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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 a whole.

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 lawn.

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


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