal clothing and holding flags at the start of a race, Simos says she often has to prove herself.
According to Catalyst, a non-profit that works to create workplaces for women, in 2018, 8 percent of executives in the top 20 automotive industries were women. It also stated, in 2017, 26.7 percent of women held a job motor vehicle and equipment manufacturing industry.
Simos, a senior and graphic design major, has had a long-standing passion for all things automotive, including motorcycles. In more casual situations, like a car show or meet, when meeting someone for the first time, she says she must demonstrate she understands cars, and is truly interested.
In the future, Simos says she would like to open the industry and culture around cars, normalizing it as a multi-gendered interest. Since there is roughly the same number of male and female drivers in the U.S., Simos says it is odd for the interest to be assigned to one gender. She says it is odd especially because it is something as simple as cars.
Simos says many of the positions for women models in the Formula One, called grid girls, have now been banned by the prestigious racing series. Despite this, grid girls still made an appearance at this year’s Monaco Grand Prix.
There is extra pressure on women working in different parts of the industry, Simos says, partly because most of the people who work in it are men. There is an added level of attention and expectation to perform well and not make mistakes; which she says has its ups and downs.
“I always feel like I have to bring my A-Game, which I think in some ways is a good thing,” Simos says. “It’s really motivating in some ways, but it can be stressful at times, definitely.”
She says she handles pressure by pushing herself, and her education in the industry because there is always something new to learn. She had picked up a book on superchargers that covers the different kinds and how they work from a physics standpoint.
“Which is really interesting,” she says, “only because I’m not the best at physics so I really need to catch up on that and learn.”
Simos says she likes the thought of creating memorable images for brands that stick with people. Part of the reason Simos says she chose to go into graphic design is because much of the work that is done is on social media and helps people direct their reaction to something. She says she loves that often the focus would not be on the graphic designer’s work, but how she can help convey messages in displaying a car or product that someone else made.
Apart from the bookwork, she is also doing a lot of hands on learning by working on her own projects. Simos owned a 1984 Nissan 300ZX that she bought in high school. She would use her lunch periods to go to auto shop and work on the car. She also has the Honda CB500 motorcycle which she says has helped her learn a lot more of the machinist side of things, such as the tools to flatten the deck, also how to assemble an engine.e
“I really like to learn and, I guess, work with my hands just like any artist,” she says.
Walk up the driveway of the Simos’ home, and pass a trio of 2017 Ford Fiesta ST’s, all in different colors. Go towards the garage on a sunny day, and through the open door, be greeted by an overload of visual information. On the left side is a 1972 Honda CB500 almost completely disassembled, with all its vital organs laid out on a white tarp. Amidst the strewn parts, stands a more modern and intact Honda CBR 250. There is a Mustang bumper hanging from the ceiling in the back. The visitor is surrounded by manual and power tools of seemingly all kinds, as well as car and motorcycle memorabilia with a focus on Datsun and Ford.
One of her earliest memories, she says, was her father showing her pictures of his 1965 Mustang Fastback, in Poppy Red. She says she remembers its sculptural quality: how the vents followed the curvature of pillars, and how the light and shadow worked off of it.
“I think from the start,” Simos says, “I’ve always thought of cars as pretty artwork, [rather] than I did about the consumer side of just function and driving.”
She says this ideology is like that of the Bauhaus movement, making works of art out of functional and tangible things like chairs. She says this wave of artists considered the functionality of a piece and then went about perfecting the design and aesthetic for the sake of expression. Getting past the mindset that cars are purely functional is hard once it is already ingrained, but she sees these functional creations as art.
“My mindset with a lot of art is very tangible,” Simos says, “and taking common consumer pieces and just using them to be as aesthetically pleasing as possible, because I think you can have a really nice harmony of both.”
In the future, Simos says that she would like to purchase a 1965 Mustang like her Dad’s, or another 300ZX. She says she particularly wants the 50th anniversary edition with the gold stripes, black side skirts, wider fenders and leather. She would like to do a cross-country road trip, she says, and document the journey through photography and see if graphic design can be integrated into that as a project. For a graphic designer, she says, she likes to be outside a lot, in the industry and in the field; however, she often gets stuck inside at a computer screen.
A lot of the big events and participating in the culture and industry are outside activities Simos says. There will be expos and meetings, she says, but sometimes there is nothing she would rather do than be outside driving cars or being at a meet, eating and drinking with friends; to be completely content with the weather and the sights and smells of gas and burning tires.
“I think that’s one of the most joyful and simple moments I can have,” Simos says. “There’s nothing else that really beats that sometimes.”
By Jeff Lamson