Perhaps the greatest benefit of membership in The El Caminos Club of Bakersfield is the aforementioned shop, which is known as the clubhouse. The group had been looking for a yard or a garage to work in when a club member came across a steel barnlike affair and negotiated a rental deal with the owner, also a car enthusiast. The place still needs a lot of improvement, but the members are avid about turning the shell into a haven for their hobby. They'd been in occupancy for about six months when we visited and had begun construction on a two-story suite of rooms in one corner of the clubhouse. The bottom level will house the office, lounge, and reception area. The top area will be a headquarters, where the members will hold meetings in which they discuss past, current, and future events as well as updates on the project cars being worked on. Web cams will be installed around shop and conference room to allow for simulcasts to club chapters around the state. The structure is under 24-hour video surveillance and is set up for network, satellite TV, and cable.
The club's memberships are tiered from the entry-level Bronze, which is $60 per year, up to the Platinum level at $150 per month. Benefits range from an exclusive club T-shirt to paid entry fees for any of the events that the ECCB hosts. At the top Platinum level, the member receives a key to the shop and has exclusive rights to a bay. There are currently four cars in the shop for the year, and their owners are able to do whatever they want, as if it were their own garage.
Members also receive rewards from club sponsors. For instance, the local Kragen Auto Parts provides discounts of 5 to 50 percent, depending upon quarterly sales. Other sponsors include Brock's Trailers, Xpress Lube, Oasis Heating & Air, and Family Motors Auto Group. The club is a state-recognized entity, with a business license, a doing-business-as name, and its own bank accounts.
The club hosts an annual car show, which is open to all makes and models. The event is run on a competition format, so $1,500 to $2,500 in cash prizes is awarded in addition to trophies. "We get between 50 and 60 car entries," Lopez says, "but we're gearing up to host a national 50th anniversary El Camino car show in 2009."
ECCB runs an annual Cruise 4 the Needy in November where they load their El Caminos with bags of groceries, donating them to approximately 20 families as a Thanksgiving gift, and end up at a park for a potluck and a car show.
Louie Gonzalez's phantom blue '69 El Camino (far left, middle row) features ghost flames and a '90 350ci truck engine with a TH350 transmission. It can be found parked in front of Louie's automotive garage on most days. Rudy Maldenado's '82-Corvette-red '59 El Camino with blue-tipped yellow flames took four years to complete. Rudy loves to tell the story of how he turned a rustbucket into a showpiece with a 454ci big-block and a 700-R4 automatic transmission.
The camel-brown '75 El Camino on the left is owned by Ian Perez. It also has a 350/350, but Ian feels the best modification so far is the stereo and DVD with dual 12-inch woofers and 10-inch two-way door speakers. The '74 El Camino Classic 400 on the right is the pride and joy of Richard Lopez, president and founder of The El Caminos Club of Bakersfield. The strip/street gloss-black Elco has been enhanced with '70s-style nostalgia red flames. It is powered by a 330hp '78 four-bolt-main truck engine backed by TH400 transmission with a 2,500-rpm-stall torque converter. Richard loves that he can make a deal on an engine or transmission, load it into the back of the El Camino, and drive off. "Try that with a Camaro," he says.