The club stopped for breakfast while heading to the 1st Roadster Roundup in Pismo Beach during the summer of 1966. For those not familiar with the California coast in summer - it's usually fogged in like this in the morning and evening! At front is Don Brusseau in his '25 Ford T Pick Up, Paul Hannan's '29 Ford roadster, Dave Marasco's '29 Ford Roadster Pickup, and Lee Barrett's '29 Ford roadster.
Just about every car club has some claim to fame - most cars, most members, oldest in their city, etc., etc. But few, if any, hot rod clubs can boast the Curricula Vitae of the Bay Area Roadsters, a small, select group of car guys dedicated to sustaining the passion of the traditional roadster.
It all started in 1959. Ike was President. Elvis was the rage. And Detroit couldn't make a tail fin big enough. America was poised to close a decade of robust economic growth and steady conservatism and slide into what would become the wild and-crazy Sixties.
"Back in the '50s guys were building hot rods and just hanging out together," explained current B.A.R. lifetime member Tom Walsh. "Don Brusseau of San Lorenzo decided to form the Bay Area Roadsters, as the L.A. Roadsters were formed the year before. Those first meetings were held in Don's home in San Lorenzo from 1959 to 1964. Back then, it took 100 percent vote of club members to get into the club and membership was limited to 20 members. So it was a pretty select group." Not only was membership select, the criteria for the cars was select, too. As the club name implies, only roadsters were allowed, including pick-ups and tourings. But, nothing newer than 1934; so that cool '36 drop-top had to look elsewhere. Even cabriolets were persona non grata. Moreover, the vehicle must be "finished," showing a tailored upholstery and glossy paint. No knights in black satin.
The protocol to join the club was (and is) akin to dating in Fifties. You have to be asked to join. A prospective club member could not initiate the conversation. "If a potential member, one we all thought was a good guy with a nice car, we would ask him to join," explained long-time member Dennis Varni of Los Gatos. "Prospective members then were required to attend club meetings for six months before a vote was taken. If three members voted 'no,' well, that person was out. But that rarely happened."
A gas stop during a 1964 club trip captured the essence of 1960's hot rodding. The properly stanced '27 Ford roadster pickup in the foreground belonged to club member Don Himsl - a Bay Area wheel smith. The car now resides in Don Orosco's collection in Monterey.
Such a process has created a stable membership, explained Walsh. From its humble beginnings, the club has progressed to the present maximum membership of 35 that has remained full for more than 13 years. There are a dozen members with 25 years or more, which qualifies them as lifetime members. Two members - Roy Brizio and Steve Moal - are among the most accomplished hot rod builders of the modern era.
For all its exclusivity, the B.A.R. was instrumental in helping keep the street rod flame alive during the 1960's doldrums, a time when the muscle car era threatened to drive traditional hot rodding into the wrecking yard of history. The B.A.R., along with the L.A. Roadsters, and a newly-energized Rod & Custom magazine led by Tex Smith and Tom Medley, kept the spirit alive.
Pictured on a run in the spring of 1959 are the hot rods of the four founding members of the Bay Area Roadsters - Jim Pratt ('29 Ford), Don Kugler ('27 Ford), Mel Loe ('32 Ford) and leader Don Brusseau ('25 Ford T Pick Up)
Instrumental in fanning that flame was the Roadster Roundup, arguably the first modern-day rod run. It debuted in 1966 at Pismo Beach, Calif., organized by the B.A.R., the L.A. Roadsters, the San Jose Roadsters and the Valley Roadsters. This year will be the 50th annual, with each club taking turns hosting the event. In addition to the Roundup, the B.A.R. hosts seven other annual get togethers, including its Christmas Party. Typically, the club shows 70 percent participation on events.
Separated by 380 miles of Interstate 5, the Bay Area Roadsters and L.A. Roadsters have been linked by history and mission. The two clubs are similar in philosophy, both very select and both showcasing world-class cars. One fundamental difference, though, according to Varni, was that the L.A.R. was located in the center of the hot rod publishing industry: Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, Street Rodder, and Rod Action were all based in SoCal. The L.A.R. even had members who were staff members of the magazines! It was no surprise that L.A.R. cars were featured regularly in pages those periodicals.
One of the club's turning points (at least from a publicity and exposure standpoint) was the Rod & Custom Magazine tire test with Dennis Varni's '29 Ford hiboy. Featured in the Sept '73 issue, it's one of the storied publication's all time highest rated tech articles.
Not to be outdone, the B.A.R. pulled a neat trick: They made Smith and Medley honorary lifetime members of the club, as both were behind Rod & Custom's push to promote the hot rod hobby, an effort that included organizing the first Street Rod Nationals in Peoria, Ill., in 1970. One early benefit of this crafty PR move, was the famous Rod & Custom tire test at Ontario Motor Speedway in 1972, employing Varni's '29 Ford hi-boy as test vehicle. Varni's ride raced around a skid pad and slalom courses, even a few laps around the massive OMS road course, evaluating which brands of rubber performed best. It was quite the publicity coup, and one of the most memorable Rod & Custom tech articles ever.
The fact that Varni was willing to, well, thrash his '29 in the name of science revealed a philosophy that runs through the entire B.A.R. membership. Hot rods are made to be driven! To repeat, hot rods are made to be driven! (This is a common Goodguys theme, as well). While most members' roadsters have been displayed at major car shows -- winning a few America's Most Beautiful Roadster crowns along the way - all are driven regularly and for long distances.
With a legacy of over five decades, the Bay Area Roadsters are steeped in tradition sharing a strong familial bond. The club gathered for this picture at the foot of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in the spring 2013 on their way to an oyster feed in Tomales Bay, California.
Consider the behind-the-wheel exploits of member Dave Shaub. In 2009, Shaub jumped in his '32 roadster and drove 9,856 miles through 49 states in less than nine days. In addition to accumulating all those miles, his tour was a charity drive that raised more than $100,000 for children and families of the Ronald McDonald House at Stanford. He followed that with a yet more-heroic 49 state tour in just 7 days!
The most Herculean effort by any B.A.R. member came in the fall of 2009, when Dave Schaub drove his Brizio-built '32 hi-boy roadster through all 49 Continental United States in under 9 days, finishing here in Hyder, Alaska. Two years later, he did the same trip in 7 days! Both grueling trips served as fund raisers for the Ronald McDonald House at Stanford.
What does the future hold for the Bay Area Roadsters? Any such discussion soon centers on the aging demographics of the not only the B.A.R. but all oldschool hot rodders. Walsh downplays a demographic doomsday. "Hot Rodding is alive and well," he explained. "There is still a great interest in building roadsters from 1927-1936. We have nine new members in the club, six of them being "younger." "Look around the hobby and you see hundreds of young guys building hot rods. It's very promising," he said.
"Remember, we are simply a bunch of 70-year-old kids playing with cars. We couldn't have these cars while we were in school, but are able to have them now!"
At a recent LA Roadster Show, the club power parked the main entrance near Building #1 at Fairplex in Pomona. Sharp viewers will recognize the welltraveled deuce hi-boys of Andy & Roy Brizio, Tommy Walsh, Sid Chavers, Ray Lenz's 1915 Ford T (an original club car from the 60s), Dennis Varni's blue '33 Ford among many others. How'd you like to see this pack comin' into your rear view mirror?