When it comes to car clubs, there is virtue in big. The Minnesota Street Rod Association, for example, needs lots of members to put on the "Back to the 50s" car show that bursts the seams of the State Fairgrounds each June. The show is said to be the largest of its kind in the world. There's also virtue in staying small, however. That's the path the First Fifty Auto Club follows and it still yields our area's first outdoor car show each year. The 39th Annual First Fifty Car Show and Swap Meet, also at the State Fairgrounds, will take place on April 26.

Founded in 1970, First Fifty got its name by limiting membership to the first 50 people who joined and their families. The club is "family oriented," according to longtime member Lon Burris, and members are very much into vintage cars of all makes and years. Burris is a prime example.

A club member for 32 years, he's been involved with classic cars since he was a kid helping his father with a 1924 Oakland, a '39 Buick and other cars. (His dad, now 83, drives a 1964 Chevelle SS.) Currently the owner of a '51 Chevy pickup his kids also drive and a 1949 Chevy convertible, Lon has had a '62 Chevy Nova, a '41 Oldsmobile, a 1955 Cadillac limousine and many other classics. He's also carrying on a family tradition by helping his son build a customized pickup (1985 Chevy S-10 chassis, Chevy small-block V-8, chopped '48 Ford cab) and his brother restore a 1955 Chevy Carryall.

First Fifty holds monthly meetings and events and publishes a newsletter. Members drive to out-of-town shows and to the weekly summer cruise-ins in Anoka, North St. Paul and Hastings. And there's the club's annual show, of course, which charges $5 for swap spaces, spectators and show vehicles. Originally co-sponsored by the local chapter of the Horseless Carriage Club of America and the MSRA, First Fifty has put on the show by itself for decades.

Though the club no longer boasts its full 50-member complement, it does add new blood now and then. Cory Hanscom, who joined six years ago, was one "transfusion." Owner of a customized 1971 Monte Carlo (it has a Chevelle front end and a '59 Chevy dash), he may also drive the oldest car in the club, a 1927 Ford Model T Roadster. Without side windows or a heater, the car draws looks when he takes it on freeways in winter (it has a `57 Chevy V-8). His take is that, "It's just like dressing up to ride on a snowmobile."

For more on the club, call 612-618-5229 or e-mail chanscom@aol.com.