Spies Hecker

There is a seismic shift taking place in social clustering in the 21st century. This is impacting on all kinds of clubs and organisations, from gentlemen’s clubs like the Rand Club and Pretoria Club to motoring clubs such as the Pretoria Motor Club and Rand Motoring Club.

Most of the country’s dedicated motor clubs have faded away in recent years or shrunken significantly in membership. I have seen that happen to the clubs with which I have been involved or where I am currently a member.

I joined the Pretoria Motor Club in 1961 and this organisation became an integral part of my life for several decades. I was newsletter editor and club secretary for many years and a regular competitor in motor sport events. A move to live in Johannesburg saw my involvement with the PMC end in the 1990s, but the club was already losing members with little new blood joining.

PMC was certainly not the only club losing membership, with most other similar clubs going the same way or have faded away completely, like the once-famous and historic Rand Motoring Club.

The demise of the motor clubs is impacting on motorsport too, with few big sponsors for events, fewer competitors and a problem finding people to assist the organising team in running the actual events. It is a sad situation.

Some of the special interest clubs to which I belong – The Lotus Register, Vintage Motorcycle Club, Classic Motorcycle Club, and the Pretoria Old Motor Club – are still keeping the doors open, although membership has fallen.

More worrying is the fact the members of the classic car and bike clubs are an ageing group, with few young people joining. Obviously, this also applies to the diminishing number of people with the necessary skills to keep these older cars and bikes on the road.

The seriousness of the situation was brought home to me by the Chairman’s Chat in a recent edition of Kickstart, the monthly magazine of the Vintage Motorcycle Club. Acting chairman Ian Holmes wrote: “We are at a very critical stage in the life of our club. We need to take some tough decisions.”

He went on to spell out three options.

The first was to fill all the positions on the committee – something which didn’t happen at the last AGM. This requires members to fill the positions of chairman, treasurer, membership secretary, editor, and event organiser. Ian’s comment on this situation was: “All appeals for membership to step forward and fill these roles have fallen on deaf ears to date.”

The second and third options are for the club to lose its independence and for the VMC to become a special interest group (motorcycle chapter) of the Vintage Car Club of SA, which has its focus on motor cars or for members just to join the VVC itself.

“We cannot wait until the next AGM in August to do this (make a decision about the future of the club) as by then events will have overtaken us,” concluded Holmes. This is just once example of a club in trouble, but this situation can be multiplied many times if one looks around the country.

Getting members to serve on committees seems the major problem. Times have changed: with the advent of TV and now with a large bouquet of programmes from which to choose, many families and individuals are becoming more isolated from social clusters such as clubs; they are quite happy to sit at home and watch the goggle box!

Driving at night to club or committee meetings is also not an attractive proposition for older members.

There are some exceptions to the current situation. These are the clubs located in the areas where many motoring enthusiasts (and their cars and bikes) have emigrated from Gauteng, being the Western and Southern Cape. (Cape Town, Knysna, George and Oudtshoorn).

It seems that both the Western Province Motor Club and the Crankhandle Club, in particular, are flourishing, with plenty of members and lots of events.

However, there is a ray of good news for those motoring enthusiasts living in Gauteng with the recent launch of a new motor club, Tshwane Motor Club, which will share the Pioneer Park premises in Silverton, with the Pretoria Old Motor Club.

I attended the club’s second meeting in early June and I was most impressed by the unbridled enthusiasm of the management team headed up by chairperson Susan Andrews and Tony Barbosa, the vice-chairman and main mover-and-shaker. They already have a team of committee members looking at various aspects of running a motor club and are well advanced with getting affiliation with Motor Sport South Africa.

They are already planning events, including a rally and motor show in Ermelo later in the year, and will help the Pretoria Old Motor Club with the running of Cars in the Park at Zwartkops Raceway on 5 August. A grand launch function is planned for July 14 at the clubhouse in Silverton. Let’s hope they can put this initial enthusiasm into action plans that will revive the motor club following in Pretoria.

Footnote: I was saddened to see another indication of the change in “social clustering” as I was finishing writing this column. This had nothing to do with motoring, but rather with rose-growing. It seems that in the 1960s the Royal National Rose Society in the UK had 100 000 members, mainly men, Last year it closed down.