The 1941-1948 Chrysler Town & Country model line has become the Classic Car Club of America’s very own version of the abortion and gay marriage issues. Just like abortion and gay marriage, the T&C is a topic fueling crazy, non-sensible debates. By the way, it’s just a coincidence that they all have something to do with woodies.
Chrysler’s Town and Country ranks among the coolest of the blue-chip collectables – the best of the iconic wood-sided vehicles of the 1940s. To a vocal minority of the Classic Car Club of America, though, the T&C is a Trojan Horse used to overthrow the traditions of the club. Specifically, it was this motion recently passed by the club’s National Board, which was in direct opposition to decades of the Classification Committee (the group that decides the cars accepted by the club) voting to deny the model entry into the club:
Motion: That the Club recognize all Chrysler Town & Country automobiles from 1941 through 1948 as Full Classics. AS PART OF THIS MOTION, I move that the Board approve a POLICY EXCEPTION to the Classification Procedures reaffirmed 10-1-85 which states: ‘The CCCA policy regarding considering Classic status for production bodied cars is to accept only those production series in which the entire line of body styles may qualify. The Club DOES NOT ACCEPT INDIVIDUAL PRODUCTION BODY STYLES FROM WITHIN A PRODUCTION SERIES.’ This EXCEPTION to the aforementioned policy shall be specific only to the recognition of the Town & Country models specifically excluding Royals,Windsors, New Yorkers and Saratogas which are not Town & Country models.”
The Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) is one of the most visible and powerful car clubs in the nation. Its members are current and former board members, judges, organizers, and sponsors of the world’s best-known shows, such as the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Their roster contains many famous names, as well as some of the wealthiest and best-known car collectors…although the majority of the names over the years have been of guys you’ve never heard of. At one time, you could even find my name in there, because early in my career the Pacific Northwest Region of CCCA gave me a membership in return for serving as Editor for its regional magazine. I count members of the CCCA as close friends, mentors and family. My father has served for years as the Secretary of the Pacific Northwest Region.
Some Ironic History
The club actually formed in 1952 after members of the Antique Automobile Club of America got fed-up with the AACA’s stance that cars from the 1930s and 1940s… even Packards and Cadillacs, were nothing more than used cars. The AACA had no use for these vehicles on the show field (except in an exhibition class called “Tow Vehicles”), so a group collected their toys and started a league of their own.
The CCCA compiled a list of acceptable cars that are allowed in official club activities (meaning shows like “Grand Classics”). The cars on this list are deemed “Full Classics”, which is even a registered trademark by the CCCA.
It is this list and its long-time exclusion of the Chrysler T&C that finally resulted in the nuclear action that had the Board circumventing the Classification Committee. Now members are threatening to quit in protest. Some have even gone on record saying they’re considering pursuing legal action.
There is a very important fact here: the CCCA doesn’t discriminate in membership — anyone can join, even those without a Full Classic.
Defining “Full Classic”?
CCCA defines Full Classics as “fine or unusual foreign or domestic motorcars built between the years of 1925 and 1948, but including cars built before 1925 that are virtually identical to 1925 Full Classics and distinguished for their representative fine design, high engineering standards and superior workmanship.” Generally speaking, the definition works to point out that the CCCA is for high-end cars rather than the mass-produced Ford, Chevy, Plymouth, Dodge…
The CCCA started with only cars from the “Classic Era”, which the club self-defined as 1925-1941. Essentially, they wanted a club for hand-built, expensive cars made prior to WWII like Duesenbergs, Rolls-Royces, Mercedes-Benzes, and the senior (higher-end) Packards and Caddies with custom bodies created by coachbuilders like LeBaron, Murphy, Dietrich, Darrin, Figoni et Falaschi, Brunn, and others.
The Exceptions to the Rules
Shortly after the CCCA’s creation, they absorbed the Lincoln Continental Club. Since the 1946-1948 MKI Continentals were fundamentally unchanged from the pre-war run of 1940-1942 Continentals (which were already kosher with the club,) the CCCA extended the post war Contis a nod as Full Classics. Similarly, within the past decade the CCCA also decided to allow some vehicles prior to ’25, provided an earlier car was identical to an already approved 1925 model.
Price, Production, Prestige:
Many of the cars added over the years were justified due to its as-new high price, tremendous prestige value and/or low production. Unfortunately, since one of the club’s earliest tenants was that acceptance was based on an entire model line, not just a single body style, serious exceptions prevailed. For instance, the club wanted to include the 1936 Auburn 852 Supercharged Speedster (a $2245 car in 1936…and a landmark vehicle in anyone’s book), but in doing so, they also accepted the model line’s $995 852 Brougham. This might not seem like a big deal, but the vastly superior, more desirable, higher-performing, sexy-looking $1115 1936 Packard One Twenty series has never been allowed Full Classic status (due to the fact that the One Twenty was too “highly produced” and far less expensive than so-called senior Packards).
Indeed, in the club’s formative years, they tried to set up a hard price standard. Unfortunately, the methodology might have been less than stellar. According to one account, the price was set at the most expensive new Cadillac 60-Special sedan, because, according to a Classification Committee member at the time: “every ni..er in town drives a Cadillac 62.” (The 62 was a less expensive car.) Of course, this is a half-century-old story, so there’s a chance that it is apocryphal.
Similarly, I once questioned a former national CCCA board member (and regional past-president) regarding the seemingly cloudy criteria and how the Buick Roadmaster (never given Full Classic status) seemed to fit them better than many on the list of blessed vehicles. The person in question responded “we don’t want to be the Mediocre Car Club”. The fact that the Roadmaster line was more expensive, powerful, luxurious and desirable in its day compared to vehicles on the Full Classic list (such as the Packard Super Clipper) was never addressed. When I pressed the point, he returned a one-line reply: “Some people just like to be contentious”.
Post-War cars with Pre-War Designs:
CCCA has always maintained that for post war cars to qualify as Full Classics, they must be nearly identical to pre-war models. Again, while the club has followed this for the most part (including not allowing 1948 Packards and Caddies other than the sans-tailfin Fleetwood), there have been enough inconsistencies to raise doubts. In particular, post-war Rolls-Royces and Bentleys were of new design, yet have long been considered Full Classics. The reasoning: CCCA’s Classification Committee was dominated for a period by a group of Rolls-Royce and Bentley owners.
The T&C Conundrum
With all these issues, it is no wonder that at some point the CCCA was in for some serious debates over many great cars. For decades, though, the largest point of contention has been the 1941-1948 Chrysler T&C, although other cars like the Imperial Airflows and 1934 LaSalle have also been the subject of some serious food fights.
Over the years members of the CCCA have petitioned the Classification Committee dozens of times to include the T&C. Each time the petitions have been voted on and denied. In fact, the Classification Committee was so sick of the argument that they decided to pass a motion to not even hear another T&C petition for something on the order of twenty years.
So what was the argument for? The T&C was a high-end car with hand built parts. Carrying a base price of over $2700 in 1946, eight-cylinder T&C sedans and convertibles competed with Full Classic Packard Super Clippers, yet carried far more prestige and were significantly more sought-after then and now. With their hand-formed wood, the T&C was considered far more stylish.
The T&C was built on the 1941 Windsor/New Yorker platform. While it met the CCCA’s pre-war issue, Windsors and New Yorkers were low-priced cars, hence they have never been close to gaining Full Classic status.
The Nuclear Option Goes BOOM
The CCCA National Board’s decision to circumvent the Classification Committee by passing a motion to grant 1941-1948 Chrysler Town and Country Full Classic status pissed off quite a number of people. In the weeks that followed, emails and newsgroup postings aired the dirty laundry. Threats of boycotts, quitting and calls for the Board Members’ heads were met with strong words of support, and even much stronger language from those who disagreed. Those loyal to the Classification Committee called foul for short-circuiting the process. Others claimed the decision was a coup by T&C owners acting in their own self interests. Still more supported the decision and the means to make it.
So What’s the Verdict? Was It the Right Decision?
After all this history and build-up, my bottom line might surprise you:
LIKE EVERY OTHER CAR CLUB AND HOBBY GROUP, THE CCCA IS STILL JUST A SOCIAL CLUB, KIDS…SO EVERYONE NEEDS TO RELAX, BECAUSE IT SIMPLY ISN’T THAT IMPORTANT.
The fact that this is such a big deal sheds a big spotlight on the more important issue: people take clubs way too seriously, and as such, these types of clubs are becoming less popular and important every year.
It’s not just the CCCA, because it seems that almost every club has a small percentage of people who use the organization as a vehicle for a power trip. In this case, the issue isn’t even much ado about a stinking car, it’s about process, heritage, power, respect, and other things that have nothing to do with actually owning a collector vehicle.
Like many clubs for older cars (such as the Horseless Carriage Club, the Model A Club, and the AACA), CCCA is slowly turning into a dinner group with an aging and/or diminishing membership. Each year, fewer members bring out their Full Classics for events, choosing more modern machinery in which to drive to and from garage tours and meetings.
The Full Classics come out primarily for Grand Classics, which is where people within a region give inflated judging scores and trophies to their friends in hopes that all of the cars will increase in value. The public is generally not made aware of Grand Classics, because most CCCA regions fear that Joe Q. Public will somehow not respect the cars or misuse the identities of owners. Control is a big issue.
Conversely, almost every weekend Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche owners who have gotten to know each-other via Ferrarichat.com and other “online communities” park their six-figure exotics on the street while they have coffee and kibbutz, and often they’ll take impromptu drives into the hills. No club, by-laws, board of directors, security, judging, dues, or fear of being targeted…and if a lowly Fiat, MG Midget or Mustang shows up? All the better!
Indeed, it’s the new generation of car owners who are driving the car hobby. Whereas clubs used to be integral for collector car ownership, now web newsgroups and networking sites provide much more technical and historical support 24/7, as well as the coveted social interaction with other car nuts. Younger owners live in a world with Ebay parts availability and agreed-value insurance coverage — so driving expensive collector cars doesn’t scare them. And for those who came into success during Reagan, Clinton and Dubbya, beeing seen with an expensive car isn’t tacky or inappropriate.
Car enthusiasts understand that the cars are less important to the active club members who utilize organizations like CCCA as a substitute for the power-rush and social aspect of the business world left behind for retirement. Cars are the topic of conversation and the common bond, but actually interacting with the vehicles just ain’t what it used to be. The notable exceptions are those who make their money with the Full Classics – restorers, dealers and active-trading collectors. For those still in the prime of their careers in other professions, however, the last thing car enthusiasts need is another organization that feels like work.
Since people in CCCA are so passionate about including the T&C, AND the car still represents the basic ideals of the club, it makes absolutely no sense to deny the model from Full Classic status. It’s not even the least controversial car from a factual perspective! (Again, check out 1948 Rolls-Royces and Bentleys.) Most importantly, it could bring some fresh blood into the mix, but given the low rate of survival of the rust and rot magnets, CCCA shouldn’t even count on that too much.
It is similar to the pushback Bruce Meyer received for ages as he tried to get a class for significant hot rods on the field of Pebble Beach. A bunch of white-hairs feared the Concours would simply turn into a Goodguy’s rod meet, and that the Full Classics would be pushed aside. In the years since Meyer’s successful inclusion of the hot rods, this hasn’t even come close to happening.
The Question CCCA Needs To Ask Itself
Is it more important to keep the Full Classic list pure and enjoy the old country club-type politics of exclusion than it is to maintain current and maybe add younger members? There are plenty of purists who want to keep the CCCA what it is known to be: a group of well-educated, professionally successful, wealthy, white, Protestants with senior Packards and Cadillacs. From an actuarial perspective, in twenty years, a scary and overwhelming majority of the current CCCA membership will be dead or confined to a retirement home. The market, the public, and even those like me who are head-over-heels in love with cars of the so-called Classic Era will not give a moment’s thought whether a model was once considered a Full Classic by a club that will by then exist only in the pages of old publications and in the memories of people who ran the club into the ground by taking it all way too seriously, mistaking progress for attacks on traditions, and forgetting that passion for driving and enjoying cars is why most of us got into the hobby in the first place.