Enthusiasts flock to ‘secret’ auto club in RSF

Enthusiasts flock to ‘secret’ auto club in RSF
Chris Erickson leans on his 1973 Land Rover Series III at Secret Car Club last Saturday in downtown Rancho Santa Fe, where car fans meet up for the love of all things automotive weekly. Different from many car clubs, there are no dues and no club hierarchy. Photo by Jared Whitlock

RANCHO SANTA FE — No elected officers, no politics and no membership fees — just auto talk with good people. Those are the guiding principles of the Secret Car Club. And those who belong say the philosophy has served them well.

Car fans of all stripes from across San Diego County have converged Saturday mornings for the last three years to show off their rides, talk shop and socialize with like-minded auto aficionados. Even a cold, foggy morning couldn’t keep them away last weekend. Around 20 rides lined Avenida De Acacias in downtown Rancho Santa Fe. More than a few looked as though they belonged in a rare car museum.

The weekly gathering is known as Secret Car Club. And no, there are no rules against talking about Secret Car Club.

“It started off as a very tongue-in-cheek title,” said Chris Erickson, the club’s founder. “Part of the ‘secret’ is seeing so many cars gather at a place the average person wouldn’t expect. Thankfully, the title hasn’t made people stay away from us. In our club, we have everything from high schoolers to CEOs who are retired, to husbands and wives, to film actors to stunt drivers. It’s almost every element of society you can imagine.”

Secret Car Club member Bob Hanselman stands near his 1951 MG TD roadster, which was tricked out in the holiday spirit for a previous night’s Christmas parade. As Hanselman noted, the MG TD started the sports car craze in America in the early 1950s. Photo by Jared Whitlock

Last Saturday, the diverse crowd of about 30 discussed the finer points of old Fords, a Rolls Royce and a Jaguar and other vehicles parked along the street while sipping on coffee and nibbling on doughnuts.

Erickson said Rancho Santa Fe was chosen as the spot to host the weekend club meetings because of its proximity to his work and the support he’s received from the community.

“Businesses like that we bring new people into downtown Rancho Santa Fe,” Erickson said. “We’ve been given great support.”

So how does one join a Secret Car Club?

It’s by invitation only. But that doesn’t mean membership is reserved for those with large bank accounts or who have climbed the social ladder. Should would-be members come across the Secret Car Club in Rancho Santa Fe or at private events the group holds throughout the county, they have a good shot of joining the club’s ranks if they’re casual, and most of all, passionate.

“When someone wants to be a part (of the club), we’re looking for someone who will contribute to the group,” Erickson said. “I’m not concerned with what you drive. I don’t care what you do. But if you’re enthusiastic about the cars, you’re in.”

Also, member or not, anyone who touches cars or tries to hock products during the meet ups is kindly asked to leave, though Erickson noted there were only a few problems when the club formed a few years ago.

Erickson said Secret Car Club has steadily gained in popularity since its inception several years ago thanks to word of mouth. On sunny days during the summer, the club can draw as many as 100 members. When asked what they liked about the club, members said they appreciated the unassuming and friendly nature of everyone involved.

Erickson attributes the relaxed environment to several factors. Unlike some car meet ups, the club doesn’t collect dues. And it’s decidedly egalitarian.

“There’s no politics, and it’s not like ‘my Mercedes-AMG is nicer than your Volkswagen Bug Convertible,’” Erickson said. “There are no elected positions in the club. The people are just nice and interesting and just looking to socialize with other car fans for a few hours with no hassle.”

Often, car clubs are focused on particular types of vehicles. But the Secret Car Club meet ups often sound a call for car experts of various time periods and companies.

“You learn a lot; there’s the chronology of car history, the design aspect and the engineering, among other things,” said Erickson, who himself is something of a Land Rover expert. “There’s a wealth of knowledge there.”

Standing near his 1951 MG TD roadster, club member Bob Hanselman noted the vehicle kicked off America’s love affair with sports cars. During the end of World War II, American troops in England had the opportunity to drive the sleek MG TC, an earlier model of the car produced in Britain and only available overseas.

Some troops imported the car back home after the war ended, raising its profile and paving the way for a later car craze. A few years later, the release of the updated MG TD in the states was met with great enthusiasm among all Americans.

“That’s an aspect of why I like this car so much — the history,” Hanselman said, adding that he enjoyed sharing his own and listening to other car owners’ tales as well.

The DeLorean that was in “Back to the Future,” and several winners from Pebble Beach’s Concours D’ Elegance have also made appearances at private meetups in the past.

But member Julie Wilson said the people are why she stops by week after week.

“Come for the cars, stay for the people,” Wilson said. “That’s what I say. This is a very fun group.”

The group can be found on Facebook or at secretcarclub.com; however, the website is currently undergoing construction.

 

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