Within its acres of forests and farmlands and vineyards, the Northern Neck is home to three active car clubs. What better place to enjoy a Sunday or any day drive than the byways of this scenic rural community? This is a pastime or hobby that gathers people from diverse backgrounds, and while it’s tempting to think “it’s a guy thing,” that’s not an exclusive. The interest easily captures the attention of women too, and not just those who are married to the guy.
A club member’s favorite aspect of the hobby might be working on the machinery, learning the history, exchanging the nostalgia, or enjoying the ride. All may come together at a local “Cruise-In,” a scheduled meeting of the cars and their owners, where those with common interests trade stories or ask for and receive helpful solutions to common problems. Many cheerfully identify themselves as motorheads.
Some members have a single car, perhaps a model they once owned or the one they most wanted to own in years past. In a rare instance, an owner still has a car that he purchased new and maintained for the 25 years it took for the car to become an official antique. Some choose to customize a car in ways that may be as simple as a color change or as elaborate as body modification. The goal of antique-car collectors is to acquire the older or more rare models and restore them to original condition. It’s not unusual for owners to belong to two of the area’s clubs, and a few join all three.
For the observers among us, there are plenty of chances to see the cars and meet the owners at a number of special event activities scattered throughout the area and throughout the year from April to November. These events are usually advertised and include the monthly Farmers’ Markets and any of the annual festivals, from watermen days to seafood fests and art shows.
With going-for-a-ride a primary attraction for car enthusiasts, club members look forward to joining others on a group ride, or “Tour.” This is a day trip, planned in advance by the host club to include a few stops of interest that may include historic sites, restaurants, vineyards, museums, and more. Invitations are usually extended to other clubs, adding the chance for new friendships. The common interest is already the ideal beginning.
MEMORY LANE CAR
The name gives instant recognition to the club’s reason for being. Perhaps the most casual of the three clubs, one member describes its friendly, relaxed atmosphere as “like a family,” with all the good that implies. Another stressed the focus on fun and fellowship. And all agree it’s for people who above all still think driving is fun.
Jack Ashburn is the director of MLCC, which meets at the Boys and Girls Club
Established in 2011 with about 50 members, the club now has 200, making it the largest in the area, and the most active. With the ongoing control of vehicles dependent on computers, the days of father-son teams working on the boy’s first car may be severely limited in the future, but MLCC still counts as members three generations from one family—son, father, and grandfather.
“We have members from all Northern Neck counties, and from farther away—Gloucester, Virginia Beach, even Charlottesville,” says Ashburn. “All kinds of collector vehicles are allowed—cars, trucks, motorcycles, military vehicles. We have cars starting from the 1900s ‘teens.’ One of the most unique vehicles on the Northern Neck is a 1930 V16 Cadillac owned by Alan Merkel, who has spent 25 years restoring it.” Ashburn still owns his first collector car—a 1931 Chrysler CM 6 roadster.
“We show at the Farmers Markets, and special venues like Wings, Wheels, and Keels, the Kilmarnock Christmas Parade, Gwynn’s Island Festival, and so many more,” say Ashburn. “We don’t charge a fee to exhibit—it’s our way of supporting each event, most of which benefit area services or nonprofits. We also take the cars to elder-care facilities, whose residents can’t easily come to us.”
ANTIQUE AUTOMOBILE CLUB OF AMERICA (AACA), NORTHERN NECK REGION
The national organization has over 380 local regions and chapters, giving some idea of the popularity of the hobby. The Northern Neck Region of AACA meets monthly in Callao, but members come from all over the peninsula and beyond. The group started in 1993, and currently has about 100 members. Cars must be at least 25 years old to be considered antique. However, antique-car ownership is not a membership requirement.
“The goal of AACA is to preserve and enjoy antique cars and other antique vehicles and to enlighten the public about the hobby,” says Ward Sevila, president of the Northern Neck Region. “We hold Cruise-Ins at Tappahannock’s Roma Restaurant, and we show the cars at a number of area events.” As an example of the kind of information sharing that occurs at these shows, Ward recently met a 10-year-old who already knew a lot of history about cars from the 1950s and ‘60s, one small assurance that the interest and knowledge is being passed on.
The national organization has a museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Described as an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, it’s a valuable educational resource for club members and the general public.
Owners who wish to have their restored cars judged at a meet may do so by starting with local meets and moving up to nationals. “Our local shows in Montross are open to antiques and some limited modern cars,” says Sevila, “and we do award trophies and plaques. At national meets, cars must be antique, and they’re judged to tighter standards in a series of award levels. Some of our members have been very successful.”
The Northern Neck region won an award for a 2014 tour it hosted. In presenting the award, the president of AACA noted it didn’t require a large region to arrange a fun tour. “Other clubs may have up to 500 members,” says Sevila, “so it’s remarkable our small club was the winner.”
CORVETTE CLUB (NNCC)
The third auto club on the Northern Neck boasts a few antique cars, but membership in this group doesn’t depend on the vehicle’s age. Rather, as the name suggests, it is limited to owners or potential owners of the model itself, because a Corvette is such an icon that it’s a collectible at any age. The Northern Neck Corvette Club was formed in 2010 and now has 60 members. They meet at the Lancaster Community Library in Kilmarnock. Their website sums up the group’s mindset in one short sentence: “When driving our Corvettes, the journey is the destination.”
The oldest car in the club is a 1954, and the newest, a 2015. Owners often join the tours and shows arranged by the two antique-car clubs, adding more variety for lucky viewers. “We sometimes join the Richmond club’s tours, too,” says Frank Pugliese, the Northern Neck club’s president and proud owner of a 2002 black Corvette. One likely destination for a someday tour is Bowling Green, Kentucky, where the Corvette Museum is situated across the road from the Corvette Plant.
Special Corvettes designed for racing are built elsewhere, but some of that racing technology eventually filters down to the stock cars. “Part of the appeal of Corvettes is that they’re made in America,” says Pugliese, “but besides that, they’re really interesting cars. They’re very light—there’s no weight to the bodies. And they’re very fast, with a huge engine—no need for any change there.”
Corvette owners generally don’t work on their cars. Because most of the models are relatively new, their computer-operated systems don’t allow any ordinary work on the machinery. And bodywork needs the expertise of a fiberglass artist.
No wonder that the Northern Neck supports three car clubs. Its country roads frame so many perfect settings, whether a single car is out for that ordinary ride, or a group of them are tracing the route of an organized tour. And wherever a group of these beautifully maintained cars is on display, it’s an opportunity not to be missed—to look, to admire, to learn, and most of all, to share some memories.
Memory Lane Car Club:
or call 804-435-6171
Northern Neck Region of the Antique Automobile Club of America:
Northern Neck Corvette Club: