HISTORY OF THE ASSOCIATION OF HANDCRAFTED
During the late 1970's, there were several
different "Kit Car" designs available and it appeared
that automotive hobbyists were beginning to take notice.
Here in Southern California, there were numerous small
groups of enthusiasts - owner/builders meeting at various
locations, sometimes at garages and repair shops, friend’s
homes, or at the local pizza parlor.
Ed Russell had several friends with Bugatti’s
and they called themselves BRAG - Bugatti Replica Auto
Group. George Evans operated a Sterling shop and thus
had various customer Sterlings around as well as other
types of kits. Ed and George worked within shouting
distance of each other and the Sterling Club of Southern
California, Long Beach/Orange County Chapter, used George’s
place for meetings. Ed and George became friends and
they suggested to their respective groups the benefits
of combining clubs and inviting all the other folks
with "Kit Cars" to join. They reasoned it would be more
fun and also could be beneficial to the industry as
This historic meeting took place at Jim
Hightower's business in Signal Hill during November
1979. Ed Russell, Norm Silvers, Jim Hightower and other
Bugatti owners came in full force as did George Evans,
Ed Spittles, and Ralph McBee from the Sterling and Kelmark
Clubs. There were around 50 to 60 people in attendance
and on this day they chose the name, drew up a charter
of sorts and a set of By-Laws and voted on who would
be the first Board of Directors. There was a chairman
and six voting members. Everyone concurred that the
club name should not have the words "Kit Car" in it,
as there was an undesirable connotation to this term.
People even today still have that attitude about "Kit
Cars". But, back to 1979, the members decided that they
wanted an association and as these types of cars are
handcrafted, it was unanimously decided to call the
club: The Association Of Handcrafted Automobiles.
The first official club outing for the
newly formed group, now known as the AHA for short,
was in March 1980. By now Phil Cowan's Kelmark Club
was a part of the AHA and the membership grew steadily.
This first outing was a "Gimmick Rallye". They started
at the Queen Mary in Long Beach, wound their way through
San Pedro, Palos Verdes Estates and Wilmington, and
ended at the Harbor College campus for a picnic on the
In the early spring of 1980, Ed and Ellie
Russell approached the folks at Knott's Berry Farm and
asked if it would be possible for the AHA to hold a
car show there in the park. After some thought, Mrs.
Marian Knott gave her approval and the first show was
held in May 1980. In those early days the members had
to hustle. They had to do everything from making all
the arrangements for the show, hustling up a few extra
donations here and there, selling entrance tickets to
Knott's and also kept calling everybody they could think
of to bring their cars out for a two day display. It
took a lot of hard work and dedication to the cause.
This was how it was done for a couple of years and then
in 1983, the first manufacturers were invited to participate
and now we could not have the show without the manufacturers.
These are the people who need to show their new cars
off to the general public to generate sales. As with
all projects, it has been found that a good sound relationship
between manufacturer and the owner/builder has been
beneficial to both parties. Thus from humble beginnings
a major show has developed for the "Kit Car" industry
and the enthusiasts.
In the late 1970's and early 1980's,
the most frequently seen cars were Sterlings, Bugatti’s,
Kelmarks, Mantas, Tigers, Fraser Nash, SSK's, Alpha
Romeo's, Porsche Speedsters, Bentleys (Moss Jephcott
totally designed and hand built one), MG-TD's, Talons,
Aquila and even a VEEP. A lot of these older models
are still around, but as with everything else, modern
technology has improved the quality and manufacturing
techniques of our cars.
History is constantly in the making and
with a bit of luck the AHA will be around for a long
time. Our Fun Under the Sun Specialty Car Show is the
longest running show of its type not only in the U.S.A. but also in the World. It started
in 1980 and is still going strong.
Original A.H.A. Logo