Martine Balke grew up in a family of car enthusiasts in Stuttgart, Germany. But it wasn't until spring 2016 when she spied the classic vehicle online that won her over -- a 1968 Porsche 911T.

She traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina, and bought the rare Sea Green model with 110 horsepower engine and Targa top.

"It's wonderful," said Balke, who has driven a motorbike or car since age 16. The sports car's vintage is significant to her: 1968 is "my year birthday."

Balke, who with her husband Michael work at the Mercedes-Benz Vans Sprinter plant in Ladson, won the first competition for Best Women-Owned Award among eight entries at Cars on Kiawah this May. The classic auto show, focusing on local car clubs and specialty editions -- including a rat rod class this year -- returns April 21, 2018 and will include a second year of the women collector trophy.

Cars on Kiawah promoters included the class to feature the small but devoted group of female classic car owners. It was also to provide more exposure for women to get involved in the part hobby, part historic preservation past-time.

"We try to highlight the history of the automobile," said Irene Breland, a local car collector who helped organize the women's category last year. Added Millie Horton of Charleston, who owns a 1953 Bentley R Type saloon, "It's not a 'ladies choice award.' My job was to go around and interview people about the background. This is an award for women-owned cars, they own it, keep it up and know the history," she said.

The Porsche stood out for its near mint condition, original parts and for the documented history. For instance, the car was owned by a woman in the beginning, too. The motorist purchased the car Nov, 2, 1967, in Munich. "In 1967, women-owned (cars in the owner's name) were not common," said Michael Balke, likewise an enthusiast. "I have eight projects at home," he said.

"That car is in perfect shape," Michael said of the Porsche.

The model year was the first production season for the Sportomatic semi-automatic transmission -- which has a gear shift but no foot clutch -- and the last year for the short wheelbase 911, making it 1 of 472 examples, wrote Road Scholars, a Durham, North Carolina company that sells, restores and services historically significant collectible automobiles.

Among other features, the Porsche includes:

  • A special order heated glass rear window, not publicly available until late 1968.
  • The Sea Green exterior, painted in 1967 color about 20 years ago, replacing an original Bahama Yellow hue.
  • Just 55,000 documented miles as of last year.
  • Upgrades such as through-the-grill fog lights, factory sport seats and air conditioning.

"This car is the best 1968 911 Targa we have seen and it is truly a special car," the auto shop said.

Martine, meanwhile, said she's eager to know more of the 911's early history. "I wish they could talk," she said whimsically.

Balke is far from the only woman classic car collector in metro Charleston. 

"We are fortunate to have several women in our area that participate in the hobby with cars that tie them to their families in one way or another," Breland said. "Some have inherited their father's cars" including Horton and Grace Clark with a 1932 Packard 903 Series Opera Coupe "and some have taken over the car from their husband like Barbara Ditmore" who has a gold 1962 Corvette. Ditmore's husband, according to Breland, said, "It was her turn to enjoy it."

Jane Schmitt of Charleston, meanwhile, owns a 1949 MG TC and a 1966 Austin Healey.

Registration just opened for next April's show on Kiawah, said Breland, member of the event's Selection Committee who owns a 1967 Triumph TR-4 and tracked down the original owner in Philadelphia several years back.

The third annual 2018 Cars on Kiawah will be 10 a.m.-3 p.m., with a display of over 200 of the region's top club and individual collector cars, organizers say.

The event next year will include a special category dedicated to race cars including participants from Hemmings Motor News Great Race. "The Lowcountry has had dirt tracks, drag strips and SCCA events and is home to quite a few former Great Race participants who want to share their story with our guests," Breland said.

"We’ll also continue the popular Best Woman-Owned Car award and hope to see many more on the show field in 2018," she said.

The show makes a yearly donation of event proceeds to the Barrier Island Free Medical Clinic.

Early registration is now open. The cost is $25 through the end of the year. Go to www.carsonkiawah.com for information or contact irenebreland@comcast.net or mbhorton@bellsouth.net

For more information and photos, go to www.postandcourier.com/automotive.

Reach Jim Parker at 843-937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.