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Tucker club merges with AACA Museum; “Clubs are not what they used to be”

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Tucker gallery at the AACA Museum. Photos by the author, unless otherwise noted.

With just a fraction of its peak membership and dwindling engagement, The Tucker Automobile Club of America has reached an existential moment; the official partnership it announced this week with the AACA Museum proposes not only to save the club but also to serve as a prototype for other car clubs nearing their own ends.

“The Tucker club was founded to do a few specific things, which I believe they’ve accomplished, and has since invented things to do to remain relevant,” said Eric Breslow, president of the club. “So the club as a standalone 501(c)3 will end, but as an entity it won’t.”

According to Breslow, club membership is well down from its peak of around 600 shortly after the release of the 1988 film “Tucker: The Man and His Dream.” And with fewer members comes fewer resources. As he pointed out in a Facebook post to club members earlier this year soliciting feedback about the then-proposed partnership:

The TACA depends on the work of its dedicated volunteers, who coordinate membership, produce the Tucker Topics newsletter and plan our conventions. While they do great work, they face many challenges and our club is not able to provide them with much in the way of infrastructure or back-of-house support.

The sad reality is that in this technology-driven environment, the costs of operating our club outnumber the proceeds we bring in from our membership dues.

With the goals set out by club founders David Cammack and Richard Jones – tracking down all of the Tucker cars, documenting the complete history of Tucker, and ensuring the Tucker legacy in large part through the film – completed, Breslow said he had no intention of seeing the club go bankrupt once he took over as president last year.

“The stories have been told and retold,” he said. “The club would come to its end eventually unless something bold happened.”

For that reason, he began a search for a partner that would help keep the club going. While the AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania, was one of multiple entities the club’s board of directors explored partnerships with, Breslow said it made the most sense to partner with the museum, largely because it already hosted the world’s largest collection of Tuckers and Tucker memorabilia.

“The history of Tucker was with David Cammack,” Breslow said. “We have a nice archive, but Dave had the complete history, he really had the keys to the kingdom of Tucker. And with his collection now at the AACA Museum, if the club were to go on separately, it’d be like having a body buried in one place and the headstone somewhere else.”

In the press release announcing the merger, Breslow noted that the partnership “gives the TACA a much larger, long-term platform to accurately share one of the greatest stories in automotive history.”

Over a series of conversations dating back to last fall, the boards of directors for both the Tucker club and the museum have hammered out the terms of the partnership. According to Jeff Bliemeister, executive director for the AACA Museum, the museum will essentially absorb the club, serve as its headquarters, and assist with publication of the club’s newsletter and with organization of club activities. The partnership also includes installing a club representative on the museum’s board and forming a working committee within the museum dedicated to everything Tucker related.

Photo by Stan Sipko.

“They will still have some autonomy; in a way, we already do something similar with the bus museum,” Bliemeister said. “Essentially, we’ll carry on their tradition and help further their goals.”

In exchange, the club will combine its archives and memorabilia with the Cammack collection and throw its support behind the museum.

“It’s a big relaunch of the club for us,” Breslow said. “It gives the club long-term direction.”

Breslow and Bliemeister said their respective boards both see the partnership as a natural fit.

Bliemeister also said he and other museum officials would like to form similar partnerships with other car clubs as they find themselves in similar positions to the Tucker club.

“The possibility is there; we’re open to any kind of partnership moving forward,” he said. “Standalone clubs are dying, so we as a public museum want to do whatever we can to help out the hobby as a whole. And for us to house other marque clubs, that’s how we’re going to grow as a museum.”

Breslow echoed Bliemeister’s assessment of the car club scene as a whole. “In my opinion, the car club model of the Seventies is dead and not coming back,” he said. “Clubs are not what they used to be. The next generation is not interested in joining old-school car clubs.”

The partnership will take effect January 1.