A Visit with the Madison Avenue Sports Car Driving and Chowder Society

by

11/18/2008

Sardi’s, 234 W 44th St, 10036

Neighborhood: Midtown

Shortly after noon on October 7, a Harpo Marx horn was blown four times and the monthly Madison Avenue Sports Car Driving and Chowder Society meeting came to order.

Founded in 1957 by CBS Radio executive Art Peck and advertising executive King Moore to generate media for car enthusiasts, the Society meets monthly to talk auto shop. Original members included Walter Cronkite and Vince Sardi Jr. whose family restaurant still serves as home to the “Chowderheads.”

Outside Sardi’s, nestled behind velvet ropes, sat two Reeves Callaway C16 Corvettes retrofitted with a 650bhp supercharged 6.2 l V8, a top speed of 206 mph, and a 0-60 time of 3.2 seconds. A handler continually wiped down the Uber-Vettes with a dry rag as passersby snapped cell phone pics, asked questions about the cost (starting somewhere around $175,000) and offered critiques such as, “Yo, I heard driving that thing is as good as sex.”

Inside Sardi’s, wine flowed and car talk followed. A natty member enviously shared the details of his teenage neighbor who pimped his Prius with racing flames and 22-inch wheels. The average age of club members seems to be in the mid-60s, but it’s a youthful group, if car-print novelty ties are an indicator. Top Chowderhead Bruce Wennerstrom brought the room to life by acknowledging the fiscal wreckage a few miles down the road. “What’s the difference between a pigeon and a hedge fund manager?” “A pigeon can still make a deposit on a Ferrari.”

Bruce and wife Genia founded and run the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance, Connecticut’s premiere showcase for classic and collectible automobiles. They became co-directors of the Society in 1996 and are actively recruiting younger members to keep the club alive. In attendance was relative newcomer Bradley Farrell, a heavily inked Ferrari nut who used to own the High Rollers Tattoo parlor on Long Island and was now deep in negotiations to sell eCirkit, a “web-top” social networking company he’d started, to a Spanish tech outfit.

After Wennerstrom told the saga of his failures as pit crew chief in his grandson’s soapbox derby race, legendary racecar driver John Fitch spoke. Fitch, 91, wistfully shared a few words on the state of car crashes gone by, hedged on whether he’d try once more to break the Bonneville Salt Flat class record in a 1955 Mercedes-Benz as he had in 2005, and roused the club to support his ongoing battle with the Nutmeg State over some underground fuel tanks he’d installed in his home long ago. “A fund has been set up to help John in his fight,” said Wennerstrom.

The last speaker was guest-of-honor Reeves Callaway. He took the club through his early days building engines in his Old Lyme garage through the California factory that produces the C16. Callaway wouldn’t give any details on the C17, but he assured the Society that they will be amazed how “today’s troubles” will be alleviated by the technology coming in electric cars. He proudly noted that the models grabbing attention on 44th St. get 31 mpg at 70mph.

Wennerstrom wrapped it up with an invitation to a weekend open house at Callaway’s original Connecticut plant, and the promise of a day letting it fly at the Monticello Motor Coach track. The meeting adjourned at 2:15.

Although chowder was not officially on the menu, the Fall Vegetable Cream Soup appetizer was a club favorite.

 

Raised in Billings, Montana, Patrick Sauer now lives in Greenwich Village. A senior editor at www.TheDailyTube.com and a contributing editor at Inc., Sauer has also written for Fast Company, City, Details, Desert Living, Success, Essence, Time Out New York, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood and Smith. He is the author of Court TV Presents: You Be the Judge and the Complete Idiot’s Guide to the American Presidents.

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