Club Showmanship

In comparatively recent times a new phenomenon has been seen among the one-make clubs and registers, namely great enthusiasm for the creation of “sham” motor show stands, displayed and staffed at Classic Car Exhibitions and similar events. This trend, often involving considerable expense and personal effort, is not to be denigrated — to do so might bring down vitriol on my head or cause us to be ostracised among the clubs which enjoy this pursuit. But I wonder why it happened in the first place?

Originally, the idea of a club or other body catering for a particular make of car arose from a need to pool information, technical rather than historical, about a rare mechanical animal, whose well-being was sparsely catered for by handbooks. It would therefore benefit owners to get together and share any experiences and expertise.

There was the added interest of seeing a gathering, no matter how small, of cars of the same kind, and comparing notes about them. That, roughly, is how the many and flourishing one-make clubs and registers got going, complementing the main old-car organisations such as the VCC and VSCC.

It must be remembered that the vintage car movement (using in this instance “vintage” as an all-embracing term) gained great impetus during the last World War. Motoring had virtually ceased, new cars were unobtainable, and frustrated enthusiasts the world over were obliged to think solely of the automotive past.

Encouraged by the monthly appearance of MOTOR SPORT (which is a story in itself) and the continuing publication of the two major weekly motor journals, they reflected on what had happened, not on what the future held. From this stemmed an avid interest in motoring history.

Against this background, the old-car interest was fostered. When the war ended, those who had been attracted found it easier to buy vintage cars than almost impossible-to-obtain new ones. This was not only good fun but very economic, because it wasn’t until the 1950s that the trade got hold of the vintage-car idea and prices of the older, historic, cars rose by staggering amounts. Not even this deterred the vast increase in interest in such cars all over the globe; clubs like the VCC and the VSCC, founded respectively in 1930 and 1934, which naturally grew with the war-time appeal of the old-car movement, have gone on to achieve memberships, and to provide enthusiastically-supported activities, never visualised when they started up.

For the aforesaid reasons the one-make bodies had been started, and they, too, grew apace. I recall a time when it was thought rather comic to suggest, say, a Gwynne Eight Register or a Bean Club (the latter has since emerged as an important organisation in its own right, by embracing other makes besides Beans) and when there were jokes about obtaining a membership of two, and whether you could spell the car’s name!

But I can understand how one-make clubs developed with the rest of the historic-car following. Nothing sustains a club with a scattered membership better than a magazine, and the more thoughtful one-make club secretaries were quick to see this; today we have a truly splendid array of well-produced, informative magazines; and no-one is going to make me say which I consider the best!

Mostly these owners were happy among themselves, and didn’t encourage interference from without. It may have been the need for spares for their distinctly uncommon cars winch changed all that. Parts not procurable from normal motor-factors had to be made specially, which costs money, reducible only if a sufficient quantity can be ordered. So it was desirable to attract every probable customer.

The matter becomes much more pressing if a one-make body has the good fortune to be offered a spares-stock applicable to its members’ cars, by a manufacturer who has no further use for it. Refusal might jeopardise the continuing use of some older cars.

But much money can be needed to buy such valuable new spares, perhaps needing a contribution from club members far above the annual subscription. In fact, almost a separate business situation may arise. It may then be that more publicity becomes essential, because the more converts to the club’s particular way of motoring who can be attracted, the better the spares can be used.

Can this be the explanation for “sham” Motor Show stands (replicas of those from the old Olympia and Earls Court days) at the Classic Car Shows of the 1980s?

It is neither easy nor cheap to put up the stands and provide the eye-catching exhibits. They have to be manned; and whereas at real Motor Shows sympathy is felt for the unfortunates who are on duty there, often for long periods of boredom and the catching of an “Olympia cold”, it is presumably now an enjoyable and dedicated task to man the “mock” stands and publicise one’s club.

I suppose that must be the reason; but I still cannot quite understand how it arose, buIly as it must be for the organisers of Classic Car Shows who are in business to make money and who now have exhibits placed at their disposal by the new-found keenness for self-publicity of the one-make bodies. WB