Oftentimes, it’s heard before it’s seen. The purr of the engines, the squeal of tires and a welcoming soundtrack of ’70s FM hits blaring on tower speakers.
But that’s not to say Winnipeg car meets aren’t a sight to behold. The gatherings, organized by various auto clubs, governing bodies and amateurs alike, have been shining a headlight on car culture for longer than most peoples’ memories will serve.
“These car meets have been going on since the ’50s,” Bob Chubala, co-founder and chairman of the Manitoba Association of Auto Clubs (MAAC), says.
“Each generation hands it over to the next one, and, of course, this is not just unique to Winnipeg. This is a worldwide phenomenon.”
The MAAC, an umbrella group of Manitoban auto clubs, was co-founded by Chubala and a friend in 1995. The idea was for a regulatory body that would advocate on behalf of the many car clubs in the province.
“We basically look after legal issues in the hobby, the vehicle standards, working with MPI, working with the government, etc.,” Chubala says.
While MAAC leaves the car-meet organization to the individual clubs to focus on advocacy, the association publishes a yearly event guide to help car enthusiasts and amateurs alike navigate the wide world of whips.
“The Free Press prints about 64,000 of them, and they go to the public and the car people. That way, they know where the events are all summer long,” Chubala says.
Among the fair-weather, diesel-fueled fixtures in Winnipeg are Sunday-night meets at Fionn MacCool’s on Regent, hosted by Unrestricted Empire, and Sunday cruise night at the Pony Corral on Wilton. The latter is hosted by the restaurant itself and features a rotating gallery of auto clubs each week.
Among the weekly participants is a man who introduces himself as Mr. Lawrence. A retired banker, his pride and joy lies in a retrofitted 1953 Austin A40 Somerset like the one he originally purchased as a teenager in the 1960s.
“(My original A40) died many years ago, and I found this one in Vancouver about 15 years ago. I brought it back here and finished restoring it,” Lawrence says. “I’ve been going to meets since I got this car.”
Along with a custom plate, he added a modification sure to delight fast-food aficionados. “The car has a tray that sits on the windowpane. In the early days, you went to A&W or a place like that, and they served you your food on a tray in the window,” Lawrence says.
For the most part, meets are a convenient excuse to get the city’s hottest rods together each week.
“It’s pretty much the enjoyment of the hobby. People like to show their wares off to the public or to their peers.”
But Chubala is quick to note the reciprocation of the clubs to their respective communities. A portion of the registration fees and 50/50 funds are donated to charities across the province.
“We want to be a good community presence and do the right thing for charities,” he says. “We don’t want to be recognized as just a bunch of guys with hot rods and tire squealers, that type of thing.”
Published in Volume 78, Number 02 of The Uniter (September 14, 2023)