One-track minds

Car fanatic? Join the club

The bench racing was fierce at the Palm Springs Revival Historic Auto Racing Festival last November.

“There go the Bubbas,” said one member of Mini Owners of America, Los Angeles, watching vintage NASCAR vehicles trundle to the starting line.

Video killed the radio star, but the Internet didn’t kill the car club. While the Web lets you find rare parts, it doesn’t replace the charm of a fuel-injected fraternity to talk shop and race cars.

“Our only requirement to join is that you are a certified nut, willing to spend your weekends getting greasy fingers, ready to pawn the wife’s jewels and mortgage the house for a transmission rebuild,” says Nick Valery, member of Lotus Ltd., the largest Stateside Lotus club.

Some center on marquees like Porsche or the Ford Mustang; others are more exacting, like one dedicated to 1958 Cadillacs. The club for Cobra owners is an informal gang of wheel-heads with neither membership fees nor a formal roster; Mini Owners of America, Los Angeles, takes attendance and charges dues.

And if you want to know which one is best, ask.

“Our people are really outgoing and friendly, not elitist like some other clubs,” says MOALA president Boris Tilim. “I had a classic Jag and joined a club and, well … ”

Lynn Park, co-president of COCOA/LA, says he takes pride in heading the nation’s oldest Cobra club. However, he admits to “a healthy dose of competition between our guys who owned original Cobras and the kit guys.”

But in the end, it’s all good. Says Park: “(Cobra creator) Carroll Shelby loves us.”

Mini Owners of America, Los Angeles (MOALA) Cobra Owners Club of America, Los Angeles
Porsche 356 Club
Club: Mini Owners of America, Los Angeles (MOALA)
Club: Cobra Owners Club of America, Los Angeles
(818) 248-7446
Club: Porsche 356 Club
The Cars: Everything from vintage MKIIIs to new Mini Coopers. The Car: Shelby Cobras The Car: Porsche 356
Value: $7,000-$30,000 Value: Depending on condition, up to $500,000 Value: Depending on condition, $30,000- $100,000
Why Join: You own a vintage Mini or just bought a new Mini Cooper and don’t know anything about the car’s legacy or where to find cool after-market parts. Why Join: You’re looking to buy or sell a Cobra, or to indulge your lust for the legendary muscle car. Or, you’re itching to meet Cobra creator Carroll Shelby. He’s been known to show up at the club’s open track sessions at Willow Springs race course. Why Join: Lust for James Dean’s speedster. The 356 crew can supply you with info on refurbished parts and upcoming concourse locations.
Dues and requirements: $30/year; Mini ownership not required. Dues and requirements: None; Cobra ownership not required. Dues and requirements: $30/year; ownership not required.
Meetings: Held monthly at Me & Ed’s Pizza in Lakewood. Meetings: Informal bench-racing and Cobra-ogling in Northridge at high-performance garage Maeco. Meetings: “We don’t do many meetings,” says board member Ron Harris, “but we love to get out for runs, a concourse and, of course, racing.” The club publishes a quarterly magazine.
Perks and Events: Discounts on parts catalogs and mechanics. Activities include weekend runs to places like Malibu and Palos Verdes and an annual caravan to Mini Meet West. Perks and Events: Cobra gurus like Park, who owns 10 original Cobras, have Shelby’s ear. The club sponsors track sessions and vintage racing. Perks and Events: Monthly events focus on runs through places like Northern California’s wine country and SCCA- and HSR-sanctioned races.
Headcount: Just under 200; from twentysomething racers to grandparents. Headcount: During track events, membership swells to 500 Cobra owners and more than 100 cars. Members range from an elevator repairman to a JPL rocket scientist. Headcount: More than 1,100 members around the world. And Harris doesn’t discern. “There’s no distinction when you’re under the hood,” he says. “Our members drive everything from everyday thrashers to concourse-quality cars.”
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