The Rebirth of Sophie: An Interview with Stuntwoman, Driver, and Drifter Susan Purkhiser

The Rebirth of Sophie: An Interview with Stuntwoman, Driver, and Drifter Susan Purkhiser

Susan Purkhiser was away for work when the Woolsey Fire consumed her home. She lost everything but a suitcase of possessions; when she finally could return home to California, all that was left were ashen remains and the burnt out frame of Sophie, her beloved BMW. Now, she faces the task of growing through this adversity.   

Sophie after the Woolsey Fire.

We first heard about Susan ​Purkhiser and her tragic loss during the Woolsey fire when her Michelin Women in Drive and Miss Gearheads Cohorts conspired to send us a remnant of the torched 2015 BMW M4. At the beginning of the month, we spoke to Purkhiser and learned more about her life as a stuntwoman, the deep connections she forms with her cars, and the thoughtful community of women in the automotive industry that she’s bonded with as a result.   

A piece of Sophie's door.

 Purkhiser is a driver, stuntwoman, drifter, and instructor centered in LA. Most recently, she has been doing stunt work for ​Fear the Walking Dead​ and ​S.W.A.T​. She excitedly shared that “​Normally, I just stunt drive for the ladies on the show, but they brought me in and I got to play two different zombies a couple weeks ago - that was really fun! … I actually took a photo with me and [my CRASH] bracelet on with the zombie mask.” 

Much like the zombies Purkhiser gleefully portrayed, her cuff is something that was once dead given new life. Her friends coordinated removing a piece from Sophie’s burnt-out frame to send to us. The car metal we received was completely burned and devoid of any  paint. We cut a swath for the cuff body and cleaned, sanded and polished the burnt metal. The bare cuff developed a beautiful patina as we worked on it. 


The finished cuff.

Since Sophie was a BMW M4, we turned to the M stripe emblem for inspiration. We crafted the iconic stripe from a light blue Bentley GT, a bright blue BMW, and a red Ferrari 360 Challenge Stradale. The final touch was Sophie’s name engraved on the inside; now Purkhiser will forever have a piece of Sophie wherever she goes.    

She explained, “I'd say, for me, because it was made from my car, and I loved that car, it was literally the most meaningful gift anybody has ever given me. All of my friends were involved and it was a whole production.” 

Purkhiser continued, touching on the belief many of us car aficionados also hold. “Things have personalities, it's not that we give them personalities. Like Sophie, she was a lady, but she'd kick your butt, and she'd do it in style.”   


Sophie tearing it up!

Purkhiser also appreciates her late Sophie for leading her into the women-led automotive community that has encouraged her since losing her home and possessions in the Woolsey fire. She recalled, “the main thing that brought me around some really cool people, especially people like Aimee Shackelford (owner of GearOne Agency), and Amber Blonigan (owner of GI Automotive Group), was Sophie. After I got that car, I started meeting all of these amazing women, and then the Michelin Tire School...This whole group that I met through having Sophie have really supported each other and ... empower[ed] each other.”

The automotive industry has traditionally been a male-dominated field, but groups like Miss Gearheads and Michelin Women In Drive, are bringing women with all different kinds of  automotive passions together. Purkhiser reflected that being a woman who loves cars was a bit like “being a unicorn” - she was often alone in her enthusiasm. However, the new friendships she has formed with other women in the car industry have led her to reconsider; “It's very neat to have those new friendships and not feel like the lone unicorn, like ok, there's a herd of us... I'm not the only one.” 


Susan in her element.  

Sophie has now been succeeded by Phoenix, a new 2019 BMW M4. Despite being the same model, Phoenix brings a very different energy to Purkhiser’s driving. She explained “Sophie was a lady, and Phoenix pardon my French - is a bitch. She doesn't care about anything.” Phoenix has already faced the adversities of fire, flood, fallen tree branch, and bird poop - and has emerged stronger for it. Purkhiser described Phoenix’s approach to life’s hurdles as “like screw you I've been through [it all], and I'm going to run you over. That's Phoenix.” Like her new car’s namesake, Purkhiser and Phoenix are rising from the ashes stronger than before,  turning this tragedy into a moment of empowerment with the support of her friends, family, and fellow women in the stunt and automotive fields.  

Phoenix in front of Sophie.

Still, Sophie is not forgotten. ​With a hint of laughter, she shared “I always say I'm taking Sophie everywhere with me now. So I took her drifting … Now I can say, “We’re going to the beach!” 

Please contact us at ​​ if you have a CRASH story to share or would like us to create something custom or from our classic collection. 







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