Cowland on Cars

Join a car club? Not until they can all get along

by Paul Cowland
1 September 2021 3 min read
Join a car club? Not until they can all get along
Photo: Matt Howell

Car clubs are the very backbone on which the classic car scene is built, says presenter of Salvage Hunter: Classic Cars and Hagerty columnist Paul Cowland. So why don’t they get along?

Here’s a fact that may shock you. Despite almost 40 years of messing about with old, battered and classic cars, I’ve never once been a member of an owner’s club.

Actually, I tell a small lie. I once deviously joined the Split Screen Owner’s Club to get an insurance discount (I can only apologise to all parties concerned) and the lovely people at the Orange County Mustang Owner’s Club in America once sent me a lovely letter, T-shirt and membership card, unprompted, after seeing my car online. Yet, despite their Facebook barbecue pictures appearing to be the stuff of culinary (and perhaps, coronary) legend – I have yet to make a meeting.

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There are a few reasons for this. As Groucho Marx once famously wrote, in a resignation letter to a members club, ‘I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member,’ and there’s something in that. Seriously. If your membership bar is that low, I have genuine doubts about the future morals of the organisation.

The other reason is that I rarely choose my friends based on the fact that we own the same car. In some cases, that would be, literally, impossible, because some of the strays and stragglers I have picked up along the way are the sole remaining example on the road.

And then there’s what I call ‘The Life of Brian’ factor. For those of you that have not watched The Life of Brian, there’s a scene in it where a faux political group is asked by the main protagonist whether they’re the ‘Judean People’s Front’. Much affront is caused, before their leader, played by John Cleese, explains haughtily that they are, in fact, ‘The People’s Front of Judea’… a vastly different organisation.

And it’s something that I see and hear about a lot, amongst car clubs. Despite many of them offering the same umbrella of knowledge, enthusiasm and parts access for a common marque, there always seems to be a bunch of ‘splitters’ as Cleese brilliantly puts it.

This was once eloquently brought home to me when hosting and judging a car show. I had the honour of presenting a trophy for ‘Best Club’, and as I enthusiastically strode over to the showground to present this coveted silverware to the Judean Mondeo ST Owner’s Club, I was quickly informed – and in no uncertain terms – that this was the Mondeo ST Owner’s Club of Judea, and they were not to be fraternised with. The splitters!

While the names, models and clubs may have been changed to protect the innocent, this moment really happened – and with a car that’s perhaps even rarer than said Fast Ford. And it made me think. Surely these lovely people would all get along, given the chance? Don’t they all like the same car? They surely have several other common interests, too? Wouldn’t the joining of these two fine organisations make for larger, more fun meetings, with access to more parts and skills, and greater discounts for bulk buying?

I know first-hand just how wonderful car clubs can be. We work with them throughout each episode of Salvage Hunters: Classic Cars and the knowledge, skill and experience they bring to each production is invaluable. So many cars we’ve restored on that show wouldn’t have been anything like as good as they were without the input of the countless, selfless individuals that have helped us source parts, unearth technical data, or even assist us with hacks and short-cuts. This is what’s amazing about owner’s clubs. A collection of incredible people just trying to help other like-minded souls find, run and fix their dream car.

As we face hurdles in the road for our hobby, now is the time to bury those hatchets, settle those differences and literally club together to form organisations that can carry a little clout on behalf of their members. Car clubs are undoubtedly stronger when they’re united, and if you all like the same car to begin with, surely that’s a great place to start?

And I promise not to join and lower the tone.

Read more from Paul Cowland

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Saint Cowland of Cars and his ever-growing flock

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  • John Scott says:

    The ‘problem’ is people, some of whom have the audacity to not get along with others. The club to which I belong splintered because of personality/culture clashes and some underhand behaviour. The splintering then repeated in the splinter groups. It’s hard to run a traditional club (rather than an FB social group) and keep egos, empire building at bay. It’s also hard work and you can’t please all of the people all of the time, no matter how hard you try. The tribal wars can fade out over time as people forget who was the ‘enemy’ and why.

  • AG says:

    I joined the best car club in the world 18 years ago. It was great up until 5 years back, when it became obvious that things were being controlled by the (committee) person taking most of the subscription fees for producing the magazine, despite claiming to he a volunteer. After trying to get this and other matters out in the open, it became clear that the rest of the committee are scared that he would ĺeave, so he remains. They are also lacking foresight in trying to encourage younger members to get involved, without whom there will rapidly be no club at all. I cut my membership card up in disgust half way through the year. I joined another club, but it has tainted my views.


    Possibly the reason for this could be that even in a one make car club , individuals have different reasons for joining . Some just want to look at cars and their level of restoration or condition , others join for the social interaction and some are motorsport motivated . I was surprised to be asked did I race my car , because they’d seen it’s rollcage and harnesses . Then on saying yes I competed with it , their response was that if they had my car , they wouldn’t take it on track . This is just one example of people’s perspectives about classic cars. I wash , polish , show and compete with mine but am a minority in the clubs I belong to

  • Fred Wheeler says:

    All valid comments. Life is easier until you deal with people…. Saying that, I’ve been in a few clubs based on different cars I have owned over the years and found COOC (Cambridge Oxford Owners Club) help invaluable with lovely people in it. I’m now a member of the Figaro Owner’s Club. An amazing club with amazing people. There is something about this car and it’s owners that are warmhearted and genuine. Could it be the majority are female so it’s more about the love of the car and socialising and less testosterone and beards? You be the judge. Paul has made a genuine comment though – instead of lots of small clubs, if they join forces they can do more good, have more clout, bulk buy etc…. providing that doesn’t become an empire of course and lose its purpose. Clubs are great but it is everyone’s responsibility to get along, be tolerant, show kindness and empathy. PS. I would like a large club that covers all UK classic cars no matter the make or model. Anyone else think the same?

  • David Schofield says:

    I started thr Purton Yatch Club on the understanding that there would be no comitee, I ran it for five years without any problems. When I handed ot over it fell to bits. Comitees are a complete waste of time.

  • tim Kingham says:

    I am the member of 5 motorcycle clubs 3 because I own a bike of that make and they make the spares and members are old friends. 1 (which is also a car club) because I have always done their Long distance trials by bike ,trials sidecar or even a car and 1 the Vintage MCC because I have a lot of old bikes and we need to make our voice heard and influence the FBHVC in the bumpy years ahead till we reach the status of the steam trains

  • David Comer says:

    Have just read the piece about car clubs, have had experience of this as a club I had joined has now gone in “three “different directions ! , sadly all very personal leaving members having to decide who’s side to take, or not !
    But what I thought was odd is that the article is about Paul’s reasons for not joining any clubs, but in it he encourages other folk to join clubs and clubs to pull together to give the industry clout in the future, he then signs off by saying he would still not join a club himself ! 🤔, should I nod in agreement with Paul’s reasons for not joining a dysfunctional club, or should I be encouraged to join a club for the benefit of the industry ? ? ?

  • Ian Griggs says:

    As a member of 4 clubs I see benefits and problems 3 clubs I belong to are Marque specific the forth is not it is Clacton Classic Car Club and is for enthusiasts of any Marque and is local to me were the others are not. All of these clubs are members of The Federation of British Historic Vehicle clubs which gives us all a voice and information at levels individual clubs could not achieve. My reasons for being a member of 4 clubs are different the Marque specific help with all the things you mention in your article that have helped you and if I want can give me meetings and shows to attend. The local club allowes me to meet up and attend shows and much more on a local level.

  • Ian Webster says:

    If you want to sprint or hill climb (or something similar) you need to be a member of a club to run at their meetings. I am a member of a bike and motor club, both clubs offering great information and a fountain of knowledge to tap into, but they are two of the biggest clubs in the country. I am sure some of the smaller, one model type clubs may have members that are a bit nerdy and should be avoided if you gain nothing from them, but otherwise, take advice from other like minded people to yourself and then make your decision based on what you will get from it.

  • Bob Shoosmith says:

    The issue I have with clubs, and I belong to several, is the cliqueness. I have been to meetings where members have obviously known each other for years, gather in little groups and ignore an obvious newbie. There is only so far you feel like pushing yourself forward, in case you are perceived as pain in the ar*e. Also being a kit car owner, and belonging to clubs that cater for both the base vehicle it’s built on, and the specific kit, you’re kind of considered a bit of an outsider in both. The base vehicle club because in their opinion it isn’t a “proper” model, even though by turning it into a kit it was saved from the scrapyard, and the kit club, because I didn’t build it myself! (I have re-built it, but that doesn’t seem to count.)
    I do get a discount on my insurance as a club member, and they have a discounted parts shop, so it is very useful to maintain my membership. There also seems to be a great online camaraderie when it comes to wanting technical advice etc, there is always someone to help, so on balance it’s better to be in than out. As for “meets”, I normally give them a swerve.

  • Roger King says:

    I’m a member of about 10 clubs currently (I think) as I have a fairly eclectic mix. Car clubs are the public face of a hobby, which is by definition an activity or interest in which people take a strong personal interest. In the case of vehicle clubs, this interest is often very deep indeed and can be extremely passionate. Yes, work and life in general are important – but you mess with things people feel truly passionate about at your peril. This is why vehicle club politics can be so difficult.
    There is strength in organizations such as the FBHVC and HCVA. United we stand, etc.

  • John Fox says:

    I have been a member of two owner’s clubs for over thirty years. All I have ever done is read the club magazines….. It’s hardly the club’s fault.

  • Peter says:

    i would if there were a club for Chinese cars.

  • William Grime says:

    Sheesh! What a dismal load of clubs you guys have ‘enjoyed’… I’m a member of the Giulietta Register, and I’ve never met a more interesting, intelligent, open-minded and friendly and inclusive bunch of people in my life. I count a surprisingly large proportion of them among my very best friends. Perhaps because it’s relatively small (around 400 worldwide, I think), or maybe some marques just appeal to outgoing types, or are sufficiently under the radar to attract very much like-minded people, the Register is a delightful organisation.

  • Tony Jackson says:

    Jowett Car Club, the oldest single make club founded 1923. Great regional groups and National/ International meets backed up by a great spares set up

  • George Montgomery says:

    Clubs are not perfect, but they are a source of information and parts. In time you meet members who you can “bond” with and share interests not necessarily asociated with that particular car /club.
    I have friends worldwide thanks to the internet and Clubs and it’s nice to meet up when travelling and have friends in foreign countries. Makes the travel / holiday more interesting.

  • Chris Marsden says:

    Car clubs are the same as all clubs, great for people who like joining clubs. I was secretary of a one make club, not one model club, for a number of years and it was very hard work, almost like a second job given the time devoted to it. The manufacturer, who still exists, gave the club a lot of support and was extremely helpful in assisting with running costs and encouraging new members to join. However, as has already been pointed out, for clubs to survive, especially those dealing with one make, new, younger blood needs to be encouraged in order to progress. Younger members tend to favour the models they’ve grown up with by and large.

    In recent years I have found more help and assistance from online forums, where generally there is less of an axe to grind by people and club politics don’t get in the way.

  • John Smith says:

    I’ve been and still am a member of a number of clubs and I recognise elements in each of all the comments previously made. They are great sources of support and information with usually a few outstanding individuals who will be really helpful. Socially they have cliques and some are not particularly welcoming. The most annoying thing is those who see you as a source of funding and have individuals who derive their livelihood from this.

  • Chris Abbott says:

    Couldn’t agree more !
    It’s why some 7 clubs, no matter whether catering for Westfield, Lotus 7, Caterham, GBS , MK , Spiker, or a mix of marks – Etc and no matter what country, got together to form the International 7 Network . Better together ….
    Of course there are still some clubs who don’t like it – but their loss !!

  • David says:

    Well, I just started a club for people in the local area, to help each other in life post Covid, the fact that we all have an interest in old vehicles is the secondary reason for joining.


    Over the years I have belonged to quite few clubs, when you get into it you realise most are clicky clubs and if your not in the click your just there to make up the numbers and subs.

  • Jeffrey Bridges says:

    I am a long standing member of two long established clubs. I’m afraid one cannot change human nature, there are always those who let their ego’s get the better of them and refuse to accept democratic decisions – just look at trade unions before secret ballots, or those who tried to reverse the result of a certain national referendum…..
    Clubs can be a tremendous source of help and support, I am a technical advisor for one of the clubs I belong to and get much pleasure from being able to help people – no politics or opinions, just a shared interest in old cars.
    I did belong to a third very long established MG car club, but resigned due to finding that they take money from the Chinese nowadays.

  • AG2 says:

    To take a contrarian view, I would say that it should be compulsory to have two clubs for every marque. The XX Owners Club will concentrate on static car meets where people stand in a field carefully examining each other’s cars, debating the pros and cons of the ’62 and ’63 model and tutting about cars having the wrong wheels or are held together by phillips head screws which weren’t available when the car was built. On the other hand the XX Car Club would concentrate on doing things with the cars, maybe even competitive motorsport. As pointed out in an earlier post, the two types of member mostly don’t mix well. More seriously I agree that most clubs have very helpful online forums and access to parts which makes membership worthwhile, although I’ve yet to see a club insurance offer that gets near what I pay with Hagerty!! And I agree that local non marque specific classic car clubs are much more approachable!

  • Malcolm says:

    I belong to two car clubs, one very large, one quite small, both single make car clubs, but I’d rather be a member of neither.
    In the smaller club our regional meet always have a meal together which means that some have sold their classifying car and yet still attend the meeting – eating together is always a great binder for some reason. We don’t talk cars all the time which means that the significant others come along too, however we have some group members who hold the most amazing knowledge base if you need it. We opted to do the very occasional outing because we’re all busy people whether ‘retired’ or not!! It’s very friendly and we welcome new members and. like the national club we are a part of, we also welcome modified versions of our marque as well as appreciating original examples irrespective of where along the track they are with their condition. (Un?)fortunately the cars are not by any means the most valuable so we own them, not as a status symbol, but just because we love them and several members own multiple models. The club magazine is great and I read it from cover to cover; great articles on ‘how to’s’ from complex to simple. And it always incudes a large section from the FBHVC which keeps us all in the loop about the much bigger picture where classic cars generally are concerned.
    The larger club is much more formal with runs every month, periodic longer sorties lasting several days and nights and a massive annual meet. Yes, I have a few very good friends, but mostly, being so large, I don’t really KNOW many of the local members, It’s had several falling outs and controversies at national level over the years, and has a very flashy magazine which I flick through for the bits that interest me (which is often not a lot!). In the (recent) past it has been VERY snobby about any bastardisation of the cars – to be honest I’m not sure where they stand just now. As my marque car is off the road I turn up in a variety of different classics and I always feel – rightly or wrongly – that this is sneered at. The cars are much more valuable.
    I think one of the main differences is simply a factor of the size of the national club – the bigger club needs a more formal committee to handle its affairs efficiently and has to cope with a much broader range of people because there are far more members. Of course the magazine has to cover articles of interests to more different factions too. It’s a hard balance to get right.
    So why would I rather be a member of neither? Because in my pink fluffy world I’d rather be a member of a small local club covering all marques and consisting of members who just love their cars for what they are as I’d find the variety fascinating.
    One big national club for everyone? Not for me – it would be far too big and cumbersome – size matters but maybe in this case maybe smaller is better. And anyway, we have the FBHVC to represent us in that bigger sense and a very good job they do too.

    But then my pink fluffy world doesn’t exist and anyway, we’re all different aren’t we!

  • Kev says:

    It’s only the Avenger Sunbeam Owners Club who are notorious.

  • roy franklin says:

    being a member of 2 car clubs ( one i never attend as meetings are always too far away -but thats my fault for not living in right areas) other a local club i have been with for years and helped out at events with marking out. marshalling etc but recently has had a split with members ( long standing) getting ejected and NOT being allowed to confront allegations at a club meeting where all sides could put forth arguments etc. We have since decided to not renew membership of said club as ‘personalities ‘and cliques have formed. where one we encouraged newbies to join and enjoy meets/events we have to now say we can no longer advise anybody on joining but they should ask around and get a feel for a club. I was aware as a newbie once that I was sidelined and was difficult to talk at meetings as seen as an outsider ? not wanting to push forward but lack of encouragement to join a table etc remained with me. so Much so when new members joined I made a point of inviting them to sit with us and to chat with them to ensure they felt welcome. I have now joined? a non club – a facebook sort of membership of a local group whom have decided they do NOT want to be a ‘club’ and simply arrange social meets/events by face book .eg anybody interested in attending a show at ? etc and each individual can. book own place or ask person who has posted invite to book a place for them eg “I will/not – be attending” this group is only interested in us enjoying our passion for old cars of whatever ilk. American. Uk. European .Russsian etc and even motorcycles .military vehicles are welcome, in fact its simply a meeting each time of easy going non ‘clique’ people just enjoying a day out with like minded souls and no judgement at all. you can have a first class Ferrari or an old banger . All are welcome with everybody rubbing shoulders and even sharing cakes etc with strangers. Surely a better way to enjoy old vehicles than a club that has ‘issues’. It is also a way to get young folk to see such vehicles ask questions and hopefully take in interest in historic vehicles and enjoy driving them etc. Though most seem to want sports cars or ones their ‘dad’ drove when they were kids.

  • Gerald Summrfield says:

    Nearly all the comments are very valid bearing in mind that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. My experience tells me that the general exception are bike clubs, you’re a biker and that’s all that matters. Things may have changed but many, many years ago I was a member of Stort Valley Auto Club and no one person could hold a post for more than 3 years and it worked brilliantly.

  • Robert Chester says:

    If you are anywhere near Watford in Herts then join Watford Classic Car Club. All Makes and models. We raised lots of money for charities before the Pandemic and will again.

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