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Thursday, February 14, 2019

Auto lovers gather in Manhattan for lunch and laughter, but fortunately no hard sell

The main speaker on Tuesday at Sardi's Restaurant was John Nikas (not "Dikas," as I wrote earlier), author of "Rule Britannia: When British Sports Cars Saved a Nation." Nikas noted the miniskirt was named after Mini Cooper cars of the 1960s.

Members' sense of humor drew me
 to the Madison Avenue Sports Car
 Driving & Chowder Society


NEW YORK, N.Y. -- I've never owned a sports car, British or otherwise, but that didn't stop me from asking to join the Chowderheads.

They describe themselves as "a cheerful gathering of people with one main interest in common -- sports cars and automotive competition" -- and their full name is the Madison Avenue Sports Car Driving & Chowder Society (MASCDCS).

So, my lifelong love affair with auto racing -- from vintage sports cars to Formula 1 -- prompted me to ask a member to sponsor me, and I attended my first luncheon meeting at Sardi's in the heart of the Theater District on Tuesday.

I'm a VP

Upon paying the $50 membership fee, I immediately was elevated to vice president, as explained on the club's website, MASCDCS.ORG:

"The Society had its first meeting March 12th, 1957, with 93 members who, at that time became Members of the Board. Everyone else, since that time, became only Vice Presidents.
"The club is based on three principles:
  1. We have no known purpose.
  2. We have accomplished nothing.
  3. We ain't mad at nobody.

The membership card notes club officials won't assume "liability for any claims, including bar bills, arising from the actions of the holder, ... put up bail for him, or ... even, when in decent company, recognize him on the street.

"Cash value of this card is 1/10 of a cent."

The annual $50 membership fee "permits you to hobnob with lively, witty, charming, famous and talented people -- like yourself" -- and on Tuesday, when I looked around the upstairs dining room at Sardi's, I saw older people like myself, the vast majority of them retired.


Late last year, I was bounced from the International Motor Press Association, a group of auto writers and journalists, as well as public relations professionals, after I called all the free stuff writers accept from carmakers "bribes."

I first joined IMPA in the late 1980s, when I was a business reporter for The Record of Hackensack, covering Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Volvo and other importers based in northern New Jersey and writing monthly road tests of new vehicles.

Unlike most newspapers, IMPA doesn't have an ethics policy, and writers rarely, if ever, acknowledge the free stuff they receive in their upbeat evaluations of new cars, trucks and SUVs.

So, that's how A Girls Guide To Cars can publish a rave review of a Volvo SUV, even though Consumer Reports' readers rated their Volvos unreliable.

In 2015, seven years after I retired, I bought a Tesla Model S and started a third blog, Shocking Car News, which focused on Tesla and the transition to all-electric cars, and rejoined IMPA, which also holds monthly lunches in Manhattan.

No free lunch

Chowderheads pay $50 for their lunch at Sardi's, but Cadillac, Lincoln and Subaru and other companies provide a multi-course buffet lunch, as well as cocktails and wine, free of charge to IMPA members, as well as cater meals during that group's two-day driving event at the Monticello Motor Club. 

Along with fresh fruit and other desserts at IMPA lunches, auto executives extol the virtues of their products or explain why they are making more high-profit SUVs and pickup trucks, and in some cases eliminating sedans altogether, to take advantage of low gas prices.

That fits perfectly with the failure of IMPA and most of its members to acknowledge climate change or how gas- and diesel-powered vehicles aggravate global warming and cause the premature deaths of 58,000 people in the United States every year. 

The caricatures that make Sardi's famous line the walls of the upstairs dining room. 
The caricature of Lily Tomlin, who has us laughing on the Netflix series, "Grace and Frankie." She also may be the only character currently on TV who drives an all-electric car (Nissan Leaf).
My lunch included an entree of Orange Teriyaki Glazed Broiled Salmon with Caramelized Ginger, Sweet Potato Puree, Sauteed Spinach, Sesame Seeds and Sweet Lime Soy Sauce. The fish, cooked medium, was moist and delicious. On the other hand, the appetizer of Homemade Mozzarella and Tomato came with pale, tasteless tomatoes, not the "vine-ripened" slices listed on the menu. A small glass of Cabernet Sauvignon was $11.50, plus tax.
The bonus speaker on Tuesday was Casey Putsch, director and founder of Genius Garage in Ohio, where professional mentors guide college students as they build and then race vintage sports cars. They also are involved in both the aerospace and automotive-design industries.

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