Thousands of car lovers packed the greens at Glen Annie Golf Club on Sunday for the 2022 Santa Barbara County Auto Expo, where over 300 car owners showed off their vintage, modified, and restored automobiles as part of a fundraiser for the Community Hot Rod Project (communityhotrodproject.com).
Local gearhead Kevin Haeberle is the founder of the all-ages program that aims to “teach youth and the young at heart how to build, restore, fabricate classic cars and off-road race vehicles.”
The idea started last February with a group of about five car enthusiasts looking to keep the car scene flourishing through the next generation. Now with up to 80 members, the group hosts a “Cars and Coffee” meetup every Sunday at Lower Manning Park in Montecito, along with a bi-weekly “Coffee and Classics” gathering on Saturdays at South Coast Church in Goleta.
Haeberle hopes to open a state-of-the-art facility here in town that will be the “epicenter for car culture and learning in Southern California,” which would include an all-ages training program, a museum dedicated to local car history and a space for shows and gatherings.
“We want to connect the community through cars,” he said. The group hosted a smaller car show and tool drive, in April 2021, and decided to expand to the Glen Annie Golf Club for this year’s fundraising event.
Dolores Johnson, founder of the Montecito Motor Classic, met Haeberle through the show she runs each October. When he reached out to her about this event, she said she wanted to help any way she could. “It’s a wonderful project,” she said. “ All the car people support it.”
A couple thousand came out to the event, which was free to the public and featured enough variety to impress car enthusiasts of all generations: vintage hot rods, 70’s era muscle cars, lowriders, and high-horsepower customs sat next to cafe racer motorcycles and WW2 era military vehicles.
Michael Kotowski brought along his “pride and joy”: a 1968 Morris Mini affectionately named “Rosebud” after the name of newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane’s childhood sleigh in the Orson Welles classic Citizen Kane. “It’s the only thing I ever wanted,” Kotowski said of his candy red classic Mini.
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He bought the car as a pet project, saying that when he first brought it home twelve years ago it was in “terrible” condition. Since then, he’s put in countless hours of work and thousands of dollars to turn it into his dream rally car.
Like many other gearheads, Kotowski was introduced to car culture by his father. It’s a timeless tradition, he said, passed on from father to son as a way to spend time together and connect over shared interests.
But it’s no longer just a boys’ club. Christina Jimenez, founder of Instagram account and podcast @MsMotorhead, brought her souped-up 2005 Subaru Legacy GT Wagon to the show, and shared her experiences navigating a heavily male-focused industry. She is part of a few local car clubs and recently started her own clothing line, Lanedrifters Apparel (lanedrifters.com).
“We wanted to bring more women out,” Jimenez told The Independent. “A lot of them can be intimidated.” Through her podcast — which features women race car drivers, mechanics, and designers — she hopes to continue fostering a “lady-driven” movement that can be passed onto the next generation of women in the car scene.
Nineteen-year-old Alma Garcia is part of that next generation of car girls. She found her 1990 Nissan 300zx at an impound lot, teaching herself the ins-and-outs of auto repair the way most teenagers learn new things: through YouTube tutorials. “Surprisingly, there’s a lot of women who are into cars,” she said.
She says that women often have to fight to earn respect at car meets and track days, where some men still expect her car to belong to a brother or a boyfriend. “Even if I’m wearing a racing suit and a helmet,” she said. “We just want to feel comfortable. It used to bother me more.”
Garcia is more comfortable and confident around the car shows now, and says she enjoys sharing her knowledge with others who are just dipping their toes into the car game.
For more information on the Community Hot Rod Project, visit thecommunityhotrodproject.com.