If anyone most embodies the spirit of Motor City Car Club, it has to be Gary Challice. One of the original members of the club, he is still a driving force behind it, especially when it comes to Autofest.
He has been club president nine times, and held the position in 2010 for the club’s 50th anniversary. A self-employed architectural technologist with Arts Plus, he is married to Bonnie, and is a father to Stacey, Shannon, Brandy, David and the late Jason Challice.
He currently owns a 1950 Mercury, 1951 Nash and 1933 Plymouth sedan, and in the past has spent time behind the wheel of his 1933 and two ’34 Fords, a 1933 Plymouth, 1951, ’54 and ’60 Chevrolets, a 1969 Roadrunner and a 1969 Mustang.
“I was born in Bowmanville and always lived in the area,” he says. “I learned to drive on a 1947 Chevy coupe. I was reading all the hot rod books, but what really got me going was when I went to my first indoor car show in 1959.”
Gary bought his first car, an all-original 1930 Dodge coupe, when he was 17. He spotted it and towed it home, although he took some grief over it “because I was just a boarder and I had this in the back yard. I don’t think I ever got it running. The very first car when I went to high school was a 1934 Ford three-window. I went to Oshawa Collegiate and Vocational Institute, which is O’Neill now, and I used to have to park it on the hill by the hospital and let it roll down to bump-start it. It was black primer, with no hinges on the trunk, and you couldn’t push it or the trunk would go flying off. My girlfriend at the time wouldn’t ride in it, but that didn’t matter!”
He hung out with three friends – Bob Reynolds, Dave McGill and Dennis King – and the four of them formed the Kontinentals car club. “Reynolds was the well-to-do guy in the neighbourhood; his father was head of purchasing for GM, so Bob always had a car. His dad had a two-car garage so Bob was always tinkering and painting, and that’s how it all started. At that time, Reynolds was driving a 1949 Mercury or Ford convertible in brown and white primer, and I bought it off him and drove it to school. You couldn’t put the top up because it was full of holes.”
The Kontinentals got up to nine members and took on a clubhouse, a two-car detached garage behind a house. The club was chartered in 1961 with the National Hot Rod Association and in 1960 had done its first outdoor show, hosted by the Igniters in the parking lot of the Oshawa Centre. This was followed by a second show at the Centre in 1961, and a display at an indoor show in Montreal in 1961. “There was a show in Buffalo and one in Montreal, and we debated about which one to go to, but we were scared of going across the border,” Gary says. “I was 19. We drove three cars to Montreal on Thursday, set up Thursday night, came back Friday morning to go to work, and then went back on Sunday. We didn’t have the money for hotel rooms. We took four trophies for three cars at our first indoor show.”
Meanwhile, the club was growing. It moved to a clubhouse in Raglan and then to Orono; the members took their cars back to Montreal in 1962 and 1963, as well as to London and finally across the border to Buffalo. During those years, the Kontinentals and Igniters tended to hang out together. “So we said, why don’t we get together,” Gary says. “We weren’t thought of very highly; hot rodders wearing club colours was like a motorcycle gang. There’s strength in numbers, and that’s how it came about. We moved from Orono to Hampton and Motor City’s first clubhouse was there in 1963.”
Two years later, Gary got even more heavily involved in the hobby when he became a judge for ISCA, travelling the circuit with Bob Reynolds. “We both had 1964 Chevs, both mild customs, and we travelled the circuit. We got to know the organizers, and then Bob took a full-time job with Championship Auto Shows and moved to Detroit. He hired some judges, he knew me, and I started out as a judge and worked my way up to a judging supervisor as a part-time job. ISCA had a championship series called the Can-Am Series and I was its director.
“It was fun and quite a responsibility. You had to keep a record of all the points and deal with the problems. I was working for the City of Oshawa at the time in the planning department, and Bob and I would leave on a Thursday night, hit a show every week as far away as Philadelphia or Boston, and be back to work on Monday.”
During the 1960s, Gary wasn’t as much into older cars; he bought new ones that went straight to the body shop to be nosed, decked, repainted and their grilles and taillights swapped out – although there was a 1933 Plymouth that he drove to Winnipeg for a show.
In 1972, he had a falling out with Motor City and left. George Kennedy left at the same time and the two formed the Time Travellers Car Club. That lasted for ten years, and Gary returned in 1982. “I regret quitting Motor City,” he says. “It was a mistake and I never should have left, but there are no hard feelings over it now.”
He started travelling with the club to various shows in the 1980s and 1990s. “In the 1970s, nobody would have thought of going to Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg; you couldn’t carry luggage because your trunk was full of tools. But in the 1980s, NSRA was putting on more events in different places and people had confidence in their cars. We stopped going to indoor shows and we always travelled as a group to these huge outdoor shows.”
Still, indoor shows beckoned, and 16 years ago he got involved with Performance World as the director of show cars and features. “My responsibility was to fill the building,” he says. “I travelled all across North American for that, going to shows and finding cars that I wanted to bring to the show. I always had to try to find something that was different, and I really enjoyed it.”
He’s a member of the Autofest steering committee, along with Frank Ageuci, Dave Repol and Mike Kalynko. “It’s passion,” he says. “We want this event to change every year, to get bigger every year. I like organizing and working with the guys. At the end of each one, I never get the feeling that it’s over, because there’s another year.
“The other thing I really enjoyed was when we did our 50th anniversary display. Working in this clubhouse and pulling that together as a group was fantastic. I thrive on the group.”
His passion for hot rodding, his work with shows and charities, and his relentless drive have not gone unnoticed: in 1997, he was inducted into the Canadian Street Rod Hall of Fame.
“I’m a firm believer that this club is like family,” Gary says. “I’ve built some great friendships. You get out of it what you put into it, and I bring my experience in organizing things, and my contacts because I’ve been around so long. I’m one of the guys. I just want to be one of the guys.”