Alfa male

Promoting the cause; protecting the passion

WHEELSTORIES MICHAEL STAHL

RICHARD McKee isn’t quite sure how many Alfa Romeos he owns right now. “Oh, I’ve got a GTV6, I have a 1973 105 coupe downstairs here in my office, an Alfetta sedan race car that’s for sale, various other ones around the place… Unfortunately, when you live in the sticks and have a lot of space, it’s often more economic to take a whole car than to just buy the radiator.”

What’s certain is that McKee, 59, has several hundred Alfa Romeo owners to take care of.

A home services manager, McKee has been president of the NSW branch of the Alfa Romeo Owners Club of Australia for three years.

McKee bought his first Alfa in 1978. “I bought a 1.8 Alfetta sedan. Before that, I’d had a Morris 1000, a Renault 16TS, a Mazda Capella and a VW Passat. I’d always admired the Alfa marque; I was only recently married and thought it was time to buy one.”

He first joined the club in about 1981, but twice let his membership lapse due to interstate moves rather than a more general trend he’s observed since then. “My view is that, whatever the marque, loyalty is nothing like it used to be. People will buy a car, have a love or hate affair with a particular marque, have something under lease for 3-5 years and then they’ll try something else. It’s a different scenario from 20 years ago.”

AROCA is among the stronger and better established clubs – founded in 1974, it has about 700 members today – and when McKee rejoined 10 years ago, it was with a renewed sense of commitment. He became the club’s secretary, then treasurer, then president, each one a three-year commitment.

“My background was in managing $30-40m businesses – appliance importers – and I’ve always been an organiser. I thought, get involved, contribute, don’t just sit on the fence. If you look at the mix of people on the club’s committee, it’s mind-blowing how many vocations there are, how many interests.

“That’s another difference in recent years.

We have members who have never been to a race track, far less been on a race track. With such a diverse membership, looking for things that will be attractive to a large range of people is a growing challenge.”

As a car club president, what does McKee actually do? Agony aunt for Alfa owners? “I guess it’s about co-ordination, being a conduit for people’s thinking, making sure things happen. It’s not onerous at all; it’s a pleasure to deal with people who have so much passion.

“I did an analysis of the membership about 12 months ago, showing regional and suburban membership. And it demonstrated that we are so widely spread, it needed people in different areas doing things. Historically, we had our club night in one location. And it was failing. So we changed it to different areas around Sydney each month, and different sorts of evenings; tech nights, for instance. We get different groups of people turning up to all of them.”

One of McKee’s biggest concerns is to ensure the future of the club. “It’s a very diverse club and the age ranges are huge; it’s not a bunch of old guys driving classic Alfa Romeos. But we’ve got to have people coming through who are in their 20s.

“Unfortunately, I think because of Alfa Romeo’s lack of models in recent years, and the market being only ‘x’ size, that partly affects our ability to attract members. But lately Alfa Romeo in Australia has been a lot more aggressive in their advertising, getting back to the original theme: the passion.”

Loyalty rewards

CAR club president Richard McKee wonders why car importers don’t get more solidly behind marque clubs. “Think about the brand loyalty schemes that exist in the world today… You won’t get a better endorsement than someone who’s part of a club that has embraced the marque, and who’s probably going to replace their own car with a new one one day.”