Motor City Car Club takes a trip down memory lane

Gary Challice (left, with his 1950 Mercury), Rick Hodges and Russ Major (right, with his 1963 Tempest). Photo by C. Stapleton.

Members of the Motor City Car Club took a trip down memory lane recently, marking the birthday of their president with a mystery tour that ended at their original headquarters in Orono.

The car club, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, was originally called the Kontinentals Rod & Custom Club of Oshawa, but changed its name to the MCCC when it merged with the Igniters, another rod and custom club in Oshawa in 1962.

Often confused with antique car refinishers, rod and custom car aficionados typically modify the engines, transmissions and/or suspensions of older cars, rather than simply restore them to their original condition.

A member of the Kontinentals when the clubs merged, Gary Challice of Oshawa, is the current president of MCCC, and one of four original members from 1959. When his 69th birthday came around last month, his fellow MCCC members thought it was a great time to organize one of their “mystery tours,” starting at the Oshawa clubhouse on Taunton Road East, and ending with a surprise finish at the club’s original headquarters: the old flax mill on Orono’s Main Street.

“We did it for Gary. It was kind of a mystery tour, and kind of a history tour,” says MCCC member Doug Stapleton, of Orono. It was Stapleton who organized the event, contacting the couple who now own the mill, Rick Hodges and Julia Strutt, the week prior to the tour.

“They were very receptive to the club coming back to its roots,” says Stapleton. “It was the first clubhouse that MCCC had. They weren’t aware of that. It was a little bit of history that Rick learned about. He was a very gracious host.”

Adding to the nostalgia, Stapleton invited MCCC alumni and Orono resident Russ Major along on the tour. Major was the first president of the MCCC.

“Gary was surprised. He wasn’t expecting it,” says Stapleton. In total, he says, 12 custom cars participated in the tour.

“And Rick and Julia were quite surprised with the turn-out of cars,” says Cathy Stapleton, who joined her husband Doug on the tour. “I don’t think they knew what they were going to see.”

The old mill, now operating as the Nexus Gallery as well as the residence of Hodges and Strutt, was mentioned in a number of old newspaper articles about the car club that were preserved by Challice in a scrapbook.

An article in the National Dragster from 1962 states the club’s display of convertibles “drew crowds” to the Orono clubhouse for an open house that year. The magazine makes special note of “such beautiful creations as Gary Challice’s chopped and channeled ’34 Ford with a ’53 Olds engine and sporting a white, rolled interior. Gary’s car is truly a show piece.”

Newspaper clippings from the club’s early days, when most of the members were 19- to 24-years old, show the club had to fight stereotypical images of hot-rodders as trouble makers and social misfits.

An Oshawa Times article from 1963 states that, despite a Darlington Township deputy reeve who “worried about them tearing up and down the road,” “letters from the Orono Chamber of Commerce and from the owner of the club’s headquarters there praised the members” as “courteous, well-behaved…a credit to the community [and] civic-minded.”

“A lot of our newer members don’t know the history of the club,” says Stapleton, thankful that Challice started the scrapbook more than 50 years ago.”Gary says he still even has a receipt from when the clubhouse was in Orono. Rent was $25 a month.”

“They said they could never heat it [the old mill],” he continues. “They had one corner they had as a meeting room, and the rest was like a barn.”

The club’s ties to Orono go deeper than the former clubhouse. Not just original MCCC president Major and Stapleton hail from Orono, but also current and former MCCC members such as Don Roughley, Bev Cowan, Rick Parry, Mike Sawyer, Ross Morris, Bob Smirle and Alan Barnard. Barnard used to organize the MCCC show at the Orono Fair, according to Stapleton.

A member of MCCC since 1971, Stapleton bought a 1947 Ford Coupe in 1973 and still owns it today. “You can put something of yourself into it,” he says about customizing his car. “You’re not limited to the way Henry Ford built them.”

The club meets every other Wednesday, and participates in car shows as well as community events. MCCC has donated approximately $75,000 to the Grandview Children’s Centre over the years. This will be the club’s 17th year as hosts of Oshawa’s annual AutoFest.

See over 1400 classic cars and trucks of all makes and models from 1976 and older, at the 2010 AutoFest taking place August 27, 28 & 29 at Lakeview Park in Oshawa. Admission is $10 (free for children under 12). For more info, visit www.autofestoshawa.com.

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