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One big happy BMW family

There are all sorts of car clubs. Some are simply social organizations, in which members get together for meals or informal meetings, and essentially use their car of choice as a conversation starter.

Others have a more technical bent. They focus on speakers or presentations that help the members with mechanical problems or aesthetic issues of a particular make or model.

Some are centered around car shows, and still others around rallies, races or cross-country excursions.

Russ Garvey said one reason his particular car club is one of the largest in the area _ it has about 1,000 members _ is that it combines aspects of all those kinds of clubs.

Garvey can certainly rule out a catchy name as a key reason the club is so popular. It's called the Florida Suncoast Chapter of the BMW Car Club of America. Even the acronym is long and unwieldy.

The comprehensive nature of the club is undoubtedly a big reason why it appeals to so many people. But a more basic factor is the BMW itself.

The BMW is enormously popular, which obviously increases the pool of potential FSCBMWCCA members. But it has also managed to maintain a sort of mystique as an elite car, which helps engender the kind of loyalty and enthusiasm that encourages car owners to join clubs.

"BMW is the largest independently owned car company in the world," Garvey said. "It's still family owned. And they're instantly recognizable cars. You can always recognize a BMW when it comes down the street. So BMWs have been able to maintain their cachet at the same time that they've flooded the market."

There's one other major factor that goes into the club's success, and it's one that few other car clubs can claim. Members get 10 percent discounts on BMW parts from dealerships. And when they buy a new BMW, or a used one from an authorized dealer, they get a $500 rebate.

Members also get a local newsletter and the national club's magazine, widely considered one of the best of its kind.

It costs only $35 a year to join the club.

Members don't have to own BMWs, Garvey said. It's not uncommon for people who are considering purchasing a BMW to join the club to get the $500 rebate.

Technically, the Suncoast chapter covers West Central Florida, from around Gainesville to Fort Myers. But for all practical purposes, it is really a Tampa Bay area chapter, Garvey said. Virtually all the club's active members are in this area, the monthly meetings are always in Hillsborough or Pinellas County, and most activities are centered around here.

Monthly meetings are held at Logan's Roadhouse or Lee Roy Selmon's in Hillsborough, or Quaker Steak and Lube in Pinellas, and generally feature a guest speaker. The dinner presentations will center around a topic that's car-related but not overly; the latest in designer wheels was the subject at this month's meeting.

The club also organizes excursions, usually day trips to places like the Kennedy Space Center or the Ted Williams Museum & Hitters Hall of Fame in Citrus County.

Members recently visited Bob, a horse that belongs to the club's favorite charity.

FSCBMWCCA supports the Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy, which allows disabled youngsters to ride and interact with horses. The BMW Club has "adopted" Bob, and helps pays for his care and feeding.

"He's our one-horsepower BMW," Garvey said.

The club also offers plenty for BMW owners who want to get more intimately involved with owning and driving their cars. Regular events include actual races on professional tracks, autocrosses, and visits to BMW mechanics, who demonstrate specific repairs.

One of the most important activities, though, is the Street Survivors program, which offers advanced driving training for young people.

Through Street Survivors, teenage drivers are encouraged, on a closed course, to explore the capabilities and limitations of a car's performance and handling. The goal is safer roads for the students and the rest of us.

"We believe that if you take a kid who's just learning to drive and teach him how to drive a car the way it should be driven, he's going to be a better driver and have fewer accidents," Garvey said.

For information about club membership, contact Garvey at Garvjudeaol.com. More information will be available soon at fscbmwcca.com, but the site is temporarily down for repairs.

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