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Gearheads of all stripes have ways to get together

A warm world of car culture exists in Southern Oregon, and jumping in is a mere matter of sharing with others what’s already in the garage.

Such was the case for Gary Ames of Central Point, who joined the Rogue Valley Old Timer Car Club at its March 4 meeting with his 1978 Lincoln Continental Mark V, which once belonged to his father-in-law and has been kept in showroom condition for the better part of four decades.

With the Cartier clock still ticking on the dash and the 460-cubic-inch V8 purring under the hood, the car preserves a special memory for Ames — of the 1979 impromptu cross-country trip he took with his wife following her father’s funeral.

“I don’t think I can fit that on the plane,” Ames remembers telling her.

The Old Timer Car Club, which meets first Sundays at the Odd Fellows Hall at 1130 Hazel St., Central Point, gave Ames the chance to connect with folks such as Orpha and Don Thumler of Central Point, proud owners of a 1970s American car packed with sentimental value of their own, a Pontiac Grand Am coupe still going strong 44 years after Don surprised Orpha with it on their 24th wedding anniversary in 1973.

With his opera window-clad coupe and $35 in membership dues, Ames opened himself to new friends such as the Thumlers and three dozen others, joining in regular activities that include Sunday drives, potlucks, ice cream socials and game nights.

The club, active since 1967, has many ways to get involved. There’s a sunshine committee that sends out cards to members when they’re in the hospital, a social club that organizes bingo nights, raffles and other get-togethers, and as of March, the club has openings for a new club historian and webmaster.

The club has about three dozen active members ranging from middle-age to senior citizens, according to club president Joe Dworkin. Many club members own muscle cars from the 1960s and ‘70s, while others have in their garages century-old rides, wheels from defunct automakers such Kaiser, which went bust in the 1950s, or, as Dworkin has, air-cooled Volkswagens.

Dworkin more regularly drives a 1987 Ford Bronco II SUV, which he says is also welcome. Owning any vehicle that is 30 years or older — or having plans to do so within a year — is all that’s needed to join the club.

“If you have a 1988 Honda, you can use it to join the club,” Dworkin says, adding that they’ll “give you a little leeway” if a car’s on the cusp, or if a member sells their qualifying car.

Laid-back as that sounds, there are even more casual ways to forge friendships from four wheels.

Take the Stray Cats Car Club, for example. Although members have metal placards (Brian Setzer, rockabilly founder of the band The Stray Cats, has one, according to a club founder), the gathering has no online presence or even an official phone number.

“Just show up,” co-founder Al Bean says. The club, up to about 106 members, has been meeting for the past five years from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Sundays outside the Ray’s Food Place at 401 N. Fifth St., in Jacksonville.

Bean says he and a handful of others envisioned a group with “no dues, no rules, no officers.”

“Just a bunch of old guys kickin’ tires,” Bean says.

Bean, who lives in Jacksonville and has a burgundy ‘31 Ford hot rod, says he’s made great friends from the club.

“Mostly all of my friends are car people,” Bean says. “It’s like having a big family without all of the complications.”

Another co-founder, Erik Cook of Jacksonville, says he looks forward to Sunday mornings, when he’ll often wear wacky hats or roller skates to the meet-ups.

Cook says he likes hearing stories from passersby who often share memories from yesteryear inspired by club members’ rides.

“I think we’re more social than we are cars,” Cook says.

Cook is often among the first to arrive at the grocery store parking lot, allowing him to conspicuously park his olive green 1952 Chevy pickup, nicknamed Bizmark, with a mishmash of pop-culture references from “M*A*S*H” to Transformers, and the club banner in the truck bed.

Joining is about as easy as asking, according to Bean.

“It’s nice if you have a car,” Bean says.

Folks with European wheels — or a passing interest — can head to German Cars and Coffee, which runs from 8 to 11 a.m. every second Saturday at the Brammo parking lot, 300 W. Valley View Road, Talent.

David Hawkins, who owns an antique German car restoration business called Snikwah Motor Werks in Ashland, launched the monthly gathering in 2014, which goes from April to October.

Hawkins’ automotive stable includes a couple of Porsches and a rare off-road Volkswagen Syncro Tri-Star, which he says is one of only 500.

Though German Cars and Coffee is a drop-in affair, Hawkins has ties to the local Southern Oregon VW Club and the regional Cascades chapter of the Porsche Club of America. Similar national owners’ clubs exist for BMW and Mercedes-Benz, among others.

Though his gathering is targeted at German makes and models, Hawkins says the occasional SAAB, FIAT or Alfa Romeo will roll in to its public events.

“We’re open to any European make and model,” Hawkins says.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

Don and Orpha Thumler, shown at last year’s Medford Cruise, are members of the Rogue Valley Old Timer Car Club. They have spent much of their 68 years of marriage driving the same Pontiacs, his a 1977 Grand Prix, left, and hers a 1973 Grand Am she got as a present on their 24th wedding anniversary. - Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta
Members of German Cars and Coffee meet from 8 to 11 a.m. second Saturdays at the Brammo parking lot in Talent. - Courtesy photo