By William Hall. Photos by the author.
For a lot of folks, retirement looks like a lazy fishing hole or an endless round of golf. But a group of gearheads in Sun City West, Arizona, couldn’t imagine their golden years without wrenching on their rides. The planned retirement community has become the first in the nation to build an automotive restoration facility for its residents, and the idea is swiftly becoming the model for other communities around the country.
The shop is called the ARC – short for the Automotive/Restoration Club – and is just one of the many special interest clubs that exist at the Sun City West Recreation Center. In fact, so many clubs previously existed there that a halt was put to further expansion. Enter resident Herb Clark, a member of the Metal Club, who was seeing an increase in automotive projects coming through their fabrication shop. He proposed a separate automotive club, and started a petition to gauge interest. The response exceeded expectations. He took the results to SCW General Manager Mike Whitting, who recognized the unique opportunity it presented despite the moratorium on further development. A deal was struck: The facility would be allowed if the needed funds could be raised among the club members. The challenge began.
In the first 18 months, what was initially a club of 75 swelled to more than 350 members. Interest started coming from other retirees relocating from around the country, and a number of creative fundraisers popped up. Naming rights and commemorative bricks were sold. Fundraising breakfasts were held. A Corvette was donated for a raffle prize. The community came together. By December 2014, enough funds had been gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony.
Continued hard work culminated in a grand opening ceremony of the completed facility last month, attracting an estimated 2,000 onlookers and some 200 classic cars. Industry luminaries such as Wade Kawasaki from Coker Tire, David Madeira from America’s Car Museum and Wayne Carini from Chasing Classic Cars made opening remarks before an oldies rock band took the stage and played to an enthusiastic sock-hop themed crowd.
The 6,000-square-foot John S. Chaney Restoration Center – named for one of the clubs’ early and most enthusiastic members – represents only the first phase in the popular new development. There are plans for another building with two paint booths and an addition to the Chaney Center which will feature a showroom display area for members’ cars.
The impact of the club reaches beyond its membership and extends to the whole community. A sub-group of the club, called the “ARC Angels,” focus on philanthropic and neighborly acts. They assist SCW residents in everything from cleaning out garages and advising on car values to steering residents to reputable auto repair shops to ensure they don’t get taken advantage of. They’ve also taken a special interest in the Make-A-Wish charity, specifically a local young man afflicted with cancer named Zane Childress. The ARC Angels made Zane an honorary member of ARC and restored his 1972 Chevy Pickup while he underwent treatment, with the reveal coming at the Barrett-Jackson Auction in 2014.
Lest you think ARC is just about tinkering on cars, think again. In addition to regular car shows, cruise nights and tours, the club fields five cars in The Great Race, the annual cross-country rally open to pre-1972 cars and trucks. This year ARC members will enter a 1930 Model A Speedster, a 1951 GMC Pickup, a 1939 Buick Roadster, a 1960 Ford Fairlane, and in the X-Cup Category a 1967 Mercury Cougar in conjunction with students from Dysart High School. The club also prides itself on its diversity: 120 of the 600 current members are female, and they are active participants in producing a monthly newsletter and organizing social events.
If this sounds like the way you’d like to spend your retirement, you’re not alone. ARC has been inundated with requests from surrounding areas to be part of the fun. Unfortunately, the club is only open to residents of Sun City West, and the minimum entry age is 55. In this retirement community and a growing number of others, the classic car hobby is alive and well, providing a vibrant social network around the common love of restoring and driving old cars.
William Hall is a writer, car collector and classic car broker based in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.