Car talk, community spirit
You don’t have to drive a slick ride or even own a classic car to join the Apple Country Auto Club.
All that’s needed is an interest in motor vehicles and a want to socialize.
“You can have anything with wheels on it, but you don’t even have to have an old car,” confirmed club president Jim Lapp. “There are several of our members who just own the cars they (drive each day).”
A local institution
The car club has been not only a long-standing monthly social engagement for members since forming in 1988, it’s also contributed to a number of local nonprofits and charitable causes over the years.
The club’s biggest annual event is the Apple Classic car show held in October on the first Saturday of the two-weekend Georgia Apple Festival. This year’s show is scheduled for Oct. 14.
“Most of the entrants are local, but we draw from all over north Georgia — from Rabun and Towns County all the way across to Chattanooga. We also draw some from North Carolina,” said Roy Smith, one of the club’s charter members.
The short list of organizations and community outreach efforts that have benefited from money raised through past car shows includes the Gilmer Community Food Pantry, Coats for Kids at Ellijay Elementary School, childhood literacy group Kids Ferst and a Christmas gift campaign conducted by North Georgia Community Action.
The club also provides an annual scholarship for a deserving Gilmer High School student about to enter college.
“We’ve done a scholarship since day one. It’s for a student who’s going on to (major) in an engineering or car-related study,” said Smith. “The lowest amount we started with was $500, and it’s been as much as $2,000.”
The car club does not hold as many events as it once did, but Smith said providing community service still remains an important part.
“(The car club may be for you) if you like to help your community by working one or two days a year,” he added. “It’s like any other (civic club). I can’t do everything we do out of my own pocket. But, as a group, we can make a difference.”
‘You’re never done’
Lapp, who did commercial HVAC work before moving to Gilmer County, said his latest ongoing garage project is a 1941 Chevy pickup that’s been outfitted with a bright blue spiderweb grill and sideview “peep” mirrors among other hot-rod accessories.
“I built it from the ground up including the frame. It’s not perfect, but I did everything (on it),” he said.
Club members don’t often help each other with actual work done on their vehicles, said Lapp, but they do trade tips for making repairs and places to track down parts.
That’s a good thing, given how a project car can become an eternal work in progress.
“You’re never done,” Lapp chuckled. “It does keep you busy, though. Now that I’m retired, I need to stay busy.”
Smith’s gold and black ‘69 Pontiac GTO is in the midst of its latest phase of fixes and upgrades.
“You’re always doing something to your car to keep it maintained and keep it from going down,” he noted. “My GTO was done 26 years ago. My daughter drove it to high school and college, then it got parked because of some electrical problems. Now it’s got a rusted-out floorboard and some windshield leaks that I’m about to fix.”
Taking the “anything with wheels” mantra to heart, the car club also welcomes owners of motorcycles and pickups, Lapp confirmed.
“We have one new member who has a military truck,” he added.
Before attending a recent car club meeting, Richard and Scarlet Howard chatted with other car club members about how the aluminum-framed tail fins on their 1959 Cadillac were inspired by those found on World War II-era fighter planes, as well as the ownership history behind the long black Caddy.
“The guy we bought it from in Fort Campbell lived on the same street where the dealer sold it new,” Richard said.
“A DJ bought it brand-new and, after he passed away, the guy (we got it from) bought it. The two owners and the dealership were all on the same road.”
Car show rules have changed
Changes to Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) guidelines have loosened restrictions on what types of cars can be shown at shows presented by clubs affiliated with the antique vehicle organization. The Apple Classic is one of those shows.
“So many people think you’ve got to have an original car with no modifications, but that isn’t true anymore,” Smith said.
A wider variety of vehicles can also be shown in the driver participation category. That’s good, Smith reckons, as the strict judging rules were keeping some vehicle owners from entering shows or joining AACA-registered clubs.
“As long as it’s era correct, it’s OK. It doesn’t have to be the exact year-correct leather or radio and things like that. It just has to feature parts that were available when (the car was first produced),” added Smith.
Want to join? Come to a meeting
The Apple Country Auto Club meets at 6 p.m. the third Thursday of each month at a local restaurant or business. Anyone interested in joining is welcome to attend, Lapp said. Call 706-273-2582 or 706-635-2221 for location.
“We just toss things around and try to get information out about any activities that might interest (our members), as well as any kind of swap meets or auctions that are going on. Some of our members bring their cars to the meetings,” he added.
The club held a downtown Father’s Day cruise-in last year. Smith said they’ll probably do it again this June.
“It’s a national event sponsored by Hemmings Motor News that’s held (around) the square in downtown Ellijay,” he added. “You can come by and hang out. If you bring your car, you’ll get a little commemorative dash plaque.”
Right now, the club has 30 registered members. At one time in the early 2000s, almost 80 were registered, and the Apple Country crew presented the largest nonprofit club show in the entire state of Georgia, Smith said. Several club members have either moved or passed away since then.
“We had 647 cars one year, which was our biggest show,” he confirmed.
Smith does not expect the ranks to grow to that degree anytime soon, but he does want to see the club gain some new members so it can continue on.
“A lot of people in the club are getting older and sure, we’re the old-timers now. That’s why you’ve got to have new blood and younger folks,” he said. “If you’re a gear head, you’ve got transmission fluid running through your veins anyway. Whether you like cars or bikes, it’s all the same. We’ve always said we do not discriminate against anybody or any vehicle.”
If you do have a car, truck or bike to show off, you’re encouraged to bring it along. Whether to an official monthly meeting or just to cruise around town with no particular place to go.
“If you’ve got a classic car, we want you to get it out. People want to see ‘em. Heck, I want to see ‘em,” Smith said. “If it’s sitting in the garage for just you to enjoy, then what’s the point?”