(Editor’s note: During the month of February, the ClassicCars.com Journal will present a series of stories exploring car clubs and what they offer to the collector car community. Tom Bechtel, ClassicCars.com’s director of operations, kicks off the series today, sharing his experience as a member of the Pantera Owners Club of America. If you have a car club story to share, see the note at the end of Tom’s story.)
I’ve been fortunate to be part of some really great car clubs over the years. There is nearly a club for every conceivable make and model. Car shows, part sourcing, history, camaraderie, insider knowledge, rallies, racing, or simply lending a helping hand, we all have different reasons for joining. Still, in the end, it’s the raw passion that leads you to find intrigue in any or all of these areas. In other words, true passion is the common denominator.
Having a passion for rear-engine sports cars, it was only natural for me to team up with other car lovers. One of the more enjoyable clubs I’ve been part of is the Pantera Owners Club of America, better known as POCA. With chapters in cities across the country, POCA has been operating since 1973.
It was the early ’80s and I was a young college grad when I joined POCA. I was one of the few members in the club without a Pantera of my own. The other club members would scratch their heads…who was this kid with no car? But I had a vision. In my spare time I was going to earn my street cred, show up at every event, hang out at garages, and bury myself in all things De Tomaso. I knew it was only a matter of time until I would wind up with a car (even on my modest budget). Little did I know that I would eventually restore four Panteras, with the last one turning into a show car contender.
The club had monthly meetings where we would discuss upcoming events, meeting locations, garage talk, new-member initiation and check out all the member’s cars. There would be newsletters, membership drives, rallies, visits to restoration shops, an occasional dignitary and “all members on deck” to help repair another member’s car.
It was the annual POCA Vegas rally and convention that members couldn’t wait to attend. Its reputation proceeded it, and it did not fail to deliver. I had been to it many times, but the 1986 event is my most memorable.
First, there was the Pomona meet up with the Los Angeles Chapter to do an “organized” cruise to Vegas. It was organized, just not the organization I expected – spotters, radar detectors, chase cars, meal stops, checkpoints and everything but a speed limit. Advertised as a fun rally? Not!
I was in heaven. It was an electrifying, gritty time inside a finicky beast known for driving hot, having spongy brakes and mysterious electrical gremlins… I was never sure that the car would even get there. I always packed more spare parts than I did baggage for the four-day stay in LV. It was all part of “the experience.” Somehow, every year, we always made it. What an indescribable thrill.
This particular year, I discovered the I-15 speed limits the hard way. CHIP aircraft at the state line had been tipped we were on our way. With no sunroof, no one was looking up! I received a ticket, but not as bad as some of the other members flying down the road in triple digits. At least I was able to continue on.
We rolled into Vegas in the afternoon from all around the country – roughly 300 cars. Driving up Las Vegas Boulevard (aka The Strip) with the echo of those twin exhausts bouncing off the casinos – what a sound. Our destination was the Plaza on Fremont Street. Despite the long, hot trip, I was literally shaking from the adrenaline.
What proceeded was equally as good as the destination cruise – a stocked 24/7 hospitality room, vendor exhibits, Q&A panels, a huge reception dinner with an in-doors show car exhibit, a dedicated band, countless goody bags, a car show that closed down Fremont Street and the crowning of Miss Pantera. Even with all those attractions, the best part was hanging out in the parking lot with owners and their cars. I always found something to learn more about, see something I hadn’t seen before, and make new friends.
I left Vegas tired and with a permanent smile, eager for next year, but as the years passed, Fremont Street got a roof put over it, the Plaza got remodeled and the fire marshal said no more fueled cars in the hotel. Things just weren’t the same. The beginning of the end for the POCA Las Vegas rally was set in motion.
I’ll never forget the earlier Vegas days. The clubs of today still give me a rush in some way. It all goes back to the intrigue you find when you have true passion. If you’ve got it, you’ll find that special club connectivity… no matter which club you enjoy.
— Tom Bechtel, Director of Operations at ClassicCars.com
Our Car Club series, running throughout the month of February, will continue to explore different car clubs, what they have to offer and the memories members have made.
Do you have a car club story you’d like to share? Just go to this link, fill in the information and submit your story to be considered for publication in our Car Club Series.