Starting and Maintaining a British Car Club

Moss Motoring Fall 1988

Stretched nearly the full block was a solid rank of British cars carefully backed into place as though ready for Le Mans. It was a good cross-section: Healeys, most of the post-war MGs, Jags and Triumphs, Mini-Coopers and a few pre-war cars. Not bad for an Iowa, two-sweater day in early April.

As I watched more people arrive my thoughts were drawn back to our first tenta­tive newsletter five summers before. It said, “The first meeting was a success. Nearly two dozen cars showed up.” The nice thing is that most of them were still here five sea­sons later. We must have been doing some­thing right.

I tried to put my finger on the specific things that we had done to be successful. As I thought I began to ask myself, did we make the club grow or did we allow it to grow?

It was definitely the latter. Here are some of the things we discovered that allowed our club to grow.

Avoid Organization
Focus on the difference between getting organized and having an organization.

The process of organization diverts at­tention from the reason we exist: to drive British cars and to have fun doing it. Formal organization assumes permanence and continuity. Yet the success of the club is based on the success of individual events. There are people who are willing to give 200% for a single effort but who would refuse the commitment that is implied by an office in an organization. Don’t stifle incentive with an organization chart.

A group has to have a few spark plugs to draw people together the first time. Those spark plugs are the beginning of a nucleus which consists of people who have said, “I could help do…” There isn’t room for people who say, “It would be better if somebody would do…” That’s how I became the first editor of our newsletter.

That nucleus group will have some turn­over from event to event and from year to year, but it won’t be much. There will always be a hard-core of people who are committed to keeping the group going. Anyone can join it if they are willing to contribute. Our group has only two titled and long-term positions, both staffed by volunteers: the editor and the treasurer.

How is it possible to avoid an organization? Allow people who want to see the club succeed become leaders without the im­pediments of bureaucracy and elections. And, instead of officers have a good…

Newsletter
I watched the newsletter and the club grow together. I placed major emphasis upon the newsletter because I have seen what it can do.

It tells people the what, where and when about the next event.

It tells people how much fun (artistic license is allowed) the last event was, who won and “aren’t you sorry that you weren’t there.”

It makes you look like an established, solid, active organization even while you’re still struggling to find your way. It provides a substitute for all the facade and appearance of a formal organization that is not really necessary.

It provides a continuity of membership even for those people who are only occa­sional attendees.

It justifies charging dues, especially from those who rarely come. No dues, no newslet­ter. Dues support club activities. A newslet­ter is a profit center.

A newsletter sounds like a tall order, but I promise you that there will be somebody in your group who will sincerely enjoy writing a newsletter. You may have to ask a few people but you’ll find one. And the rest of the club will be supportive because they’ll real­ize how important it is.

Newsletters should be informal and folksy. The purpose of the club is to drive cars and have fun. Newsletters and editors should be punished for taking themselves seriously. If you’re looking for a model, try to find a copy of the Vintage Sports Car Club Quarterly from Great Britain, they’ve got the right light touch.

Newsletters hold the interest of…

People
People are the critical ingredient. Other­wise there wouldn’t be a club. But people in a British Car Club are an ever-changing variable. They came together because they like British cars, but they all don’t like British cars in exactly the same way.

The fact that they like British cars is an advantage. On the whole they are really a decent bunch of roaring individualists who have a wide range of interests both in their cars and in their other lives. Recognize this or be prepared to have a very small group. The lack of a formal organization makes it easier to mold some of these typical types together:

• People who hate belonging to clubs and organizations of all types but find that this British Car Club is somehow fun and appeal­ing. There’s a lot of untapped leadership and talent to be found in this group. Maybe even a newsletter editor.

• The rabid marque enthusiast who can spot a non-original fitting at 50 yards and quote their marque’s history and dates of model changes without notes. They won’t drive on dirt, gravel, or through puddles, or appear on rainy days. But they’ll add splen­dor to any display of British cars.

• The rabid driving enthusiast who thinks that every club event ought to be a crash helmet gymkhana or a time-speed-distance rally.

• The purely social semi-enthusiast who fills out the ranks.

• The mass of people whose only proof of existence is that their dues are faithfully paid and their newsletters are never returned because of “no forwarding address.”

The last group should be nurtured. Never think that mailing their newsletter is a nuisance. Don’t feel guilty about spending their dues money to support club events. They feel that the newsletter and their non-participation is worth the price of dues. In that way they help keep the club going. Some of them may eventually show up, along with the other types as a long as there is a…

Wide variety of Events
Our event year starts in February with our Christmas Party (we use a Lucas calendar) and Spring Planning Ses­sion.

All events are defined and volunteers accept responsibil­ity. We encourage pairs of event leaders. We try to team someone who’s never run a specific type of event with some­one who already has. that way we expand our leadership base.

We try to provide something for every taste.

• Opening social gathering and lunch at the local pub which just happens to have British beer and draft.
• A informal fun rally to encourage first-time participants to find out that rallying is fun.
• A gymkhana with more emphasis on teamwork than on autocrossing.
• A serious time-speed distance rally.
• An Annual All British Car Show which attracts more than 60 cars and a large all day crowd.
• A fun run in the country.

In between we get invited to display cars at various events. All of a sudden driving British cars is socially accept­able and a gathering draws crowds full of nostalgia for cars they used to own or wished they had.

People don’t think of Iowa as being British sports car country. We’re a long way from either coast and the winter seems extra long without the chance for hood-down motor­ing. But, adhering to these principles, which we frankly didn’t understand as we discovered them, has made our group a success and has attracted more British cars to our group than we ever thought existed in central Iowa.

Remember, forget organizations. Communicate instead. Create an environment where people can participate and lead from their very first meeting. Provide something for all interests and don’t cry over the people who never show up.

Try it, pretty soon you’ll have to start wearing name tags. We have.

By Dick Hankinson

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