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CLASSIC VEHICLE CLUBS.

WHAT CAN THEY DO?

A fairly new classic car club, the Sol Classic Car Club, based in Andalucia, has recently split due to disagreements about what to do for enthusiasts to stay as happy members.  Apparently some members objected to the activities being just runs out to fairly local beauty spots where a meal at a restaurant had been organised.     Some members soon got fed up with this as it was boring as the accent appeared to be on wining and dining and not the cars themselves.  So the two "leading members" who were involved in running the club apparently, according to members reports, had a big "bust up" and one ran off to start his own club called the Classic Car Club of Andalucia.

Now I do not want to comment on the direct whys and wherefores because as one classic car enthusiast has said, it became the silliness of "school playground" which dos not say much for the level of leadership, but I would like to offer some general thoughts having had extensive experience for some years in the "management" of a major classic motorcycle club in South Africa. 

Concerning the Classic Motorcycle Club in South Africa with then before I escaped South Africa in 1999, had over 1.000 members nationally.  I offer these general comments on what can be done with classic vehicles.     I say vehicles because with cars unless you are well-heeled, there is a cost problem to do some sporting events compared with old motorcycles where a competent engineer with access to machine tools can keep them running. You will read why in a minute.  I was a member of the CMC Johannesburg branch of the SA-CMC for many years, mainly as editor of the monthly magazine or newsletter which with the advertising, brought in so much funding that the club subscriptions were minimal after I took over that job.   I am not suggesting that clubs should not have subscriptions for, as my old boss in the UK Joe Bamford of JCB fame told me once, "People only really appreciate things they pay or work for."

We used to meet every month where the emphasis was on comradeship and old motorcycles.  There was no snobbery or one-upmanship even though some members were very wealthy.    Many members including myself were made welcome at other members homes to see their collections and to talk old bikes. One family had a collection of over 58 bikes and cars going back to before the 1920s, all found and restored over the years by themselves as a hobby by the father and two sons.      It is, and was, a terrific club that gave us all many hours of pleasure.

With weather similar to Spain we would go camping for the long weekends, either with a two man tent strapped to the back of the bike, but always with a pickup truck following with the food, and beer in large quantities, and we would go to properly organised places in national parks with permanent ablution blocks for showers and so on where we would have a weekend of laughter and good comradeship often around a big bonfire.  Some of the members being ex-rugby players taught me songs I hade never heard before, rugby being almost a religion in South Africa then.    One weekend a year, we booked and took over with our sheer numbers, the town of Pilgrims Rest, a 19th Century mining town that is restored as it was in the 1880s, with a main hotel and all the old miners' shacks (steel-cladded cottages), being used as accommodation.  They were clean and had hot water bathrooms and electricity of course, and they were affordable.   Being organised, we had a big braii (barbecue) given by the manager of the town in his big garden where, as he said when I asked, we were very well behaved especially compared with the rugby clubs that sometimes "invaded" the town.  Well, why shouldn't we be?  We were not "Hells Angels".    We had all sorts of members,  some with an MSc or  engineering degrees or diplomas, some aircrew working for South African Airlines including Boeing 747 pilots and several CEOs of large companies and some like myself, a senior engineering manager in a large international company  managing large workshops for mining and earthmoving equipment with such personal activities as designing hydraulic systems, etc. as well.   We all worked very hard, and enjoyed life when we let our hair down.  We never drank alcohol and rode our bikes or drive our cars and this was severely frowned upon by all members.  After all, classic bikes are valuable and difficult to replace when they are wrecked. (joke).

Where applicable, the wives would drive down in cars with the kids so they would all be included in the fun (the rugby songs were moderated then), while we rode our motorcycles at high speeds on roads that were magnificent and in beautiful scenery once we got away from Johannesburg.   My main motorcycle then was a 1952 Vincent-HRD 1.000 cc, a bike that was once the fastest production bike in the world with a top speed of 120 mph.   Mine had been stripped and rebuilt and tuned by myself and was faster but the pleasure was more in the handling and flexibility of the engine  The work on it was kids stuff compared with the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine I had stripped and rebuilt during my training years in the RAF.   A 1939 version of this machine recently sold on auction in the UK for 210.000 or263.000.  I had three but sadly sold them all when I was divorced in 1987.  I should have sold the house!

Having raced the bike in the UK and in South Africa in various club old-bike events at places like Cadwell Park, I was quite quick and had the trophies to show for it, and in South Africa where there were several  large organised bike rallies each year (I rode over a thousand kilometres one way to one, with no mechanical problems at all), I had on more than one occasion an eager stranger offering me his new big Japanese or Italian bike in exchange for it as I had apparently passed him on the way to the rally we were then at, and he could not then keep up on the twisty roads.  Happy days.  The golden years of motoring are really over now with all the speed traps, etc.

Now that is a classic riding to enjoy. 

The pic below shows me racing my old Vincent in an old bike event at Kylami, South Africa.

I had previously enjoyed the racing in the UK and the USA where I took part in long distance off-road enduros, with one in Missouri  a 155 mile (250 Km) event through mostly virgin forests, with over 1.200 starters including a few professional  women.  They do things big in the USA.  I  worked for two years in the USA when I was an aircraft engineer. 

With this enjoyable past experience, I suggested at a club meeting that we start a properly organised classic racing series.  We had several suitable local smaller tracks that were privately owned that could be used and they would attract paying spectators, but one or two members objected as they said that the classics were far too valuable to "wreck" on the race tracks.  But a democratic vote was eventually taken after a couple of meetings so those who could not attend would know about the move through our monthly newsletter and we started when the large majority voted YES.  It was significant that the "collectors" declined to race: at first. 

After a few very successful fun-filled meetings, we had existing members and many new ones seeking out the older machines that were ready to be scrapped as they were not yet collectables, even the early Japanese ones that qualified on age, to modify them within the rules to race and within a year we had a very large following.   Many discovered as I had a few years previously, that racing on the track is not anywhere near the same as riding fast on the road, but no one ever got hurt and I held classes to teach them how to race safely as many think that the throttle only goes one way on the track and soon come to grief.   For example, at first, many novices did not walk a new race track before the practices and subsequently some fell off trying to go through the hairpins far too fast.   

I won the five-meetings championship in the first year but by then, the enthusiasm had taken on so much that members were buying up special new racing parts and kits from the UK where classic bike racing was popular and really starting to go very fast.     I did not want to modify my standard bike which I had had for over 25 years.  When I was divorced, I sold to a TV producer (it was used for a production drama on SA TV) and it is now running around in Canada.   Fool that I was: I should have kept it.

Why have I written the above saga?  Perhaps to show that such clubs are dynamic and must act as such.  All successful similar clubs are run by the members, not by a small clique of individuals, and when a club splits it often shows a lack of effective leadership, not the sort of leadership where you are dictated to by the committee, but the superior type of leadership that brings out the best in everyone.

But we should remember that the people now running both clubs are the same who banned me, a paid up member, from the SOL CCC for privately talking about something at a club meeting that the two who have split up did not agree with, so perhaps the split is not surprising. 

It would appear that they cannot even get on with themselves let alone with others who do not agree with all they say and think.

But as a classic car club friend, who has witnessed all the "tos and fros" has said, the saga is "playground kids" stuff.    Not, in my opinion, indicative of good leadership qualities.

And as someone else I have spoken to, when he visited the new Classic Car Club of Andalucia which is run by one of the people previously involved with the SOL CCC, even as a guest on a run, he was not made very welcome and the atmosphere was not good (the word standoffish was used), and a visit since to the new club shows the same atmosphere as the SOL CCC.   He also sadly reports,  with the same runs out to eat somewhere at sometimes the same places.

Perhaps the clubs need some new ideas?  

Or some new leaderships.

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