Beachcombers Corvette Club History

By: Greg Smith

In the beginning, the only true sports cars were thought to be European, primarily British. The Tidewater Sports Car Club (TSCC) was founded in 1953 to provide a venue for competition and camaraderie for local sports car owners. That same year, Chevrolet débuted a new car called the Corvette in GM’s Motorama that emulated some of the desirable sports car traits, i.e., small wheelbase, room for two, improved handling, futuristic styling, and a favorable power-to-weight ratio, in an American-built car. The initial clamor for this new car was so intense that Chevrolet literally hand-built the first 300 1953 Corvettes in Flint, Michigan to satisfy the public. By 1955 the demand for the Corvette was so low that even the addition of a new V-8 engine failed to move the Corvette out of the dealer’s lots. Even worse, sports car enthusiasts felt that the Corvette was too heavy and too slow to be considered a real sports car and saddled the Corvette with the unkind moniker of “plastic pachyderm”. However, 1955 was the same year that Chevrolet’s Ed Cole transferred a new GM engineer named Zora Arkus-Duntov to the Corvette staff to help fix a few problems. With the unveiling of the 1956 model, Zora started racing the Corvette and quieting the sports car crowd’s aspersions with the car’s performance at Daytona Speed Week and various hill climbs. By the 1957 model year, the Corvette had a 4-speed transmission and fuel injection to further its image as a true sports car that helped in its competition with the two-seat Ford Thunderbird for the title of the American sports car. By the 1958 model year, the Corvette again found itself the only American sports car with a loyal, growing, group of enthusiasts-owners. It was about that time that sports car clubs solely for the Corvette manqué began to emerge. (USA Number One in the Washington DC area is the oldest Corvette Club still in existence. It was founded in 1957 and is currently a member of the NCCC’s East Region.) In 1960, a public relations specialist with GM by the name of Joe Pike talked management into allowing him to take the Corvette’s promotion under his protective wing. Joe started a free monthly magazine for Corvette owners called Corvette News and wove the independent Corvette clubs into a national tapestry called the National Council of Corvette Clubs.

Meanwhile, Back in Virginia. . .

By 1960, there were at least two Corvette clubs functioning in Virginia. The oldest and still extant is the Corvette Club of Richmond. The other was the Tidewater Corvette Club that was sponsored by Colonial Chevrolet (then located at the intersection of Boush Street and Olney Road in downtown Norfolk). The Tidewater Corvette Club (TCC) proved to be the granddaddy of all the Corvette clubs on the Southside. By 1972, the Hampton Roads Corvette Club (HRCC) was founded on the peninsula and Tidewater had split into two clubs. The Virginia Beach Corvette Club (VBCC) was established to represent the second largest group of Corvette enthusiasts on the Southside. At the same time, the Corvette clubs of Virginia and North Carolina got together and formed their own sanctioning body called the Southeastern Confederacy of Corvette Clubs (SCCC). (Bob Parrish of Cannon’s in Moyock is one of the founding fathers of the SCCC.) By the time I arrived in the local area in 1978, there were 28 clubs in the SCCC as well as five local Corvette clubs: TCC in Norfolk; VBCC in Virginia Beach; HRCC & Peninsula Corvette Club on the peninsula; and Twin Cities Corvette Club in Portsmouth/Newport News. Future Beachcombers Linda Creed, Jim Moody, Lewis Knudsen, Dave Olsen, and Gene Sykes were members of VBCC then sponsored by RK Chevrolet in Virginia Beach while John Creed was a member of Last Capital Corvette Club in Danville, VA. I joined VBCC and participated as much as possible. (I was deployed 73% of the time between 1978 and 1980 before leaving the Navy).

Beachcombers Members Stand and Smile in front of their Corvettes

VBCC and the SCCC

Let me explain a little about VBCC, the SCCC, and Corvetting in the late 70’s. First of all, the club had two (2) business meetings each month. Dues were payable either on an annual or a semi-annual basis to accommodate the military transients like myself. The SCCC dues were prorated on a quarterly basis and everyone in the club had to be a member of the SCCC. The SCCC itself was based upon intense “friendly” competition between individuals and between clubs in particular. VBCC was roughly divided into two groups, racers and waxers. Racers wanted their Corvettes to be the fastest thing on the road and valued performance above all else. Waxers liked to show off their Vettes. Although stock Vettes were to be found in the SCCC show car circuit, customized Vettes were kings. Here I’m talking about radical custom Vettes with blinding combinations of color, swoppy fiberglass modifications, and “angel hair” dashes! The motto “if it don’t go, chrome it” was roughly the anthem for the waxers. Even the racers had Vettes with more chrome under the hood than Chevrolet used on an entire year’s production of Corvettes along with racing stripes designed to confuse the casual bystander or local gendarmes. Wide tires (60 series), multiple carburetors, blow-yer-ears-out side mounted exhaust headers were common. Of course, I sorta fit right in. I had a ’67 convertible with a balanced & blueprinted 1970 LT-1 engine with a radical cam and side exhaust that got maybe-miles-per-gallon, but never lost a drag race along Shoreline Drive on Saturday night. SCCC events were a weekend affair. We would rendezvous after work on Friday and caravan 200+ miles to some locality like Fayetteville, Jacksonville, or Martinsville to roll in at the designated host motel around 10 p.m. and head on up to the hospitality room for adult beverages, munchies, pre-registration, and to swap some tall tales or try to psych out the competition with hints of new changes under our hood. Saturday morning started with a car show. Saturday afternoon found us out on the road for the Corvette version of Blind Man’s Bluff, a road rally. If you found your way back to the motel in time, there usually was a party Saturday night. Clubs competed in trying to float the host club’s kegs. Sunday morning’s hangovers were greeted with raucous exhausts revving up for the final event, the auto-cross. Some were low speed events held in parking lots, but most were high-speed, wet-yer-pants, scary events held at NASCAR raceways and local airports. By Sunday afternoon, the weekend’s trophies would be given out with one special trophy given by the host club to the visiting club with the most participation in that weekend’s events. Then we would get back on the road and head back to Tidewater as a group trying to get back in time to go to work on Monday. (The SCCC had a minimum of two weeks between sanctioned weekends so you could recover between events!)

The Schism

By 1981, VBCC had roughly 60 members on its roster although participation at SCCC events was waning. As I remember, we were deadlocked with the Corvette Club of Fayetteville, NC for SCCC club participation. Then VBCC President (and future Beachcomber) Jim Moody pushed and pleaded with the membership at every club meeting to participate in each and every upcoming SCCC weekend. Well, the membership rallied and VBCC claimed the silver serving bowl for club participation that year. VBCC’s event that year not only had a car show, road rally, and Saturday night party, but also two speed events – bracket elimination drags and an auto-cross at Creeds airfield/drag strip in Pungo. (Future Beachcomber Linda Creed was runner-up drag top eliminator in that event losing only in the final round to Barbara Macaluso from Pacesetter Corvettes in northern Virginia.) By the end of the year, everyone was pretty worn out from all that competition. In 1982 VBCC had settled into two groups of people – those that had had enough SCCC competition and were ready for more social aspects of Corvetting (“been there, done that”) and those that felt all club members should support their club in SCCC competition. There was another problem. The old guard felt that everything was fine the way it was; and therefore resisted changes and new ideas presented by the executive board. Business meetings at Wilkins (now Bay) Chevrolet in Norfolk were the scene of power struggles between the competing groups of individuals. By May of 1982, lack of support forced the majority of the VBCC executive board to vacate their positions and leave the club in frustration. Within their departure and that of several other VBCC members lay the germ of a new club and a new philosophy towards Corvetting. (Please hold your mouse pointer here to read a letter recently sent in by Barbara Abel (formerly Barbara Macaluso).

The Original Beachcombers

Len Porter was the originator and the prime mover behind the Beachcombers Corvette Club (BCC). Len thought up the club’s name, laid out the club’s constitution & by-laws, and even paid to incorporate the club within the state of Virginia in June 1982. (Len even approved the original club logo — a ’82 Collector Edition sitting on a beach with a wave cresting in the background. You can see this logo on many red Beachcomber long-sleeve tee-shirts that many of the members had printed back in 1995.) The three original club members were Len Porter and Les & Sue Morris, all former VBCCers. In order to join the SCCC, a Corvette club needed a minimum of five members so former VBCCers Jon & Amy Hancock were added to the club’s roster. Other former VBCC members such as Gene Sykes and Dave Olsen joined Beachcombers during that year. By the end of 1982, Len Porter was president of not only the Beachcombers Corvette Club, but of the SCCC also! Two business meetings were held each month first at Les & Sue’s house and later on at Simpson Equipment Corporation’s site on Cleveland Street in Virginia Beach that Len Porter managed. The club did everything as a group even dressing the same at events. (My memory is sometimes faulty, but I associate red & black as the Beachcomber club colors from that era although John Creed swears that the club’s color were orange and tan. Where have we seen those colors before?) Members were fined for missing business meetings or booted out of the club for not participating in SCCC sanctioned events. By mid-1983, BCC was winning club participation trophies at the SCCC weekends. (John & Linda Creed joined Beachcombers that year and both share the honor of having the longest consecutive membership in the club itself.) To hold their first SCCC event in 1984, the club assessed each member $50 towards the event’s kitty. The Beachcombers not only played hard – they also partied hard as well. In January 1985, they elected George Dickel as an honorary member by acclamation. By the end of that year, BCC was officially sponsored by RK Chevrolet and was the force to be reckoned with at all SCCC events. VBCC on the other hand was fading fast and held their last SCCC event that same year.

1971 Chevrolet Corvette Bridgehampton Blue
2001 Chevrolet Corvette Bowling Green
Blue Corvette

Twilight of the SCCC

By 1988, I was the only VBCCer attending SCCC events. Finally, I switched clubs in August of that year. Having won club participation in 1986 and 1987, BCC just missed retiring the SCCC’s silver bowl by the narrowest of margins at the last sanctioned event of the year. By a quirk of fate, I found myself holding the position of club president in January 1989 trying to lead a new group of Corvette enthusiasts to uphold the Beachcomber tradition in the SCCC. Through normal attrition, military transfers, and retirements, only John & Linda Creed were still around from the original group of Beachcombers. So I did what Jim Moody had done eight years earlier. I cajoled and pleaded with Beachcombers to attend SCCC events. I even led caravans of Beachcombers as far north as Manassas and as far south as Jacksonville. We even tried new events like a progressive dinner with each course at another Beachcomber’s house to entice members to participate. But by early 1990, it was clear that demographics were working against the existing Corvette clubs and the framework of the SCCC. The new C4 Corvette attracted the over-40 crowd that wasn’t interested in endless rounds of weekend trips over hundreds of miles to compete against other Corvette owners. The competition within the SCCC had dwindled down to just under thirty people out of the ninety some-odd members of the remaining five SCCC clubs. The SCCC quietly faded away in November of that year leaving the Beachcombers to contemplate the reason for their existence.

In Search of New Beginnings

In November 1990, Mike Johnson, a young Marine Corps major, was elected club President. Mike was a recent transfer from northern Virginia and was surprised that the old Beachcombers recognized his yellow 1969 Corvette convertible. (It turned out that Mike had purchased the Vette from a former member of the Northern Virginia Corvette Club (NVCC) who had been the terror of Ladies B Modified auto-crossing. The Vette had a modified, high performance small block Chevy engine with Hooker side-exhaust headers.) Just prior to the December business meeting, the members were notified that the meeting was canceled because Mike was “out of town”. (We later found out the Mike was a qualified Marine Reconnaissance/S-2 Intelligence officer who had been dropped into Kuwait during Desert Shield to organize the Kuwaiti resistance and report back on Iraqi positions and strengths. Until Kuwait was actually liberated by the allied coalition, Mike and his team of three other Marines operated behind enemy lines always one jump ahead of the Iraqi counter-intelligence forces.) While the president was “out of town”, the Vice President, Dick Kline took over the reins of leadership for the club. Still trying to resolve the question regarding the direction the club should take to attract new members and grow, the Beachcombers investigated the advantages of joining other sanctioning bodies such as the United Council of Corvette Clubs (UCCC), National Corvette Owners Association (NCOA), and the National Council of Corvette Clubs (NCCC). The other Virginia Corvette clubs were essentially doing the same thing. The Corvette Club of Richmond, established in 1960, came close to vanishing due to member apathy. Only the strong leadership of Kermit Park and Dave & Lori Dolan saved that club and started them back on the path to becoming the state’s largest Corvette club. NVCC and the Hampton Roads Corvette Club (HRCC) joined the NCCC’s East Region. The Aquia Creek Corvette Club (ACCC) decided to remain an independent club and started to invite the other Virginia clubs to their annual events like Corvettes at Carlisle, the Crab Cruise to Pope’s Creek in Maryland, and the Fort A. P. Hill Chili Cook-Off.

2 Red Corvettes

Time for a Change of Pace

Business meetings were now once a month since there wasn’t any need to raise funds to support the next SCCC weekend. Beachcombers enjoyed the laid back approach to Corvetting and spent what little money there was in the treasury on summer events like pool parties. Road trips to Williamsburg and Busch Gardens were popular. John & Linda Creed initiated a club tradition of caravanning to the Smithfield Inn for brunch and then riding the Jamestown ferry across the James River to cruise the Colonial Parkway. Other than these events, club participation was really limited to high school homecomings in the fall and parades laps for charities such as the Special Olympics during the spring. However, something was missing that was needed to hold the club together. The club shrunk to exactly ten members when we joined the NCCC’s Carolina Region in September 1991.

Why Real Beachcombers Wear Red

Before handing over the leadership to Dick Kline in December 1991, Mike Johnson made one lasting contribution still seen today. Previously, in order to entice new members, the club had established the policy of giving new members a 1988 style club patch (an ‘82 Vette framed by a multi-color sunrise with a seagull silhouetted by the sun) and white tee shirt with the club logo silk-screened on the left front side. (These tee shirts really looked tacky after just a few washings. In fact, if the truth must be known, we gave them away because the club members wouldn’t buy them!) Mike investigated the cost of embroidered golf shirts for club members. We ended up with Marine Corps red golf shirts that had a yellow ‘69 convertible (where have we seen this Vette before?) framed by the words “Beachcombers Corvette Club Virginia Beach, VA Est. 1982” as our official club shirt for the next seven years.

The Doldrums

(By this time, I was living in Arlington, VA, worked full time in the Washington, D.C. area, and commuted back to Virginia Beach on the weekends whenever possible. Much of this period is really lost to me because I didn’t return until August 1993.) As the new club President, Dick Kline really was responsible for nudging the Beachcombers off their downhill road to apathy and towards the present outgoing group of Corvette enthusiasts. Dick realized that the club couldn’t wait for future members to inquire about the club at RK Chevrolet and then invite them to a club meeting or social function. The club needed to become more aggressive in seeking new members. He initiated the club tradition of attending the Saturday night at Jenro’s get together of auto enthusiasts. The first ever Saturday night at Jenro’s for the Beachcombers consisted of just Dick and me rendezvousing at Pembroke Mall one Saturday night in June and then waiting almost two hours for other Beachcombers to show up. Dick was ready to give up on the club, but decided that the two of us would go anyway. From this trip to Jenro’s and countless others, we met a core of Corvette owners such as Terry & Maggi Fennessey, Don & Lori Pacetti, and John Orris that would lead the club to a re-birth in 1992 that started a change that would become what I call the “nouveau” Beachcombers.

Nouveau Beachcombers

In October 1992, there were only seven of the twelve active Beachcombers who renewed their membership in the NCCC. Just enough to keep us accredited as an NCCC club. At the November business meeting/club elections, Don Pacetti realized that there were more “nouveau” members like himself than there were of the old SCCC members. Don won election as President; Terry was Vice President; Maggi was Secretary; and John Orris was Treasurer. Don went about re-building the club and attracting new members by promoting club attendance at every automotive event in the local area as well as the out-of-area events like the Gloucester and Poquoson Car Shows. Don encouraged everyone to actively recruit new members by leaving business cards on every Corvette they encountered. Don was just looking for Corvette owners that wanted a venue to actively enjoy their pride and joy. By mid-1993, there were 106 new Beachcombers. Thirty-five Beachcomber vehicles participated in the club’s first caravan to ACCC’s Corvettes at Carlisle that August. By November 1993 there were a total of 193 Beachcombers scattered all over southeastern Virginia and the outer banks of North Carolina. If you wanted a seat at the business meetings, you had to come early. Don had transformed the club into a sprawling collection of various Corvette enthusiasts. Some were first time owners, some were show car people, some were restorers, but all of them were excited about Corvettes! At that November business meeting, the members voted Don another year as club president and also required one member of each household to join the NCCC in order to retain our eligibility for the insurance coverage offered to NCCC clubs that provided blanket coverage not only for competition events, but also our social outings as well. Ninety-three Beachcombers became new NCCC members in one night! Our club went from the smallest to the largest NCCC club in the Carolina Region. The club’s constitution and by-laws were re-written during Don’s presidency to formalize the club’s current organization. The standing rules were revised to reflect the changing composition of the club and its members.

Corvette Lineup

The Origins of the Car Show Tee shirt

It’s hard to believe, but Beachcomber car show tee shirts had their own tradition that grew over time. The first tee shirts were printed for our second annual All Chevy/Corvette car show in June 1994. Dan Burke’s 1960 Corvette graced this tee shirt since his Vette has been the previous year’s pick as Best Corvette. Over the years, the choice of Corvette to grace the car show tee shirt passed to the car show chairperson (usually the club president). Sometimes, we ordered too many tee shirts and had an abundance left over after the car show. That’s how we got the infamous Terry Fennessey autographed tee shirts featuring his 1966 big block convertible. We had so many tee shirts left over; we gave them away at club meetings and at the Christmas party. Sometimes, the choice of the Corvette to grace the tee shirt involved Machiavellian plotting. As a case in point, let me tell you about the 1998 car show tee shirt’s selection. To begin with, Tom Chorlton was the man to see about ordering dash plaques for the car show. Tom also had a 1968 Rally Red convertible. Tom wanted his Vette on the dash plaque and lobbied the car show chairman (me) extensively. I had promised Dean & Dorothy Smith that their 1998 Carmine Red convertible (“Spicey”) on order from Bowling Green would be on the dash plaque. (Since Dean wasn’t sure that his Vette would be delivered in time, I had picked out the subtitle “Dean’s Dream 1998 Corvette” for the dash plaque initially.) Anyway, I promised Tom that his 1968 Vette would be on the tee shirt just to keep the peace. (Okay, I caved in!) Don Ward just casually mentioned that his 1958 Vette was the oldest in the club and deserved to be on the car show tee shirt. Dean wanted to know if his 1998 would be on the tee shirt. Now I was in trouble! Everyone had some good reason for his or her Vette to be on the car show tee shirt. Eventually, everyone was satisfied when the car show tee-shirts had five (5) Corvettes on it: Dean & Dorothy’s 1998 convertible; Jon Bishop’s 1988 coupe; Rich & Elaine Merce’s 1978 coupe, Tom’s 1968 coupe; and Don’s 1958 roadster. In later years, the car show dash plaques and tee-shirts have had representative Corvettes like the 1999 C5-R Corvette racer or the 2000 Millennium Yellow Vette – none of which were owned by club members. Ever wonder why?

Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going

Since 1992 Beachcombers have become more and more numerous at local events and established several new traditions such as: the St. Patrick’s Day Parade (first in Nags Head, NC and then in Ocean View); the annual Beachcombers Car Show in June; Corvettes At Carlisle in August; Corvettes at Ocean City in September; the Chili Cook-Off in October; the Manteo Christmas Parade the first Saturday in December; the Christmas Party in December; and the endless road trips to new and exotic eateries. Beachcombers now enjoy several Corvette venues ranging from car shows to auto-crossing to tech nights to just enjoying their Corvettes while caravanning to new adventures. I hope that you’ve enjoyed this brief club history. Now the club’s future is in your hands because what you do now is what the future Beachcombers will take for granted as club tradition and club history! Maybe you’ll be the one saying “I was there when it we first . . .”

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