From The New York Times: Where Gay Collectors Come Out of the Garage By DAVE CALDWELL Published: September 2, 2005 JOHN MULLER drives a United Parcel Service truck for a living and collects cars for fun. He rhapsodizes about his baby: a black 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham. Only 200 were built, by hand, in Italy. He would love to add another to his 15-car collection. Skip to next paragraph Enlarge This Image Robin Nelson for The New York Times PROUD OWNER John Muller with part of his vintage car collection. He is the president of Lambda Car Club International. Mr. Muller, 44, who lives in the suburbs of Atlanta, does much of his rhapsodizing at meetings of his car club, of which he is president. There is nothing particularly unusual in any of this, except for one thing - Mr. Muller's club is for automobile enthusiasts who are gay. Lambda Car Club International is the largest organization by and for gay and lesbian automobile collectors, with 2,000 members in two dozen chapters across the United States as well as one in Toronto. And it is growing at a rate of 4 or 5 percent annually. In a world where various kinds of car clubs are proliferating, Lambda holds a special place, culturally and aesthetically. Or, as Doug Buhrer of Columbus, Ohio, a Lambda member for 20 years, put it: "We're not all expressly into Broadway show tunes." Not surprisingly, Lambda has a different dynamic than more traditional car clubs to which Lambda members belong, or used to belong. "You did have the same interest, but you didn't feel like you could really open up," Mr. Muller said of being in a mainstream club. "You didn't feel like you could joke with people about your own life." David Kycia, 42, a Lambda member in Southport, Conn., said that with mainstream car shows, "if I were to go with my partner, we'd be looked at in a negative way." He added, "The friendships I've made keep me in the Lambda car club." Beyond the social differences in Lambda and mainstream clubs, there are also differences in what is considered beautiful or worthy in a car. "The straight men tend more to like the muscle cars, and when they start the engine at a show, they'll all run over to it," said William Hicks, 59, a resident of West Chester, Pa., who was Lambda's president for 10 years. "We'll race over to a car that's a beautiful pink or amethyst, and we'll all say, 'Look at that brocade.' " Mr. Muller said that Lambda members tended to collect luxury cars and so-called orphan cars - automobiles that are no longer manufactured, like Ramblers and Packards. General collectors acquire those cars, too, but in lower percentages. "We're just lighter into the cars that are more popular in the mainstream clubs - Corvettes and Mustangs and '57 Chevys," Mr. Muller said. Lambda collectors are especially enthusiastic about luxury cars, particularly those that are loaded with options, like early models with automatic windows. The club even has a nickname for a luxury car that is heavily accessorized: P.P.A., short for Power-Princess Approved. Often, luxury cars are nicknamed - one member's 1964 Lincoln was called Jackie O - and many are adorned for a show with accessories like mink stoles and jewelry. One of Mr. Muller's cars may be emblematic of the entire emphasis of the club: a 1954 Chrysler Imperial, which is not only P.P.A. but is also painted a robin's-egg blue. Some people don't like it, but Mr. Muller has won prizes at mainstream Chrysler shows for it. "On a car that size, the color really stands out," he said. Mr. Muller does not want to speculate about exactly why luxury cars are more popular in Lambda; it is just the way it is. Awards are handed out at Lambda shows as they are at mainstream shows, but there is a notable difference in the judging. At mainstream shows, judges tend to inspect a car meticulously, noting its assets and flaws on a clipboard, with points added or deducted. Lambda shows do not use points judging. Everyone has one vote. The car with the most votes wins. Although auto enthusiasts do not have to be gay (or even own a car) to join Lambda, a few Lambda members have dressed in drag to camp up the elegance of their classic cars. But that, Mr. Muller said, is not why most members go to gatherings. Something primal beckons: a passion for cars that they did not think other gay people had. That is one reason why John Ball, now 70, began in 1981 what was called the Gay Old Car Owners, a group that eventually became Lambda. Mr. Ball, a Buick devotee, said he was mostly looking for a boyfriend, but he also wanted gay men to have a place where they could talk about cars. Mr. Ball put an advertisement in Hemmings Motor News, the periodical for car collectors. About 25 men gathered at the first meeting in February 1982, at what Mr. Ball, with a laugh, called "a sleazebag gay hotel" in Atlantic City. Mr. Ball said Hemmings had to stop the ad because there was a lot of negative reaction, but the club had momentum. It met three more times in 1982. Word spread. More people joined. "You don't have to muffle yourself," Mr. Ball said from his home in Huntsdale, Pa. "You can sit around at a show and look at cars, but if a cute-looking guy comes along, you can look at him, too." Club events became meeting places, longtime Lambda members say, but car talk ruled. Even now, those who regard the meetings simply as movable gay mixers usually drop out quickly. "The only ones who remain members are those who have an abiding interest in cars," Mr. Buhrer said. Mr. Ball originally intended the club to be just for automobile collectors, but Lambda gradually expanded to include enthusiasts who collect miniature cars, car parts and automobile literature like brochures. Mr. Hicks was a car collector who found out about Lambda from a straight couple who had a gay friend. Before that, he had belonged to a mainstream car club. "It was kind of a lonely affair," he said. Most Lambda members do not have families, so they have generally more money to spend on their pastime. Membership topped 2,000 for the first time this year, he said. The club's Web site has helped draw interest. "Join us ... OUT on the road," the home page flashes in pink, lavender and blue letters. THE club's membership is getting older, though, Mr. Muller said, so a membership drive to attract younger members is under way. Membership among lesbians has lagged in relation to that of men over the club's history, though Mr. Ball said the club was trying to change that. The Empire Region chapter, which includes 120 members, most of them from in and around New York City, held one of the most visible Lambda events, Autorama, near the United Nations during Gay Pride Week last June. Michael Francioni, an engineer from Long Island who is the chapter's president, said 38 cars were on display and thousands of spectators ambled past the show. He said he got calls immediately after the show from potential members who liked what they had seen. "Every new member we get says the same thing," Mr. Francioni said. "They're amazed we exist. They'll say, 'Why didn't we find you sooner?' " In the end, Mr. Ball pointed out, Lambda is about identity, but in more ways than one. "We're all enthusiasts," he said. "We're there to enjoy each other's cars. This is an opportunity for some gay people to be what they are - car collectors." Car Connoisseurs THE Grand International Invitational of Lambda Car Club International (www.lambdacarclub.net) is scheduled for Nov. 9 to 13 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Other large gay and lesbian car clubs include Great Autos of Yesteryear (www.greatautos.org), based in Los Angeles, with about 1,200 members , and the Freewheelers Car Club (www.thefreewheelers.net), based in San Francisco. Founded in 1978, the Freewheelers is considered to be the oldest such club and has 350 members.