When Joel Weinberger heads to work in Hinsdale every morning, he could get there in almost any motor vehicle he wanted. So he drives a 2017 Ferrari California T model.
What’s not to like about one of the most revered hunks of automotive metal in the world? It smacks the speed limit even when it’s sitting still. He could sell it to you for about $200,000 because that’s what he and his dad, John, have done at their Continental AutoSports Ferrari dealership for 40-plus years.
But Joel is first a gearhead. He is metaphorically “fuel fed.” So is dad. John Weinberger began automotive life as a skilled grease monkey and Triumph TR2 open cockpit racer. You start out selling Triumphs, and before you know it, the inventory is $300,000 Maseratis and Ferraris.
But the Weinbergers don’t mind motor oil on their hands or gas fumes in their noses. They are auto acolytes who run on petroleum.
Fuelfed, in fact, is exactly the registered trademark that adorns the club Brian Hughes invented 19 years ago in an unofficial race car garage in Chicago. Joel Weinberger is a member, as are 500 other devoted crankheads.
Hughes’ friendly empire has outposts in Winnetka and Barrington and, soon, Hinsdale.
When Fuelfed arrives in downtown Hinsdale on August 20 and October 1 (both Sundays), the street will be filled with elegant old steel and automotive grace on display, all of it built in Europe before 1990. They’re sticklers about that pedigree. The organized “Coffee and Classics” camaraderie and fun runs from 9 to 11 a.m.
“One of the great things about these Sunday events is a positive effect for communities because we’re finding young families that walk over to see the cars, explore, and share with kids,” says Lorraine Hughes. “Fuelfed has become part of the fabric of Winnetka.”
The Sunday gatherings started as an inspiration just to have fun. “I didn’t ask permission of anybody,” Brian says. “But I did the marketing with signs and we went to Winnetka. That first event in 2010 we had 25 cars, and I had thought maybe 10 guys would show up for coffee. Then we did another one the next month, and 80 cars show up. I said to myself ‘holy (bleep).’ Then it just started growing exponentially. I think Fuelfed was one of the real pioneers in Sunday morning car gatherings.”
Drivers aren’t racing for anything but the fun of being together as they do in two dozen similar events spread over the year. They socialize; they commiserate over quirky carburetors; they ooh-and-ahh over a new club member’s 1980 Yugo. That last example might be a slight exaggeration but devotion to these cars is often transcendent.
“You will get two guys standing together talking about brakes. One might own a (Mercedes) Gull Wing and have a collection of 100 cars, and the other might own one old Volkswagen Karmann Ghia,” Hughes says. “They don’t care.”
But they all want to put their cars on the road and feel the wind. In fact, some of the more private club events respect the “let’s-hit-the-road” preference.
One is an annual event called TFD by Hughes. “The Final Drive” launches a 400-mile, two-day test of skill designed to beat the season’s first snow. The club also sponsors romantic couples drives to fine hotels and restaurants.
The MotorGearo 250 is the club’s signature marriage of old-car affection and driving skill. It’s a two-day European-style road rally that lands at Prairie du Chien on the Mississippi River.
Hughes has a private garage with nine cars and, in order not to rile competitive affections, he chose not to say which one he loves most. Wife Lorraine drives a ’75 BMW 2002.
Fuelfed was already a fully formed idea when the two wed in 2004.
“There used to be a modeling company called ‘milk fed.’ But everything I loved was fed by gasoline,” Hughes recalls. “So I invented Fuelfed as a club for those of us who loved old European cars. It was just a bunch of guys who would get together at my garage, bring a cigar and a six-pack and try to find better performance in our cars. Racers are always trying to find an edge … we were all just brothers from a different mother.”
In the intervening years, Fuelfed leaped from underground private club to social movement. Its members span the Chicago region. There’s a satellite branch in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Euro-gearheads in Minneapolis are pressing to join.
“There are more air-cooled Porsches in our club than in the Porsche Club of Chicago,” Hughes says.
And now it’s coming to downtown Hinsdale,
“There are plenty of muscle car shows,” Hughes says. “That’s not us. We are looking for classic European car people who have their hearts in the right place.”
They are autocratically high spirited. Anyone can come and enjoy the parked displays but membership is insistently for aging European buggies. It makes no difference if your ’57 Chevy Bel Air is a perfect robin’s egg blue. No Datsuns, Mustangs, or Corvettes. Detroit? Nope. “We have to be specific because some guy driving an old re truck will show up at one of our events, and I’ll have to tell him ‘sorry’,” Hughes says.
But aside from nurturing beautiful Alphas and BMWs in their elder years, Fuelfed members share one deeper common craving. This is a club for people who love to drive.
That’s a reality that three-year club member Joel Weinberger appreciates. As a 16-year-old, he earned enough to buy his own Honda Civic.
Then he raced against his dad with a 66 Lotus Elan (Fast. Very fast). And then in 2011, he drove an Audi A4 turbo AWD to the touring car Sports Car Club of America national title.
“Dad and I were both enthusiasts before we sold cars,” he says. “That’s why I like Fuelfed. The goal is to drive. The 2017 Ferrari? It’s a nice daily ride. The technology is great, but it really ‘dumbs down’ driving. People in Fuelfed aren’t looking much for ‘trophy queens.’ In my case, they are days when I’d prefer a manual transmission, crank handles to lower the windows and not even a radio. The exhaust note is my radio.”
The old ways, the old cars are in his blood. It’s a common affliction in Fuelfed.
Luckily, some drivers never escape the gasoline in their veins.
For more information about Fuelfed, visit fuelfed.wordpress.com.