Bob Clarke has been a member since 1966 and since that time has been on the club’s executive 19 times, holding every position except Treasurer. That’s a lot of involvement for someone who was originally star-struck by the idea of being able to join the prestigious club.
It started with a 1949 Anglia that he was building. Cars had always been a part of his life, since his father had owned a bodyshop, and he learned how to build cars through trial and error. When he turned 16, his father bought him a 1954 Chevrolet, “but it was in poor condition and I had to fix it up so I could drive it,” Bob says. “I’m not a mechanic by trade.”
His father wasn’t the only one involved with automobiles; Bob’s cousin Dennis “Pee Wee” Clarke drag-raced a C/Gas Anglia. “I used to go with him to the drags, and after that, I just had to have an Anglia. I found one at Biam’s General Store in Tyrone.” The unfinished car was in the basement and Bob, who delivered Canada Dry to the store, saw it and bought it – “I don’t remember what I paid for it, but it would have been cheap, about $40 or $50.”
He rented a garage in Whitby to work on the car. “One day, a white Roadrunner pulled into the driveway and Gary Challice stepped out,” Bob says. “He looked at what I was doing and asked if I would like to join Motor City Car Club. I’d heard of them … I said, ‘Wow!’ That was like hitting the big time! So I gave up my garage and took a bay at the clubhouse.”
It took two years to build the 327-powered Anglia, starting at the clubhouse on Townline Road and finishing it after the club moved to Bloor Street. “Back then there were no kits, no 1-800 to call,” he says. “I made everything. Every bracket, every steering component, every mount, virtually everything was handmade.” Bob did everything except the bodywork, which he had yet to master (and since has), but he obviously did it right: the car took him many thousands of miles, including shows in Tennessee, Oklahoma, Colorado, Nebraska, Chicago and North Bay – that last one in a snowstorm.
The Anglia was the first in a string of cars, purchased and then “Clarke’d,” the term for his penchant for not leaving anything alone until it’s done exactly right. His daily driver while he had the Anglia was a new 1967 Camaro SS, which got written off in a crash; next came a 427-powered 1969 two-door Chevy Biscayne, which he sold. He still has the next three: a 1933 Ford Tudor sedan, 1947 Buick Roadmaster sedanette that’s still under construction, and a 1954 Chevrolet 210 two-door sedan which was “mint,” as he puts it, and of course was then “Clarke’d” when he tore apart all of the mechanicals anyway and redid them to his standards. He and his wife Patricia are boat fans, with a 21-foot Cougar tunnel-hull.
His keen eye for workmanship sent him in a new direction in 1969, when he visited Cobo Hall in Detroit and Bob Reynolds, an official in the ISCA, made him into a judge. “I had no credentials; I was a member of Motor City Car Club, and it was an opportunity of the right place at the right time,” he says. “But shortly after that, I started working for Bruce Robertson, judging at Speedsport, and that turned into a paid position with ISCA as a judging official, which turned into a judging supervisor, and that lasted until the mid-1980s.” He finally gave it up when he and Patricia, who also travelled extensively for her job, got tired of the long hours and constant flights. “This was in addition to my job. I’d have to take a day off my job to fly in on Thursday to put the cars into their classes, have the judging sheets ready for Friday at noon, and good luck getting back to work on Monday morning.” But the exposure to some of the finest cars in the continent raised his personal bar, and quality of workmanship became ingrained.
Bob was a vital part of the club’s shows in its earlier years, but he wasn’t initially impressed with Autofest. “I believed it was taking away from the club, that we weren’t a car club anymore but a production company,” he says, and he stayed away the first few shows. But when he was asked to drive the courtesy shuttle one year he did; the following year he worked the security gate, and then took over the vendors. “Now I’m proud to do it,” he says. “With my background I should have latched onto it, having done so many shows, but for some reason I didn’t. Now I’ve made up for lost time.”
He was the first to receive the coveted “President’s Book,” a hardbound volume that covers the club president’s two years in office, and which spanned his time in the position in 2007 and 2008. Primarily a photographic record, “it’s pretty astounding,” he says. “I was stunned.” So far only two have been printed – Gary Challice received the second – and Bob is proud to have the inaugural version.
He spent 33 years in the bodyshop and insurance business, has built numerous high-quality cars and has judged some of the world’s finest, but possibly his biggest thrill is at Autofest each year when the club hands over a giant cheque to the Grandview Children’s Centre. “How many clubs give away $15,000 a year to the local charity, as we’ve done for the last four years?” he says. “Motor City is more like a service club than a car club. We bowl for Big Brothers and Big Sisters, we donate money to the mayor for his golf tournament, and the Children’s Centre is our biggest charity. How many car clubs have a room named after them at a local school for handicapped children, or their name around the pool? We’ve come a long way, and that gives me great satisfaction.”