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A Car Club That Celebrates the Fintailed Fifties

April 18, 1985|LYNN SIMROSS | Times Staff Writer

For anyone growing up in the '50s, this club meeting was pure nostalgia. Shiny cars with tailfins and lots of chrome, women dressed in bobby sox and red club jackets, people having malts and fries at the drive-in and listening to the band play "Rock Around the Clock." There even were carhops on roller skates.

It could have been a pleasant dream. Instead, it was the monthly meeting of the Cruisin' Fifties Car Club of South Bay, and it brought out about 150 club members--60 cars--plus a host of gawkers, many of whom weren't even born in the '50s.

Before the evening at the Moon Light drive-in in Torrance ended, the cops showed up too, not to arrest anyone, just to look at the vintage cars.

"We're just doing what we couldn't afford to do when we were in high school," said Cruisin' Fifties' vice president Henry Figueroa, who stood proudly next to his '50 Mercury, a black two-door sedan. Figueroa, 46, extends his hobby into a profession, restoring antique cars for others as well as himself. He recently sold his body and auto-painting shop but plans to do auto work for others at his shop at home in Torrance.

"We're old teen-agers," said club member Sue Stearman, showing off her 1958 metallic blue Chevy Impala convertible to visitors. Stearman's husband, Glenn, who prefers to call himself "a die-hard teen-ager," has a matching hardtop Impala. "We ran away and got married in a '58 Impala, so that's why we wanted these," she said. "Now we have a daughter who's 19."

The Cruisin' Fifties group got started in October of 1982 when five or six guys, all car buffs, answered an ad in a local newspaper asking if anyone was interested in putting together a car club in the South Bay area.

"Louie Pinia put in this ad and I answered it right away," said Dick Midkiff, 41. "He's the founder, and now I'm the president. We're not very big yet, only a couple hundred people or so. But we're growing. It's a family club, more than anything. Wives and kids come along for the events and it's a lot of fun for the family. It's a club of 40-year-old teen-agers out having a ball."

Members of the Cruisin' Fifties meet the first weekend of every month at the Moon Light, and have several other events during the year, including two '50s dances, where everyone has to wear clothes from that era. Last weekend, the group went on a cruise and campout at Lake Cachuma near Santa Barbara.

Club dues are $20 a year, which includes a monthly newsletter, written by Midkiff's wife, Sonnie, 37. The Midkiffs, who live in Harbor City, own seven vintage cars, most built in the 1950s. Their 11-year-old son, Mike, has a 1916 mini-Model T.

Proceeds to Local Charity

At each month's gathering Cruisin' Fifties has a raffle (prizes are usually donated by local businesses, and sometimes Midkiff and Figueroa pay for them) from which proceeds go to a local charity.

"We didn't even have old cars before we got in the club," said Lynne Hardman, 34, standing beside her 1956 brown Chevy truck. "We got in the club because we liked old cars. Then we got them."

Hardman's husband, Darcy, now the club's cruise chairman, has a 1955 turquoise Chevrolet Nomad station wagon that he calls the Smurfwagon. The car is filled with their family collection of Smurf dolls, large and small and sports a license plate that reads: SMRFWGN.

Other members' cars sport such license plates as: KONG'S 30, HALLS29, 34 MIKE, IAMA 25T, THUR T6, DUKES40.

"Most things for cars, clubs and such, are family oriented," said Darcy Hardman, 42, a supervisor at the Torrance post office. "Just when we have dances, we get baby sitters." The Hardmans have two children, Charlie, 12, and Bree, 8.

Belong to Both Clubs

Cruisin' Fifties, which dedicates itself to restoring and preserving pre-1960 automobiles and trucks, is still small enough to meet at drive-ins like the Moon Light, but the Orange County Cruisin' Assn., the oldest of multi-type car clubs in the Los Angeles area, has outgrown many of the spots where members used to meet.

Figueroa, the Midkiffs and the Hardmans, as do many of the other car enthusiasts, belong to both clubs.

Joe Widmark, 44, who grew up in Chicago and moved to Los Angeles 20 years ago, belongs to neither club, though he often goes to their cruises. Widmark and a group of his friends who live in nearby Hawthorne, also have an informal car group of 22 members called the Hawthorne Cruisers. "Ours isn't a club, just a group of guys," said Widmark, a wholesale plumbing supplier. "We don't have meetings or dues. We're guys with old cars who just get together to help one another and for the fun of it."

Widmark has a 1935 Chevy and a 1929 Ford.

Begun in 1981, the Orange County group has a current membership of about 1,100 people. Cruisin' Fifties members number about 250.

Centered on Family

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