Origin Story: Birth of a Top U.S. Classic Chevy Club from a Closed Circle
It was 1971 – I'd finally finished college and I was excited to get started in life. The Vietnam war was not over yet and I anticipated getting drafted since I'd already received one draft notice. I had really grown to love cars while I was in college where I bought a 1940 Ford 2-door Deluxe Sedan that I developed into a little street rod. It was powered by a small block Chevy. Next, I had a ‘67 mustang in which I suped up a 289 and added ported and polished heads. My partner and close friend Doug Moorhead was really into the Chevrolet scene and we'd actually picked up a ‘57 Chevy along the freeway and dropped a 409 cu. in engine into it. It was our first real undertaking and it taught us a lot. We just liked old cars - they were fun and we began to watch what was happening in the hobby. We attended car shows, hit the drag strips and just did what a lot of guys our age were doing. We had never considered turning our hobby into a business. What brought about the change were two events that I'll never forget.
By the early 1970s, the Shoebox Chevys (55 56 57 Chevys) had become quite popular and one of the first major Chevrolet automobile clubs had formed out of Colorado, the National Nomad Club. We were intrigued by what the Nomad Club was doing; they pre-dated Classic Chevy by several years. We were interested in becoming members of the Nomad Club - the problem was that one of the prerequisite to being a member of the National Nomad Club was that you had to own a nomad, but we were fresh out of college and broke. Eventually, Doug purchased a nomad and became a member of the association. We began to watch the letters that went back and forth between the members and the directors of the association. There was discussion about enlarging the club but all the directors were quite adamant, “It's going to be a Nomad Club and a Nomad Club only.” After lots of talking and lots of consideration and suggestions, it was evident that the Nomad Club was just a Nomad Club and there was a need in the marketplace for an organization for something other than Nomads.
Another factor that played into our decision to get serious about a national Chevy organization came from reading the leading auto enthusiast magazine of the day, Rot Hod. Back in the early 70s, it was the single publication that most street rodders, hot rodders, and old car people were drawn to. It was interesting because if you go back to the 70s, in a number of editorials and letters to the editor, there were people suggesting that somebody should step forward and start a club or an organization for the '55 '56 and '57 Chevys. In the summer of 1974 Doug had just accepted a change in teaching positions from a school in Michigan to one in New Port Richey, Florida. I was teaching at the time in Wisconsin, and before Doug and his wife moved to Florida, we’d spent quite a bit of time brainstorming. Literally, while on the trip to Florida, Doug finally decided to take a chance.
From Magazine Ads to Self-Publication
Doug called Hot Rod magazine and bought a little one inch ad that offered a $10 or $15 membership for people that were interested in joining fellow enthusiasts of '55 '56 and '57 Chevrolet’s. We started a club that would embrace any Chevrolet model from 1955-1957. We didn’t know exactly what to expect. I have often told people that it would’ve been nice to have had a detailed plan but all we had was a big idea and we wanted to see if there was an interest. That little 1 inch ad cost us a lot of money especially on a teacher’s salary. At that time, we were making about $12,000 a year teaching and the ad was quite expensive, about $125 as I remember, but we thought it was worth it, we figured if we never tried - we’d never know. I do remember this, we took out the ad in the fall issue of Hot Rod magazine and in the first month 305 people sent us $15. We were stunned!
At that point we realized that we were on to something and for lack of just not knowing what else to do - we set up a small board of directors. Doug Moorhead was the president, I was the vice-president, and Doug's wife was secretary. So we gathered some material and went to a local layout and design place to print the very first issue which was in the winter of 1974. When we got the bill, we realized we were gonna be broke really fast. This was about the same period in time when IBM came up with their first correctable typewriter. It had a little round ball that used to bounce all over the place, and when you hit a letter wrong you could hit a button that would allow you to correct it by peeling the black ink off. So we went out and bought a correctable typewriter and hand typed the entire second issue of Classic Chevy Club magazine. We figured we were schoolteachers, we could figure anything out. We went to a local art store, bought supplies and created our own layout and design pages. We started doing a monthly magazine we simply called Classic Chevy Club. When you didn't have a lot of expendable cash you had to be quite creative. Remember, this was just before computers became available, we had to come up with a method of doing address labels. We took 8 ½ x 11 sheets of paper that we would divide up into little squares so that we could hand write a person's address in each square. Then we would mimeograph that onto sticky labels (for those who don't know, a mimeograph was the early photocopy).
We kept this method up for the first few thousand members. It was a ton of work! It wasn't until we reached 10,000 members in the late 70s that we got our first computer. By this time we were collecting $4,500 dollars in membership fees every month. This may seem like a lot, but when you add up the cost of the envelopes, newsletters, and postage stamps you aren't left with very much.
By 1976, it was evident that Classic Chevy Club was just growing too fast. Doug was the first to step down from his teaching position to work on the Club full-time. Then in January of 1978, I came to Florida and I spent 10 days working with Doug on the Club. There was just so much to do and after those 10 days, I realized I had to make a life changing decision. That spring, I tenured my resignation at the high school in Wisconsin where I was working full time. I moved to Florida in June, 1978, and from that point on was I was fully engaged in the Classic Chevy scene. It was about this time that we also hired our first employee, a gentleman named Burt Hardle. Bert was a local car enthusiast and he and his wife were very much into the ’55, '56, and '57 Chevys. When he was offered the place of being our first secretary, he jumped at the chance. Bert worked for us for close to five years before he decided to move on to other pastures. Hiring Bert was one of the wisest things that we did. He was an incredibly personable individual, good on the phones, knew the cars, was very organized, and helped get the club going in the right direction.
Would you like to hear more of the story? There is certainly more to tell but I think this is enough for now. I’d love to hear if you were ever part of the old Classic Chevy Club? Please leave me your comments below and tell me your old membership number. I’d love to hear some of your fond memories.