It was around 5 years ago to the day like most who reach that point in time where they are in the market for a new car. Everyone has their own personal preference to what excites them more. Would it be a hot hatch? Something more practical and for comfort? Or just a generic car that will get them from A to B.
I had reached that moment after a few years of playing it safe with the old no claims and keeping squeaky clean. It was time that I needed something to really kick in the adrenaline to make driving more fun and enjoyable.
Sticking with the hatchback theme, at the time I was owning a Ford Ka Grand Prix edition. Only thing Grand Prix about it was the look, but there was nothing to showboat in terms of performance. Rocking the same backbone as a Fiat 500, this car was still pushing out a measly 69BHP no similar to a standard Ka. It was at this point I had to move on after having my fill of the lack of power and personality on the road.
Working my way through the various car manufactures out there within the hatchback family, nothing really stood out to me where I could see myself enjoying owning it. I passed Ford, Mini, Suzuki, VW etc at the time what was on the market, it was either far too expensive or lacked that special something when you just know it’s for you.
My last point of interest took me to an Abarth dealership in Newcastle. The Abarth brand itself was on my list to check out but at the back of my mind I assumed like the many other dealerships I attended during this time, it was going to be another one to strike off with disappointment due to being outpriced. A quick test drive later and soon as I heard that stock 500 exhaust, which at the time for me was the game changer after having something so box standard on the Ka, I knew I had to have this. Little did I know by signing that dotted line for an Abarth 500 was going to do for me over the next 5 years.
That first week of ownership was an absolute joy. Spending more time out of the house looking for any excuse to give it a blast across the North East coastline. The head turning alone from an Abarth 500 was just scratching the surface of what I would have during my involvement with this special brand.
Following this, it wasn’t long before I worked my way through the usual social media channels looking to see if there was an owners club within the region. To my luck there was and I awaited no hesitation in joining it. The club was small, mixed alongside various models within the Fiat/Abarth family which was fine for now. Sadly, it wasn’t long before pushing ideas and suggestions to make it better would somewhat come across wrong and treading on toes. From my point of view I could see the potential where it could go to, but with being relatively new to the gig. It seemed like I was being kept in my lane. Although I didn’t agree with it, I respected those decisions and would bide my time to give good reasons why there could be more done to it for the better of everyone involved.
The club at the time would arrange a breakfast meet at GMD in Durham to check out the latest models. Flash forward a few months (5 to be exact, there’s a theme here), there was an opportunity to upgrade in model to purchase a new 595 Competizione. Our involvement with GMD at the time was great giving a new dynamic in a club to dealer friendship making it that more personal walking through the door. It seemed to be going that fast, the younger me looking back may have rushed into it. You may do things differently looking back in hindsight but I suppose with not going for it probably wouldn’t put me in this position where I’m at now doing what I do.
Now I was the proud owner of the Comp model. With even more smiles to the gallon I felt I had finally owned that dream car you always wanted to own. It had everything! The style, the sound and all the added extras featuring that all black stealth look with the yellow accents featuring the big Brembo brakes. Any car nut just by looking at it would know it could shift no problem.
Not long after this, my involvement within the club would come to an end. My passion was dragging me elsewhere after growing tired of nothing being done internally. The huge lack of structure and organisation made it a waste of time after all ideas put forward were hitting a brick wall. Rather than fight that losing battle going up against it on my own. I decided to wash my hands with it and venture back into the mixed car meets across the North East. It would be here where I would start to get to know a lot of local businesses who to this day are still helping me whenever I need assistance or to purchase something.
I’ve found by being involved in the car scene, whether it’s with an owners club or attending the mixed events with other collective groups. There is a split in who you get on with really well and those who you wouldn’t give the time of day to. That’s just my personal experience. I spent this time doing my own thing and getting the chance to see the ideas I had previously being put into practice similarly elsewhere. It would be here when I knew with the help of other enthusiastic Abarth owners locally, we could actually make something of it.
The club at the time was dying a slow death. Barely anything being posted with very little traffic. No events and nothing to look forward to with the up and coming show season of 2017. There was a few of us who had enough. So, we decided to form our own under the name of North East Abarth. It would be here within the first few days of creating it we would receive the buzz from a lot of owners who by the same token wanted this from the beginning. Many of the old club staff had moved on to other car brands and left the previous one in a right state to do anything with it. As of now, we had something fresh that everyone could get involved with without egos or restrictions.
It was proof of this with our first event being held at our most central point – Herrington Park in Sunderland. Over 30 Abarth’s had turned up for this on a scorching hot day showcasing some fantastic cars within the series. One after another continued to turn up to the meet barely even 3 weeks into starting the new club. It was brilliant to see knowing that the most that had turned up previously in the old club wasn’t even in double figures. The staff at the end of this knew we had struck gold here and it would be worth pushing as much as we could. We didn’t know what we were letting ourselves into and what treasures we would encounter as the months would fly by.
Like anything with growth, you need to recruit people to help out and be part of a team looking to take it further. I don’t think I’d be in this position today without the support of those who I’d consider more than just fellow owners. A friendship built on the strong love for a particular car brand. Who would have thought it? Our staff numbers would have more join it sharing the same vision making it that more enjoyable and being able to delegate various tasks that those involved could make a real go of it.
A very successful 2018 would see a large number of local businesses wanting to work with us knowing what we could bring to the table. We had the chance to see the unveiling of some special edition Abarth’s fresh out of the factory at Richard Hardie as well as a few dyno days held at another club sponsor in BTG Performance. After another amazing show season, it was during this year where things would change for the better. The club was provided the opportunity to be officially affiliated with Abarth themselves in an owners club recognition stretching across the world. This was big! Knowing that you don’t get this with other brands, it was a chance to really show what we could do while receiving the backing of the UK team and also HQ based in Italy. We may be tucked up away at the top of the country. But this was a chance to show why we could be at the top for another reason. Knowing there would be a lot of hard work to achieve this, I had no doubt the team around me and its growing number of new and current owners pushing for this. It was in its best interests to rename as Abarth Club North East.
My time at the end of the show season would change a lot on a personal level. It may be just a hobby to anyone else but I’ve found since being involved with it all it has been the key (alongside my Son) to find something that can keep you happy in a positive mental state of mind. My personal circumstances would change and as a result would see that time come where those in this position would have to begin to sell their parts and other modifications with other priorities coming into play. As a result, my energy for this had more or less been wiped out. It wasn’t the same car, despite still getting all the sweet comments it just wasn’t what I had previously. I had begun to question if this was the end of my time and to fall back within the rat race of owning a boring A to B.
Flash forward into 2019 and despite my personal feelings. We went into this wondering have we reached our peak and would just continue to attend shows within our calendar. The beauty of the team is we don’t stand still. We all do our research keeping our fingers on the pulse as much as we can. A far cry from what was being done in the old group. We all knew we could get something great out of this, not just for ourselves but for everyone involved to continue to attend and have fun each time they sit behind the wheel of the car. For me I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was fortunate to be able to own a 3rd Abarth dealt brilliantly by Tony Symonds at Richard Hardie. Because of how flawless the purchase of a new 595 Trofeo was it managed to reignite the passion and to continuing doing what I love. It gave me the chance to get back into it and push it more than I have done previously.
With our growing presence the club was beginning to get more eyes on it. So much so we had the privilege of speaking to a charity under the name of JPC Community Farm at the Newby Hall event. The seed was planted following on from the large turnout for this to allow us to get involved with the charity and how we could support it. From here, we were given a club stand at the annual charity event at Wynyard Hall where there was a large array of supercars on show. We got to see first-hand for all the families involved with the charity a chance to break away from the day to day challenges and to give those a day to remember. For me it was another reason why I do this. My aim as always been to help others where I can and to receive it back to me goes a long way. I’m always thankful for this so I know by having the club support the charity by giving back where we could, it was very much worth doing so.
The end of the show calendar for the year would really show how far we have come in such a short space of time. We were able to receive a special 124 Rally Tribute courtesy of Abarth UK for a first event up our way with Auto Italia. This was a real coup for the club to have in order for us to build our ongoing relationship with the brand itself. Other major point which even now I’m kicking myself that I couldn’t attend it. Nevertheless the fact our staff and some of the club members were able to make their way across Europe to the Abarth Days event in Milan really made me take a step back and realise what we have achieved. From the first meet in Herrington Park, everything in between and now this. To see our name on banners provided by Abarth was all worth the long hours not just me, but the team alongside me put into it. It is a testament to all of those involved who have made the club what it is. Even with my own vision shared by others, I still wouldn’t have thought something like this could be possible.
As I mentioned previously, we don’t stop. What could we do more? – The success of Milan brought forward an idea to take the club into a new direction. We had aimed to have a long break over the winter to give us time to reflect on what we had done in the year and even more so for me personally. Following a lot of research and discussion, it was agreed we would take our clubs journey into a paid membership package for our members who have been at the central part of what we do to give them something more. Believe me, we had butted heads along this process deciding what to do and what to avoid. End of the day we know there’s a large amount of Abarth enthusiasts within the club who share the passion and want to be part of it.
With the package being totally non-profit, it would see me and the team work continuously around the clock with every spare minute used to make it work. It may go unnoticed and at the same time I would never expect any recognition for it because it’s something I enjoy doing. But an extreme amount of my personal time daily is put into this. It would never be about self-gain. For me, I get more of a buzz when I get to share it with everyone else and see whether it’s at an event or similar that people love being part of it.
We were able to have everyone muck in and get the package put together to host a load of well-known and trusted businesses provide discounts to save a lot of money over the year.
The club membership seems to have split the country into two causing a lot of debate about the idea. My view on this is that I’m only interested in what we do and how our club progresses. It seems to work brilliantly for the vast amount of affiliated Abarth Club’s across the world so why wouldn’t it work here? It was a decision I feel will take the club into new ground and I will continue to put my all into this to make it work.
So, 5 years later and here we are. Quite the journey to say the least and I have no doubt I’ll be moving on to my 4th Abarth at some stage in the future. Although it has been a rollercoaster during this time with a lot of bumps in the road. But that’s what has driven me to do better and at this stage right now. I couldn’t be more excited working with a cracking team of friends who will do all they can to make Abarth Club North East one of the best clubs it has to offer.
Plenty more to come!