COOLIDGE -- Skip Laclair understands cars. He also understands car collectors.

“The majority of your classic car people love to park their cars, sit behind them, have a cold drink and let people look at them,” Laclair said. “Everyone I meet with classic cars really just enjoy bringing them out and showing them off.”

Laclair is president of the Collector Car Club of Coolidge, also referred to as the 4C car club as a nod to the name’s alliteration. The club was founded by John Hill, former owner of Eldorado Insurance.

In 2014, Hill started the club as a way to find other area residents who shared his enthusiasm for classic vehicles. From there, the idea grew into a full-fledged club that put on two regular shows a year.

He later stepped down as president and turned the club over to Laclair, who now oversees the group’s annual events.

Today, the organization runs its largest and annual show at Coolidge Cotton Days, held the first weekend in March. The club, Laclair points out, boasts a total of eight to 10 regular members.

However, you might not be able to guess at the club’s size by the noticeable participation it gets at car shows.

Last year alone the car club touted 70 entries in the annual show, a sharp incline from just a dozen participants four or five years ago.

For Laclair, the hobby is one that is worth every ounce of work he puts into it.

After he retired from a law enforcement career in New York and moved to Arizona, Laclair purchased a 1965 Chevrolet pickup with the intention of sprucing up the vehicle. He’s been working on it for the past seven years, and he says there’s still work to be done on it.

Laclair’s love for old vehicles, however, stems from long before he ever completed a classic restoration. His first car was a 1965 Rambler Marlin. In the 1970s he purchased a 1974 Opel Manta Rallye for $4,200. It was his first brand new car.

The love for the classics is something each member of the club shares, even those who may not own a classic vehicle, Laclair said.

Restorations among vehicles can range from work and maintenance to keep models in their original, or as close to their original, state as possible to switching out components like the engine so a vehicle might have the body of a popular 1970s Ford, but feature a Chevrolet engine.

Changes to older model vehicles can encompass “body off” restorations, updating the paint color or even leaving the original paint color to rust — a look that is often referred to as “patina.”

Kit cars are also a popular option among some vehicle owners as well, Laclair noted. Kit cars are built with brand new parts but feature an older body style.

Members and entrants, however, are not the only ones who share a fondness for older vehicles.

Each year, the club’s car shows attract plenty of onlookers that enjoy strolling down Central Avenue, admiring the vehicles and talking to the owners.

“People enjoy looking at them,” Laclair said. “It’s nostalgia — to look at something from the past and appreciate it.”

The sense of nostalgia that onlookers at car shows get doesn’t just come from classic vehicles, it can also derive from something as simple as a pedal car.

Laclair has two such models — a small pedal tractor and a wagon that he got when he was just 3 years old. He had held on to both for all these years and today puts them out in front of his truck whenever he goes to a show.

“It’s amazing that people come along and they’re looking at (them) and say ‘wow, look at that — look how old that thing is,’” he said. “People just like to reflect on things from the past.”

The 4C car club also typically awards pedal cars to winners of the “best in show” category. The award is sponsored by Garrett Motors.

At the last Cotton Days event, the winner was given a pedal car modeled after a vintage police car. The car even featured functional, miniature lights and sirens.

And for some, small wins like the pedal cars have made all the difference. That was the case for one participant, Laclair recalls, who had lost his spouse. The man had been on the fence about attending the car show, but at the last minute decided to go.

He won “best in show,” a title which came with a pedal car. According to Laclair, the man would later tell him that the item brought him so much joy that to this day he still proudly displays it on his kitchen table.

“It did something,” Laclair said. “The (look) on people’s faces when they win (the pedal cars) is something else.”

Car shows were put on a lengthy hiatus due to COVID-19 not long after the club hosted its biggest car show of the year in March.

But in October, the club participated in its first car and bike show in months, hosted along Coolidge Avenue by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3713 in Coolidge and the Pita Patio Grill.

Proceeds from the event went to supporting local veterans.

The show was organized with the help of the Collector Car Club, something Laclair says the group is happy to do.

“Our club is more or less (about) bringing people into the community and getting a little money to help different organizations,” he said.

Beyond helping to organize other shows, the club also tries to give back to the local community when it can — primarily in the form of donations.

Events are funded through sponsorship of local businesses, Laclair noted. But if the club has any leftover monies from membership dues and entry fees after an event, they often will donate those funds to support local organizations.

One year, that came in the form of a donation to the Coolidge High School Marine Corps Junior ROTC program. Another year they donated $500 to Pinal County Disabled American Veterans Chapter 36.

The Collector Car Club, however, is far from the only club of vintage car collectors that make an effort to give back to the community following a car show.

Laclair has attended a December car show in Queen Creek. Known as the Kids Christmas Car Show & Toy Drive, the event collects and gifts toys to underprivileged children.

The drive is typically so successful that there is not enough space in the U-Haul trucks onsite for all the toys that attendees and vintage car owners donate, Laclair said. “This is the kind of generosity you have from people that own these classics. When they know it’s going to a good cause, they open up their pocketbooks.”

Those types of charity events are ones he would like the Coolidge Collector Car Club to emulate as well. Laclair said he is hoping the club will host a similar event in Coolidge in the future. PW