How and Why I Joined A Car Club – Again
I’ve had more interactions with car and motorcycle clubs than anyone I know. Most of that has been good, and all of it educational.
First of all, you’re either a “club type” or you’re not. I always have been. The concept of meeting for dinner and chat or having adventures with like-minded folks appeals to me. Before I entered the motorsports industry I belonged to a Corvette club and then a Porsche club during our tenure with each of the brands. And then, for 15 years in the motorsports business, which entailed two years with a car dealer and then 10 with a large multi-brand motorcycle dealer and finally three with a BMW motorcycle dealer, it was a large part of my customer relations and various other task duties to attend all manner of club events and belong to many. I was a member of a Miata club, a 4X4 off-road club, a HOG chapter, a sports car rally club, and a Triumph RAT pack group. As a representative of each of the three dealerships I also attended and participated in hundreds of events put on by clubs, including charity rides, drag races, camp-outs, and road and off-road rallies.
Out of those experiences came the development of riding clubs at both motorcycle dealerships, where I boiled down everything I’d learned to be able to plan and stage activities for customers under the banner of a “club.” What I did in reality was cherry-pick the procedures I liked, ignore all that I did not, and call the resulting hybrid a “club.”
Susan was driving our Fiat 500 Sport on a sunny day recently with the sunroof open and the windows down – and she looks just lovely doing that I might add. At a stoplight a woman pulled up next to her in another 500 Sport, this one a cabriolet. She yelled out a friendly “Love your vanity plate!” Ours says “Con Brio,” and Susan noticed later that the woman had one that said, if I recall correctly, “Wheee.” They chatted at a couple of lights, and the woman mentioned Fiat Enthusiasts Northwest, a club for… (No guessing!) enthusiasts of Fiats in the Northwest. She mentioned that she and her husband had just joined FEN, and that it was a great group.
Susan is not a club person. In long ago 1072 she warned me about some of the negatives I would experience in the Corvette club. Two months married, we had purchased a “classic” 1958 Corvette that we were treating to a rolling restoration as funds allowed. A new paint job and wheels and tires, a new interior, and other mods, and it was pretty cool. To my eyes. Almost everyone else had much newer models, and made sure I knew it. Same thing with the Porsche club. We had a very tired 911S Targa, and club members pretty much audibly sniffed their distaste whenever they saw it. She went with me to some of the events, but did not really enjoy them very much. I, on the other hand, enjoyed parking my 911S with fading red paint and rust spots on the hood as close as I could to a Porsche club concours, just so I could enjoy the agony of people who wandered by on their way to putting another coat of wax on their gas cap. I am not making that up.
I made plans to attend the FEN dinner last night, and Susan predicted more of the same. When I arrived I was prepared with a mental list of “tests” the club would have to pass before I leapt in to the fray.
Test #1: FIRST IMPRESSIONS. When I arrived at the chosen Italian restaurant in Shoreline, the first person I saw was in an initial launch version of the Fiat 500. He got out of his car and introduced himself. Test passed. We went inside and sat down, and soon a couple joined us and also introduced themselves. Bonus points!
Test #2: REMEMBER ME? I’d been communicating by e-mail with a club member who was also the registrar, and when he came in he figured out who I was and introduced himself and welcomed me. Test passed.
As I listened the chats going on all around me I realized I was dealing with a misconception. I’d thought this was a new club formed to celebrate the return of Fiat to the US. In fact, it has been around for almost 20 years, and over half of the club members own Fiats which are now quite old. Cool! We owned a 1967 Fiat 124 Coupe in the early years of our marriage (post-Corvette) and then a 124 Spyder in the 1980s. By the way, those who snicker, all three of our Fiats have been utterly and completely reliable. The Coupe and the Spyder were both marvelous cars, nigh on perfect for our use, although each of them could have handled another 60hp or so with ease.
Test #3: OH NO – AN ACTUAL MEETING. The first item of business was to have the new members and guests introduce themselves and their cars. All were welcomed. This is a make or break test that many clubs fail. I learned about this when I had a president of “my” sport bike club who was exceptionally good at it – far better than I am. Sid was the most gracious person you could imagine and I tried to learn from his example, as I’m actually rather shy. Ironic when you think of the jobs I’ve held. These people were warm and welcoming. Test passed.
Test #4: BUSINESS MUST BE DONE. The “business” part of the meeting took less than 5 minutes. Yes, there is a bank account and it has money it. Here are some activities coming up soon. That’s it. Test passed with flying colors.
Test #5: PROGRAM. The program for the evening consisted of a discussion of an upcoming Italian Car Show in June and the club’s participation at the Historics in July. The fellow putting on the Italian car show has a lot of experience with Mustang shows, as he’s a “Mustang guy.” He related his pleasure at dealing with the Fiat folks as compared to his experiences with another famous red Italian brand owned by Fiat. This led to various hilarious anecdotes of interactions with owners of that brand (one of them told by me) and that is where I learned that such incidents led to the formation of the club in the first place. Super bonus points! It seems that nobody puts on airs with a Fiat. Test passed.
Test #6: ARE WE HAVING FUN YET? Humor was present throughout the meeting. If you’re going to own and operate a Fiat, especially one that has not been represented in this country for 20 years, you’ll need the ability to laugh at the foibles of the brand, and at yourself. Most of the humor was self-deprecating. Test passed.
Test #7: MEETING LENGTH. The meeting took less than an hour, and people were invited to hang out in the parking lot and “kick tires,” which included the chance to look over a very rare Fiat Dino coupe in attendance. As I remarked at the time, “This is the only car here that is worth more now than when it was parked here earlier this evening.” A fantastic car at that stage of being “better than tatty” and headed for “spectacular.” Test passed
Test #8: ATTENTION TO DETAIL. As we rose from the table to head outside the woman to my left thanked me for coming and urged me to bring Susan to the next one.
The registrar called out my name and waved the registration sheet he had ready for me. He was prepared. Test passed.
Test #9: DUES. Many clubs have drastically reduced expenses these days. Newsletters are much better handled by e-mail, with the bonus that sending the news out is free. However, a car club needs some money to reserve things in advance, such as entries to the Historics Car Club Corral, or to order t-shirts, or to purchase prizes for various events. $25 a year is reasonable. Test passed.
Test #10. WHO PAYS? Dues for FEN are by household, which is just sheer genius. No nonsense with “alternate” memberships, or lesser dues for kids, or fretting over the definition of “household.” This keeps things simple and leaves participation open to all, to the depth of involvement each might wish. Test passed.
I joined the club.
Copyright 2014 David Preston