The Auburn Shifters car club has been a place for car enthusiasts for 61 years. It's one of the largest car clubs in northeast Indiana, catering to those with a love of all types of vehicles.
Its members own such vehicles as street rods, muscle cars, Corvettes, late-model vehicles, “A little bit of everything,” says Tom Muehlmeyer.
In fact, Muehlmeyer, a member for 16 years, says a person doesn't even have to own a vehicle to belong to the club. For many of the members, the vehicles are a reminder of their youth, giving them a sense of nostalgia.
“It was a rite of passage to get your driver's license,” Muehlmeyer says. “A lot of the guys, they have been working on this stuff and owning this kind of thing,” for years.
The Shifters members aren't the only ones in love with old vehicles. America has had a long obsession with car culture, which is probably why there are so many car collectors and car clubs across the country. Northeast Indiana is no exception. There are several area clubs that range from Corvettes, Volkswagens, Mustangs and Mercedes Benz.
There's also the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club, a worldwide club that pays tribute to the restoration and preservation of Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg automobiles that were made in nearby Auburn. This city of nearly 13,000 people has become a travel destination for car lovers around the world, as they converge there every Labor Day for the annual Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival, which showcases the city's rich automotive history and its classic cars.
The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum in Auburn works with the ACD Club often, says Sam Grate, curator at the museum. He says many of the older and classic cars, such as the Auburn, Cords and Duesenbergs, are passed down through generations or donated to institutions such as the museum, ensuring the name of the grandfather or father lives on in the museum. “People find that as a good way to keep the memory alive rather than selling (the vehicle) off,” Grate says.
He says there are a number of reasons why people become involved in car collecting. One is a nostalgia factor. “Maybe their father or grandfather owned a Ford Model A,” he says. “And then there are those people, who, especially with car clubs, are part of a group of similar or like-minded individuals.
“Some people collect stamps, collect rocks, and others collect cars.”
Dene Roby's father didn't want him to get his driver's license until he was a high school senior. His dad, who passed away when he was in high school, was hoping limiting his son's ability to drive would prevent him from becoming a “car nut” like his grandfather. It didn't work.
The 72-year-old has been collecting cars for years, especially many of the vehicles he grew up with. “I graduated in 1966 and the '50s and '60s cars are the ones I basically grew up with,” Roby says.
Roby has a '59 Chevy pickup, a '55 Ford and he's still working on a '48 Buick.
Roby shares his love of old cars with other members of the Liberty Cruisers, which hold monthly cruise-ins from spring to fall. The 20-year-old club is open to those who collect all vehicle types.
Roby says he's always been mechanically inclined. Although he is self-taught, he learned quite a bit while working at a used car lot, helping to put cars back together after they were in wrecks. His time at the car lot also helped him when he began buying and selling vehicles. In the '70s Roby collected muscle cars because they were cheap, he says. He bought a 427 Ford Galaxy, as well as a 389 4-speed GTO for $800. “Today I can't afford those cars,” he says.
The cars that are bought or collected are quite a bit different than Roby's first brand-new car – a Chevette.
Roby says these days collectors have drove up the prices of vehicles, especially with the popularity of such TV shows as “Bitchin' Rides,” which airs on Discovery Channel and shows the process of restoring and rebuilding vehicles. “Whenever the economy is bad, they will buy cars; when it's good, they will unload the cars and drive prices up,” he says.
Grate says there are a number of people who will buy a car, fix it up and sell it for money. However, if people are going to buy a collector car, they usually hang on to it for a time then sell it, Grate says. Right now, Grate says the collector market is down and people are holding on to their vehicles this year instead of selling them.
Car club members' interest in older vehicles is usually showcased by yearly car shows, cruise-ins or appearances in parades. The annual Three Rivers Festival parade is filled with many of the car clubs showing off their rides.
The Auburn Shifters have one show a year and four cruise-ins. Muehlmeyer says about 150 cars usually show up at the big show and of course there are a number of spectators. “People like to come out and look around,” he says.
But the club, like many others, does more than show cars. Over the years it has focused more on its altruistic efforts. It has given $46,000 to charity. It's main charity is the Shop with a Cop, in which members go with police officers to help shop for needy children. Usually each child gets $200 to spend on clothes and other needed items. The club also donates to local veterans and animal shelters.
This year's big show was canceled because of COVID-19, but Muehlmeyer says he hopes it will return in July.
Muehlmeyer and Roby say they have seen a decline in club membership.
The Liberty Cruisers had 12 active members last year; currently, it only has five, Roby says. And while Muehlmeyer says the Shifters is pretty healthy now with 96 members, “things change over the years.”
Muehlmeyer also admits it's been a struggle to get the “new generation” of car enthusiasts interested in their car club. He says this generation, called “tuners,” are not inclined to meetings and scheduled car shows. Instead, they usually advertise impromptu events on Facebook announcing a meeting place. However, those meetings usually generate a lot of interest, seeing upward of 200 vehicles, Muehlmeyer says.
“They say we're just old guys with cars,” he laughs.
Grate says there are some younger people involved with the ACD Club, but he admits that the membership is getting older. And when that happens, “there goes some of that knowledge of those cars,” he says.
He says the museum is trying to have events, exhibits and even offer internships to try to get the younger generation interested in the older cars. He says the museum wants to show that the cars “are worth having and using and owning,” Grate says.
But even if the younger crowd isn't interested in organized car clubs and instead is doing its own “car meetings,” Muehlmeyer says “anything automotive is pretty neat.”
“That's what we did when we were young. Just meet.”
Drive to collect
Here are some area car clubs whose members have a love of vehicles:
Liberty Cruisers Car Club. Members drive various vintage vehicles. Information at libertycruisers.com
Auburn Shifters. Celebrates classic and muscle cars. http://auburnshifters.com/
ACD Club. Focuses on the restoration, preservation and promotion of Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg automobiles. www.acdclub.org
Fort Wayne Corvette Club. The club turned 50 this year. https://fwcc.clubexpress.com/
Old Fort Volkswagen Club. The club says it “promotes VW hobby in Northeast Indiana.” oldfortvwclub.com
Old Fort Mustangers. Promotes interest in all types of Mustangs. http://oldfortmustangers.com/
Three Rivers, Fort Wayne section of Mercedes Benz Club of America. Members drive Mercedes-Benz. threerivers.mbca.org
Canal Cruzers Car Club, New Haven. Facebook page. Identifies as 1960s muscle cars and other vehicles.
Hoosier Vintage Thunderbird Club. www.hoosierthunderbird.com/