Problems within Your Car Club? Don’t Walk Away—Get Involved

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I belong to several car clubs, all of them marque-specific. In many cases I am both a dues-paying member and a follower of the club’s online activity, be it on Facebook, Instagram, or X. I follow these mostly to get a feel for events, new purchases, things offered for sale by other members, or general levels of interest.

Many, if not most, groups bring a lot of joy to their members and fulfill their intended purpose: To bring people together over the shared love of their rides. The best clubs foster enjoyable, instructive interactions through educational, fun events and publications, and provide access to great sources of information or hard-to-find parts. And that’s the whole point of a car club, right? They should all be like this.

Frankly, though, they aren’t. Some groups can best be described as a total mess. There are issues in this part of the hobby that are widespread enough that they need to be addressed.

As an appraiser, I hear horror stories of all kinds. They range from the mundane-but-annoying stratification of models for no reason—”the cool people all have the Utopian Turtletop, only a loser would bring their Mongoose Gatorhead—” to the outright inappropriate: Misuse of funds, or “friends and family” rules for club resources. If you can think of a face-palming example, it’s happened: Club literature gets borrowed for research, only for it to find its way to eBay after someone “forgets” to return it. A club refuses to help with authentication/certification of a car because one of the club bigwigs is still sour that he wasn’t able to buy the car first. I could go on.

And then there are the personalities. Many of us have attended in-person club meets and felt like strangers in a strange land. Once you’ve ventured into Clublandia, these are a few of the people you might meet:

  • The “Gatekeepers,” loosely identified by three attitudes: 1) “My car is better than yours,” and its corollary, “your enthusiasm for a different segment of car culture isn’t legitimate because it’s different from mine.” 2) “You (and your car) shouldn’t be in this club at all.” 3) “I don’t need to hear any of your thoughts or ideas; I’ve been a member of this club for 30 years.”
  • The “Experts.” They know exactly how Ferdinand, Henry, Enzo or whomever built each and every car, and that there were never, ever any deviations from the options, colors, hose clamps or chrome on anything they made. “Experts” are unwavering in their expertise (such as it is) and in their knowledge of the rules.
  • The “Downers.” They get pleasure in squashing your hopes, dreams or aspirations without ever giving any positive advice.
  • The marque and model “Chauvinists.” They’ll say “the [insert make] was the best marque in history and the [specific model this guy owns] was the only truly exceptional one.”

None of this behavior is acceptable, and none of these folks is making his or her club better by acting that way, so how do we fight back?

550 Beck Spyder gate
Nobody likes a gatekeeperJames Huss, Jr.

The answer is to get involved.

Sure, you could ignore things you don’t like. A car club isn’t a homeowners association. It’s optional. Don’t like the events but enjoy the magazine? Skip the former, read the latter. Don’t like anything about the club? You could quit. After all, open events like local cars and coffees got popular precisely because of their lack of gatekeepers, experts, and rules.

If you’re in a problematic car club, though, the better choice is to become an active member. Very active.

Talk to other members and see if your concerns are their concerns, too. Fight to fix what’s wrong, even if it’s one small piece at a time. We’ve all heard “be the change you wish to see in the world.” This could be your “be the change” moment.

It might be impossible to fix everything, and backlash is possible—online and in real life. When that happens, remember the traits of a healthy club, and let that guide your behavior. Give out helpful advice when you can, give a thumbs up to a new car or member even if it’s not a car you love, and generally have a positive attitude. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

At the end of the day, a car club is supposed to be about a shared passion, education, making friends, and most importantly, having fun. It’s up to us—the members—to do our part to keep clubs at their best.

allard j2 hagerty detroit concours 2023
The 1950 Allard J2 of Chuck Loper draws a few young fans.Nadir Ali
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    I had been a part of a large Fiero club for a number of years. We had a great time and enjoyed working with each other and helping each other. We went to car shows together and even if we competed we would help our club members to compete against us. The club finally began to decline as we had a strong core and support but with health issues and other issues we finally closed the club down.

    For the most part it was by far more like a group of friends vs a club. Being it was a Fiero club we needed to help each other as these are not cars just anyone will work on.

    I looked into a Corvette club last summer. I was going to join but I began to investigate things. I am not going to knock their club if they are happy
    with things as they are but to me it was not the kind of club I wanted. They did not really do much tech wise. I found many could not even work on their cars if they wanted to. They would get to gether and eat often or play corn hole.

    I did find they put a lot of time in on Charity work which is nice but on the other hand I always felt like I was getting hit up for money all the time. I may have a Corvette but I am not rich. Some chaity would be nice but the national club makes it a competition.

    Their car shows were pretty much let go out and vote for someone I know. The shows mostly were only club members and not many from the outside.

    Look if that is what they want that is fine but I was looking for a club that was more hands on and to learn more about my car inside and out. That was what our old club was and it just never appeared they did that.

    Also I noted in several months I attended they really never came to speak to me. I reached out to some but not the friendliest club.

    Now don’t go saying this is because it is a Corvette club. I have found Camaro, Mustang and Mopar clubs about the same.

    Also note most of these clubs are getting older as younger members are hard to find. I am 60 and I was the kid compared to most. I still get Obit E mails which are coming way too often.

    The complaints I see above are not really what I have found. Yes you will get a strong personality now and then but to be honest most of what I find is people just socializing and using their cars to attend the social event.

    Clubs are hard to run. I was President of one and we had a core group that did most of the work. It really helped me.

    From what I find much of the Corvette clubs are like this as most are controlled by a national body. It’s just not what I am looking for so I will lone wolf it for a while.

    Masons, Churches, Clubs Odd Fellows etc. They all are getting less members and it is making it difficult for them to last. Times have changed and the web is the answer for many. But it is still nice to have that local group that work as one.

    I know I am not alone as friends complain about the same thing. In their case they found the same issue but under a difference car. I told them we should just start a club that we are looking for and be more hands on. Make it about the car first and go from there. Also do all we can to attract younger members. These older clubs will be gone in 10-15 years at the rate it is going.

    I’ve had the same experience with mustang clubs so you are right, this is not a corvette thing. I prefer my local car club with the regular Saturday evening cruise and Sunday morning c&c. Cars are any marque and vintage or late model. Just a group hanging out, having fun, helping each other and not worked about trophies.

    I have friends in nearly every local club, and they nearly all talk about one or the other types of downsides mentioned in the article. My life has had more than enough conflict in it – my philosophy now is to avoid that sort of stuff whenever possible and thus I have never joined a car club and never will.
    You may be able to catch more flies with honey, but all the honey in the world isn’t going to change other people’s personalities. I find it best to just stay away from those folks who attract flies in the first place.

    I was a member of a small car club for a generally unloved marque. There were maybe 10 of us in the club, in a major city, and no one could get along with one another. I organized some meetings at my house, bought refreshments and tried to get everyone playing nice together, but I was never successful.

    These days, I’m a member of a few automotive clubs, but mostly for the various member discounts they offer. I typically end up saving multiples of the membership cost on parts, service, etc.

    They’re good for the “For Sale’ section of the newsletter to get a read on going for prices but other than that? I’ve talked to their ‘experts’ who didn’t know their ass from a hole in the ground and frequently immediately copped an attitude – ” Don’t tell me I worked for… !”. I’d rather go to a casual little local show with a mix and mix and mingle instead. Variety is the spice of life. Fight for it? At a certain point you realize some things are more frustrating than they’re worth. Better to walk away. It’s just a car club. If you make it a cause and you’re planning to stage a coup I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve got enough pots on the stove already.

    Dave, well said… as you others here have pointed out car clubs can be a mine field of personality, with the aging of the Boomers and the lack of new blood in the make and model clubs are diminishing as we write this. As a result both of the national make clubs I belong to have become even more user unfriendly. Not to mention as the membership has declined those in charge have really began chasing the every dollar. IMHO Cars and Coffee will be the only thing left in a few more years and that’s for good as it’s informal and you eliminate the personality you correctly defined (I have meet and dealt with all you described).

    One thing that needs to be brought out here is Ego and Narcissism have always been a part of the hobby. Not everyone is like that but to be in the hobby you need to have a thick skin.

    Not everyone will like your car and not everyone will be someone you want to hang with.

    Trust me my car was one that went from popular to hated so I saw lots of rude comments. But you just can’t take it to heart.

    In today’s tech based woke world where everyone wins a trophy, some struggle with just trying to get along with people. Many have lost the ability to adapt to other personalities face to face.

    I don’t mean to get to psychology deep on this but times are different.

    I think that because we were not a most popular car it brought our group together more and most of us became friends not just club members.

    I still belong to the Pontiac Oakland club. For years the old members rejected the owners with newer Pontiacs. But the club realized it needed the later cars to support a club. The move has paid off as they still are doing well. Now the brand is gone I feel the club is tighter than ever.

    By the turn outs at the large National meets like Norwalk Pontiac car hobby is still very strong.

    POCI also has a great magazine not much classified but with EBay that is to be expected.

    I dropped out of a car club I had been a dues paying member of for 3 reasons. One was that scheduled events and my commitments did not regularly mesh. Second, I have come to an age where I don’t feel the need to constantly be tinkering with what the factory decided was good about my car. I was too often hearing the question of what mods have you done to your car, or what I “should” be doing to my car. Third, and most importantly, the club’s scheduled “runs” morphed from enjoyable twisty road drives ending at a restaurant, to “spirited” drives in which the leaders seemed to be trying to turn into impromptu track days, driving at 10/10ths. There are problems in this in that the club has drivers of varying skill levels (a couple of accidents happened due to less skilled drivers trying to keep up), and most runs were in areas, while rural, still have enough population to have various possible hazards just around the next blind corner or hill. I’ve spoken to people at local car events who had dropped out of this club for that same reason of not being comfortable with the “spirited” runs.

    Dave, spot on my friend! I was at Run To The Sun last week and overheard (several) conversation about the lack of younger car enthusiasts and in the next breath bashing a tuner, import, etc… the gatekeeper are the worst.

    Now I have an import and I hang out with mostly vintage American muscle as that is most of what is in my area. Very little attitude form the guys I hang out with. However I do not bother with paying type big car shows. I will never win an award and I don’t care if I ever get a plastic or brass trophy. I’m in it for the cars and the good people. I don’t need a spotless car to be happy and I’m not impressed with “I had somebody else build me a car for a ton of money.”

    I joined POCI in 1978, and took a hiatus of about 10 years in the early 2000’s. Coming back a few years ago has been an experience, as it is decidedly a different club now than it was.

    Some change in the status quo is for the betterment of all. Some is for the betterment of some, and then there is change to benefit only a select few.

    I agree with the general sentiment in the article, however. As treasurer of a 501(c)3 technology organization, we go through this, too (disgruntled members disconnecting when they should be engaging).

    While Cars’n’Coffee fills a certain niche, it is not a replacement for a regional or national (or international) meet, the fun of a marque-specific swap meet, or photos, trophies, and a banquet at the end of the event.

    Personal conflicts need to be addressed in any organization, and the sooner, the better. Clubs need to adopt codes of conduct with strict sanctions for major infractions (there is no excuse for bad behavior – in children or adults).

    Taking on the problems of a car club is about the last thing I’d want to do. Life’s way too short for that. Of the multiple car clubs I’ve belonged to over some 45 years in the hobby, there were maybe two of which I truly enjoyed being a member. All the others? Meh.

    This is exactly why I quit the SCCA and refuse to join a car club. I have a description for the “expert”. He’s the guy who always wears khaki pants, some ridiculous hat and yellow shooting/driving glasses. Invariably he is too large to fit into any sports car.

    “Ego and Narcissism have always been a part of the hobby.” *Every* hobby. I’ve belonged to motorcycle clubs, political organizations, sporting groups, musical societies, and some other stuff. The archetypes of The Clubbable are the same everywhere, and, as Wife points out pointedly, if you think a bunch of old women are awful gossips, you’ve never sat through a by-laws debate at the Trap & Skeet.

    There’s also one more annoying busybody overseer know-it-all, The Newsletter Editor. Having been one and married one, I can say without fear of contradiction (since I’m editing), they grow up to be feature article writers, universally despised.

    Ego and Narcissism are not parts of any hobby. A hobby does not create those traits. Ego and Narcissism are parts of being human beings. As such, Ego and Narcissism are parts of every human endeavor, everything we humans get involved with.

    I have been a member of many different “Marque” clubs over the last 40 years. What forced me to leave the National and local affiliate of one such club was that they insisted on a prayer before the meeting or meals.
    When I approached the leaders of these groups I was told to get over it. My feeling is that the comradery should be that of the cars and the activities around them and not an exclusion because of religion or now a days, politics. Could be a reason that many young people are not as involved. Lack of diversity.

    I’ve owned Corvettes since 1979 and have joined 3 clubs in all that time, and was that ever a giant mistake. I am an ASE Master Technician, and have worked exclusively at GM dealers for over 45 years. Once my occupation was discovered not only did the attitude of the members quickly change from accepting me, to treating me like some sub-human, they all wanted me to fix their junk. I absolutely made it clear I came to enjoy Corvettes. Not work on them. My brother in law has a 1970 coupe in driver condition that needed a rear spring replaced. It was a hot summer day so I had the doors open on my home garage. One of the members who constantly harped about me not helping fix their cars drove by, saw the red ‘70 he had never seen before, turned around in my neighbors driveway and pulled in my driveway to literally yell at me for working on a Corvette at home. It was all I could do to not knock his teeth down his throat. He got an earful, and I even called the cops. The second club was a lot further away, almost an hour drive east. But eventually, they found out I was a dealer tech and it started all over again. That last one ended in 2008. Never again. The third is the NCRS. Even though I will not have my cars judged or attend any regional meets, I have been a member for 30 years.

    I feel that car clubs share many aspects of any kind of any social or work group in that they can be both functional and dysfunctional. It seems a question of people, their values and inherent personalities and whether you as an individual want to contribute to the group’s success?

    I am the current president of the Vancouver Mini Club. A club that celebrated its 50th Anniversary last year and have encountered many if not all of the personalities written about in this article and comments thereafter.

    I joined this club in 2006 having just purchased a Classic Mini and at the time was one of it’s younger members. 18-years later I am still one of the younger ones… but if I’m being truthful, maybe in the middle-to-latter of the age-range of the club’s current roster. Our club is trying to attract younger and new members as we recognize the enormous disparity between our current roster versus that of the number on our club’s Facebook group. This year we are scheduling monthly gatherings where enthusiasts of our Marque will be invited. These gatherings will be held at trendy coffee shops, ice-cream and donut shops around our city. We are also going to hold a couple of Technical-Sessions and invite non-club members who may own cars of our Marque so that we may provide insights to those who would like to learn about maintaining their classics. All of this activity is aimed at sharing our club’s vast knowledge and having fun with enthusiasts and hopefully encouraging non-members to become engaged in our club.

    I have heard from our club’s senior members that there are “Joiners” and “Non-Joiners” out there and I recognize that in today’s virtual world, there is value in becoming a “Joiner”, because more “real interaction” is what our world needs more of.

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