Ralph Thiele’s 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air
A.A.C.A. – South Florida Region History
The creation of the A.A.C.A. – South Florida Region was a natural evolution from years of work by dedicated enthusiasts. In May of 1955 Charles Sebastian called a meeting of local car owners for the purpose of establishing a local antique car club. Approximately twenty people attended this meeting held at Frankie Watts’ Waco Motors. From this session came the Miami Old Car Club with sixteen charter members. The club elected Charles Sebastian as its first president, a post that he held for three years. The first big display of cars came at the 1957 Dinner Key Auto Show. Ten thousand people paid twenty-five cents admission to see the thirty-six cars on display. About this time the membership decided to change the club name to the Vintage Car Club of Miami. It was felt that this was more descriptive of the club’s intent.
With a membership of 140, the club was incorporated as a non-profit corporation during the latter part of 1957. In May 1958 the club began publication of Sidelights, a name coined by charter member Bob Gegen. Sidelights is the official publication of the club and is published nine times a year. The first annual show was held at Crandon Park, followed by West Flagler Dog track and the Miami Springs Villas. Then, for the next eight years the show was held at Villa Vizcaya, the former winter residence of industrialist James Deering on the shores of Biscayne Bay. In early 1965 a move was started by Charles Sebastian to affiliate the club with the Antique Car Club of America. In September 1965 the club sent a petition to the national headquarters for the formation of the South Florida Region. The Region was approved in October, and at the November meeting the “Vintage Car Club of Miami” officially became the “South Florida Region of the Antique Automobile Club of America”.
After many years of being the South Florida Region of the Antique Automobile Club of America, another change was needed. Following an eighteen month process, we had been approved by the Internal Revenue Service as a not for profit hobbyist organization as recognized under I.R.S. code section 501 (C) (7). The entity was reorganized as the Miami Collector Vehicle Association, Inc. doing business as A.A.C.A.-South Florida Region. With a By-Laws amendment, this went into effect on September 19, 2013.
In 1971 the club created the Most Valuable Member Award. This award is given to the member who by vote of the membership has contributed the most to the club over the past year. The award is presented at the annual year-end Holiday Party. To honor his memory and his many contributions, the award was renamed the Darcy O’Meara Award after his untimely death in 1979.
In 1980 we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the club’s founding. The occasion was marked with a banquet honoring the club’s founder, Charles Sebastian, and all the past presidents. It was time to look back at the first quarter-century of the club and make plans for the second quarter-century. Early in 1983 the South Florida Region absorbed the Vintage Car Club of Miami, which had been founded in 1963. By combining the two organizations, everyone benefited. A single club provided more automobiles for our shows and more manpower to run them. Organization and management were more easily carried out, and the treasury responded in kind. Our growth expanded, and in 1986 we joined with the City of Homestead to take part in the annual Frontier Days celebration. This provided sponsorship and a fine location for our winter show. The excellent show field and support from the city led to our first national show in 1991. The success of the national event has continued with top-quality shows in Homestead each January. Despite the catastrophic events caused by Hurricane Andrew in August 1992 (including the destruction of many classic and antique cars in the club), the club managed to maintain its membership and grew nicely in the mid 1990’s.
The growth of the club over the years has been steady and strong. The year 1995 ushered in the era of new leadership with Bob Mayer as president and Mel Mann as vice-president for a record seven terms. Membership meetings moved to a new location in the heart of Kendall and were well attended every month.
In 1996, the club was engaged to present the prestigious Memory Lane exhibit as part of the South Florida International Auto Show at Miami Beach Convention Hall. With Mel Mann as show chair, Memory Lane has established itself as the most heavily attended classic car display in south Florida with well over a half million spectators yearly. This event has provided the cornerstone of our annual budget and earned our club a stellar reputation as the premiere antique car club in South Florida. Sadly, in 1997, our club founder Charles Sebastian passed away. The prestigious Memory Lane Best of Show Award is dedicated to his memory each year.
One of the highlights of the club has been the steady enhancement of our Sidelights newsletter. Al Roscoe was the first South Florida Region Editor to receive the National Master Editor Award in 1982. In addition to his duties as president, Bob Mayer became the editor of Sidelights and our annual roster in 1998, incorporating the transformation to color printing and graphics. These improvements were recognized by AACA by awarding him the National Master Editor Award in 1999. In 2003, Ernesto Romero, improved Sidelights with enhanced artwork and graphics and was awarded the A.A.C.A. Award of Excellence. Starting in October 2007, Jean Hawa took over the helm at Sidelights, to continue the terrific job of former editors Al Roscoe, George W. Duvall III, Maurice Hawa, Ben Harris, Bob Mayer, Ernesto Romero, and Bob Squier. The 2008, 2009, 2012, and 2013 Award of Excellence for regional publications and National Master Editor Award in 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 were presented to Editor Hawa.
In 2001, our first website was launched on the Internet. Due to the diligent efforts of our webmaster Bob Squier, our website http://www.aacasouthflorida.club is now an up-to-date source for everything about our club, more enjoyable and easier to navigate. Within hours after a car show, the event pictures are posted to our website for viewing pleasure. This has created a public journal to attract sponsors and members. Bob Squier has earned the A.A.C.A. Webmaster Award of Excellence eleven times as one of the finest in the country. Since then Bob has earned the 2012– 2017 Award of Master Webmaster.
Since the turn of the century, the club has been is on steady ground under the leadership of presidents Bob Mayer (1995-2002), Mel Mann (2002-2003), Ira Shapiro (2004-2005), George Zima (2006), Norman Kassoff (2007-2008), Greg Paiewonsky (2009), Andy Leavy (2010-2011), Jean Hawa (2012-2013), Oscar Castro (2014-2015) and currently, Ron Mitro, along with a very active Board of Directors. Thanks to the generosity of our sponsors, and supporters, there are several annual car shows and fine social events presented to our membership at little or no cost. Additionally, we conduct an overnight driving tour and other events such as the Occasional Sunday Morning Drive.
Chaired by Norman Kassoff, the South Florida Region hosted the 2010 Southeastern Winter National Meet at the Homestead Speedway after a nineteen year hiatus. Over 250 cars came from the eastern part of the United States. Show day was a beautiful sunny, picture perfect day. One year later, co-chaired by Mel Mann and Ira Shapiro, we hosted the successful 2011 Southeastern Winter Meet.
In addition to Memory Lane, several car shows are presented each year for the public enjoyment of our hobby, which have provided a financial basis for improved membership benefits. Our current shows include venues of Art Deco Weekend on Ocean Drive on South Beach, along Biltmore Way in Coral Gables, Vintage Auto Show at the Historic Deering Estate, and Cars in the Garden at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. From the proceeds of events, every spring we donate a scholarship to a local high school student. Due to our commitment to the community, the Dade Heritage Trust presented our club with the 2008 Outstanding Community Service Award.
As a result of our successes, the A.A.C.A. National Corvette Award was established in 2011 by the South Florida Region A.A.C.A. in honor of Mel Mann in appreciation of his many years of dedicated service to the hobby and in recognition as a collector of fine Corvettes. We salute our leaders for their diligent efforts of maintaining the highest standards and for sharing our great hobby with the community at events located throughout Miami-Dade County. Now, in our 61st year, the club is stronger than ever; events and meetings are well-attended, and the future is bright for continued growth and success.