Dave Birchmeier- MHRA History Page 2

MHRA Directors 1965- Dave Birchmeire 2nd from right
Photo Copyright "Showtime-A Twenty Year History"

DAVE BIRCHMEIER INTERVIEW: 3/98 at the Port Huron AutoRama by Mark Brendel

Dave Birchmeier is the former president of the Michigan Hot Rod Association. For over 30 years he has been a key player in Michigan's Hot Rod and Show Car Scene. From as far back as the early cruisin days on Woodward to the present ongoing revival. Dave has played an active role in such Michigan Car shows as the Detroit AutoRama, and Port Huron Autorama which have evolved into not only historical car events but proof of Michigan's love for great cars.

MARK: Well, where did you grow up?

BIRCHMEIER: Well, I was born and raised in Pontiac, Michigan. I graduated from St. Michaels High School in 1955. Growing up, my 2 brother's and I did our best to have alot of fun but it also made my Father's hair fall out.

MARK: What were some of your early car experiences?

BIRCHMEIER: Well the first motorized things I got into were Cushman Motorscooters. I bought a "basket case" motorscooter, with pieces missing, that my father and I put together. We finally figured it out. I had a paper route, saved about 5 dollars a week and I got a brand new Cushman Eagle motorscooter in 1953. I had that for about 2 years.

Then in 1955, I bought my first car. It was a '49 Chevy. It was customised with a hot buck 6 in it, all leaded in. Custom interior, it was my older brother's car. I remember he had bought a brand new Chevy hardtop with a power pack. So I bought his old Chevy. It had Smitty mufflers, duel carbs and cam, and that stuff- and it was pretty quick.

MARK: Now out in Pontiac, in the mid-'50's. Were you one of those Woodward Cruisers?

BIRCHMEIER: Oh you better believe it! As soon as I was able to get my driver's license and start driving. Of course in those days, I had my Father's 4 door '49 Chevy out "Cruisin Woodward" - real cool car (chuckle). Then when I got my own car , the '49 Chevy Club Coupe, my buddies and I would go out cruisin to Ted's Drive-in. Occassional, in those early years, we would go down to the Todem Pole but it wasn't till 1956 when I got a brand new Chevy 2 door hardtop, that I became more serious.

That Chevy was the first car delivered in the Detroit area with a Corvette dual 4 engine in it and I was on Woodward racing every evening. With that car, I learned, real quick, how to rebuild a 3 speed transmission cause I'd tear one up every week. With the the old 6 cylinder-3 speed that they put behind a powerful V8 , it just would'nt hold up.

MARK: How did you finance your evening activities?

BIRCHMEIER: Well in January of '56, I started working as a draftsman in job shop down in Oak Park . I was commuting from Pontiac to Oak Park every day. I was driving the old '49 Chevy and then I finally got the '56. I think it was about $2,250 for that car in 1956 - with that Corvette engine in it. I financed it thru a bank, my payments were long and that was my first experience with a loan. My Father helped me by co-signing the loan.

MARK: Do you bump into people from back then?

BIRCHMEIER: All the time. As a matter of fact, here this weekend at the Port Huron AutoRama Show, I bumped into 3 guys that I was members with in my first car club in Pontiac, back in 1955. They were here at the show. Between here and the Detroit AutoRama, I bump into alot of the old guys from the 50's. Some are still into the cars, some aren't. Alot of guys go back and you haven't seen them for so many years. They walk up and say, "Hey, remember me?" Some times you do and then other times and you kinda go...... "ummm.... Do I know you?!... I think it had something to do with cars". (chuckle) Alot of times you don't recognize them at all because its been 25 years since you've seen them.

MARK: Tell me about the Michigan Hot Rod Association. How did you get involved with them?

BIRCHMEIER: Well ... I guess, we started the Shifters Car Club in 1955, in Pontiac. We had about 35 members. Car clubs were a real big thing in the 50's. After we started the Shifters we wanted our club to join the MHRA. As a member of the Shifters we needed a club representative to attend to the monthly MHRA meetings and somehow I must of put my hand up at the wrong time.(chuckle)

MARK: Or you were absent at that meeting (chuckle)

BIRCHMEIER: The MHRA use to hold their meetings at 6 Mile and Grand River, in the basement of a Police Station.

MARK: How did the MHRA get started? Were they a big organization at that time?

BIRCHMEIER: Oh, yes they were very big. They were formed in 1951 by a bunch of guys who use to race over on the Northwestern Highway . I never went over there, in those days, but they were able to get the city to turn their backs so they could hold Sunday Drag Races. I think it was by the old Hyromatic GM Plant , or something. Finally, the club decided to form an organization.

As the club grew we managed to save some money, build a drag strip and have a car show.That's how the Michigan Hot Rod Association started the 1st Detroit AutoRama. In 1956, after having the show for 4 years, we started raising enough money to build a Drag Strip. We bought property out at 26 Mile Rd off of 94, in New Baltimore, where we built our 1st Drag Strip. We just called it the New Baltimore Drag Strip and it was owned and operated by the Michigan Hot Rod Association. You gotta remember that car clubs were a big, big thing in the 50's and at that time the MHRA had as many as 40 car clubs that belonged to the organization. Each club would be out there, one weekend a month, in the summer.

MARK: You were still acting as a Rep. for the Shifters at the MHRA?

BIRCHMEIER: I was one of the guys, from our club, who would commute from Pontiac to Detroit for the monthly meetings. So I was the official club representative from the Shifters and there were alot of people there. Well in the late 50's, we had the Drag Strip running all the time, we short of cash all the time and we weren't making enough money from AutoRama to fund the strip. So the we decided to issue what we called " assessments". We assessed each member of each club $10 a year. Clubs that said they had 50 members suddenly only had 20 members after we put the assessments out. So they would say,"well, here's our 20 members -$200". We would ask about the other 30 members and get "Welllllll they are part time members", in reply. When we went around with our second assessment, a year later, a lot of the car clubs said " Hell with it", and they dropped out. As the late 50's, early 60's rolled around the car clubs weren't quite as popular and they started fading. A lot of car club members stopped going to the meetings. You had to have a meeting and you had to have a certain amount of members to belong to Michigan Hot Rod Assoc.. You couldn't say, "I'm a car club" and only be 2 guys. So alot of our car clubs fell by the wayside in the 60's. The 7 clubs that remain in the MHRA are all original car clubs from the 50's. Once all the others clubs dropped out, it was put in our bylaws by the 7 clubs remaining that you cannot join the MHRA as a club. If you wanted to join, you have to become a member through one of the original clubs to be a member of the Michigan Hot Rod Association. So that's kinda how its been set up.

MARK: How did you become President of MHRA?

BIRCHMEIER: As you know I was a club rep.of the Shifters attending the MHRA meetings. Then in 1962, Lee Laski who the President of MHRA at the time needed a fill in.Somebody had resigned from the board, the person had to move away because of a job or something . Lee asked me if I would consider filling his term until the next election and I said, "yeah, sure I'll give it a try". So I've been on the board since 1962. In 1972, Lee Lasky took on a new job and he could no longer be President. After Lee stepped down we held an election and I got the job. So I have been in this position for the past 26 years.

I have 1 more year to go, next March is the next election (with 2 year terms). I'll step down, with 27 years in and let some younger blood move in and take it over.

MARK: How long have you been involved with the Port Huron Show?

BIRCHMEIER: Well, I have been involved in it for the whole 25 years. It was my idea to start the Port Huron Show. I lived in Memphis which is about 22 miles from Port Huron, closer than any of the members. The reason we wanted to start a show was because there was a producers asssociation, that was very strong in those days, which had passed rules that barred the Michigan Hot Rod Association from showing their cars in competition at the Detroit Autorama. We were the sponsoring club and sponsoring club were not allowed to show in competition. So the only way you could have a say in the producers association was to join them. The only way to do that was to produce a car show. Promotions Inc. in Detroit had registered that as their show. Little did we know, at that time what that was all about, we were a bunch of amatures. So we had to go out and do a show all ourselves. I suggested Port Huron for Promotions to run a show here in the late 60's and it turned out to be more work than it was worth for them.When they quite running it we took it over in around '72 or '73. Some of the early shows it was called Rodarama and I was helping to run it but in those early years it wasn't sanctioned by ISCA, we didn't have the money. When we did get sactioned and certified and go on the circuit that's when we changed it's name to AutoRama.

MARK: So what are your plans after next year?

BIRCHMEIER: I retire, at the end of this year from General Motors 38 1/2 years. I plan on wintering in Florida . I'll continue to maintain my place in Michigan because all of my kids still live here. I've got so many things lined up that I've wanted to do. Like working on my street rod. In fact, I got another 40's Chevy truck that I want to work on.

MARK: What kind of cars do you own now?

BIRCHMEIER: I have a '48 Chevrolet Convertible, it's a street rod, which is totally apart and being redone. Body work, new paint, new top. It was redone 10 years ago and now I'm doing it again.

MARK: So when you go down to Florida do you have any plans of starting up a car club? (chuckle)

BIRCHMEIER: No!...(chuckle)..........No, I 'm getting little tired. Street Rodding is very big in Florida. There is a lot of activity down there. I picked up a Cruize News for the area, when I was down there last, and there are things going on all over the state. I don't know, I may join a car club or go to some shows. Who knows.

MARK: Will we still see you at the Detroit Autorama or Port Huron Shows?

BIRCHMEIER: As far as the Port Huron show, this is the last one. I'll probably be in Florida during next year's show. I will come back in '99 for the Detroit Autorama at Cobo.



Update 4/2000

Dave continues to be active in Michigan and National Auto Events. Dave provides consulting for Championship Auto Shows, Inc..

At the 1999 Detroit Autorama, Dave was honored at the MHRA Breakfast and received multiple honors and awards in recognition of his 27 + years of MHRS service and contributions to the car show industry. At the brunch, Dave was inducted along with Ed Roth and other notables into the Circle of Champions Hall of Fame .