Enabled by disposable income, car enthusiasts realizing dreams of their youth
They’re out there driving the curvy rural roads of Arkansas in Corvettes, Mustangs, Cameros, Porsches and other classic cars, adults recapturing their childhood memories and living youngsters’ fantasies.
Hundreds of Arkansans — mostly businessmen and retired professionals with expendable income — are members of the scores of vintage car clubs across the state. It’s an expensive hobby; a 1964 Mustang can go for more than $35,000, and some turbo-charged Porsches may cost up to $150,000. But, it’s a hobby that brings like-minded people together and forms lasting friendships, members say.
“I have the disease. I love Porsches,” said John Showalter, the past president of the Ozarks Region of the Porsche Club of America. “I have 10 or 11 cars now.”
Showalter, an investment broker with Crews and Associates in Little Rock, owns a variety of Porsche models ranging from 1963 to 2006, and stores them in a warehouse.
Many car enthusiasts saw the cars of their dreams when they were in their teen years. Fast and sleek Mustangs, racy Cameros and shiny 911 Porsches were objects of desire, but they were unaffordable to teenagers.
Showalter recalled how current club president Dan Williams ended up with his Porsche.
“Dan said he worked [outdoors] all his life. Once, while at work, he looked down into a valley and saw a late 1980s, red 911 Turbo. He said, ‘One day, I’m going to own it.’ Later, he had the resources and got one.”
It’s the mantra of many in the clubs. Mike Maule, president of the Heartbeat of the Ozarks Classic Car Club in Bentonville, said a majority of the club’s 65 members are at an age where they can finally afford buying a vintage vehicle.
“We do have a lot of older guys,” said Maule, an instructional designer at Manpower Inc. in Bentonville. “It’s because we couldn’t afford these cars while in high school.”
Jim Clark, a retired Veterans Administration pharmacist, owned a 1965 Mustang when he set off for college when he was 19 years old. “It got me through college,” he said. “It was a great car. I remember it fondly. But at no time did I think back then that they’d be considered collectibles as they are today.”
Clark, president of the Central Arkansas Mustang Club in Little Rock, now owns 1964, 1966 and 1969 models of Mustangs. He also has a 2019 Mustang he uses for his daily drives around town.
“Everybody loves a Mustang,” he said.
His club is made of a mixed group of both white-collar and blue-collar workers. Members include a manager of a Kroger store, an electrician with Highland Dairy, retired teachers and other workers. Many are between 50 and 70, but the club also has younger members, including one who is in the military.
“We’ve reached an age where we have some disposable income,” Cark said. “I bought an older Mustang. They’re very restorable; it’s easy to find parts.”
There’s a connection with people and their cars and with members of car clubs.
“As a society, we tend to bond with our cars,” Clark said. “We remember our first cars, and we have great memories of them. But as we get older, get married and have kids, we may end up getting minivans. Cars become a member of our families.”
Returning to the vintage cars also gives older members a sense of mortality and a reminder of a carefree time when they were younger. It also connects like-minded people.
“We are alike because we like certain types of cars,” Clark said. “And often, we find that we have a lot of other similarities too.”
The COVID-19 virus has hindered car clubs, and meetings are often cancelled. But some members still meet to drive their cars on adventures together.
Maule said he may pick out a 50-mile route through twisting, curvy roads between Bentonville and Branson and then lead a caravan of 20 or so Porsche drivers on the road trip. Drivers cruise through small towns on the route, often catching the eyes of residents who wave and give enthusiastic thumbs up gestures.
Showalter and other Porsche owners sometimes meet at a controlled track to drive their vehicles.
“Instead of driving fast on the freeway, we have ‘driver’s ed at high speed’ on a track,” he said. “Our cars are spaced, and we can drive it as hard as we want to.”
Others who are confined due to the virus still love their vehicles.
“Our members may just go out and polish their cars,” Clark said. “They can’t go anywhere, but at least the car is clean. We love our cars.”