Over the past 60 years, the Motor City Car Club has seen members come and go, but the longest constant has been Bob Clarke.
Clarke joined the club in 1967 and has served proudly for 52 years.
While a few original members are active, they have come and gone from the club, making Clarke the longest-standing member.
But where did his love for cars begin?
It was a family affair.
“My father had a body shop, and I hung around there,” he recalls.
His cousin was also a drag racer, and that’s when he was introduced to the Ford Anglia, but more on that later.
As he grew older, Clarke says he got a part-time job at Stevenson Steering in Oshawa, which pulled him even further into the world of car restoration.
“Once you get involved, and your foot’s in the door, you go from there,” he says.
The first car he rebuilt was a 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air two-door coupe.
“My dad bought it for me. He gave me $40 and I had to pay him back. It wasn’t much,” he says.
He attempted to rebuild the car again about a decade ago, but it was an exercise in frustration.
“I spent seven years fixing up the Chev, but I ended up selling it because it turned me off the car so much.”
On the other hand, Clarke perks up with enthusiasm when speaking about his beloved Anglia.
He says it was “an empty body shell,” when he first found it, but it became well known around the City of Oshawa.
“It was in shows, and I drove it to Tulsa, Oklahoma, Colorado Springs, Colorado and it’s been to North Bay in a snowstorm,” he states. “I ended up driving that car thousands of miles. I drove it everywhere.”
The Motor City Car Club had been around for eight years when Clarke joined. He said he wasn’t aware of the club before that.
How he received his invitation is an interesting story.
He was living in Whitby at the time and renting a garage behind a house.
“I’m working on my car one day, and the doors open, and this white Road Runner pulls in the driveway. This guy gets out and asks me if I want to join a car club,” Clarke says. “Turned out to be Gary Challice, one of our founding members here. I went to a meeting and I ended up joining.”
Interestingly, Clarke says to this day he doesn’t know how Challice found him.
The veteran member has been heavily involved since day one, serving 13 two-year terms as president. He says the club has allowed him to make friends far and wide.
“All over North America, not just locally. When you go to these shows, guys come from all over, and we’ve got friends from all over,” he says.
As the years roll on, Clarke says several of those friends have passed away.
“You talk about old age, and what it does to you, those friends are starting to die off. You meet a lot of guys, and you know a lot of people, but we’re getting to the age where they’re dying off, and there’s not a lot of young people coming in,” he says.
Also with time, the hobby itself has changed immensely.
Back in the day, enthusiasts would find parts by scouring junkyards and old farmer’s fields, but they can now be ordered without leaving the couch.
“[Years ago] if you wanted a bracket to hold something together, you made it, and I still do that to this day,” he says.
But now that has all changed with “the 1-800-generation,” as Clarke calls it.
“Pick up the phone and dial 1-800… and order whatever the hell you want for whatever car you want. It’s all out there now,” he muses. “I don’t care what you’re building, you can just about buy anything you want from mechanical, to electrical, to upholstery, to accessories, you name it. It’s just all there.”
And Clarke points out this industry is mostly out of the U.S., which makes it even costlier.
“It’s all American. Your part is just about 75 per cent higher than the advertised price,” he says. “Nobody manufactures here in Canada, it’s all out in the U.S. Maybe one per cent of the industry exists in Canada.”
To him, there is also a lack of interest from younger generations in car restoration.
“Kids nowadays don’t want to get their hands dirty. They don’t want to go out in the garage and play around with the old car,” he says. “They want to sit in front of a monitor or the phone. Our next generation is going to have deformed thumbs and arch of the spine.”
Looking back, Clarke says he never would have gotten into the hobby as much as he has if it wasn’t for the Motor City Car Club.
“I wouldn’t have been in the judging part of it, so I wouldn’t have been able to travel as I did,” he says.
Clarke has served as a judge with the National Street Racing Association of America, and also serves as the current safety director, roles he says have allowed him to “meet a lot of important people in the industry.”
Other highlights that stick out in his mind include the club’s induction into the Canadian Street Rod Hall of Fame in 2016.
A few years ago, the club also received the Oshawa Chamber of Commerce Civic Pride Award, the first car-oriented organization to do so.
“We’ve got a lot of little firsts like that you are kind of proud of,” he says.
Clarke will be only one of many members of Motor City Car Club at Lakeview Park during the 26th annual Autofest Nationals on Aug. 24 and 25.