Is LA's long-running Car Night on its last lap?

At first, it was just three old friends with three old cars.

Creighton Turner had built a new garage, big enough for more cars than he owned, behind his Pasadena house.

He invited two buddies to bring their cars around, so they could help each other keep their finicky engines in tune.

One of the guys had a new girlfriend, and asked if she could come along. The girlfriend brought a bottle of wine, and invited a couple of friends of her own. Soon other single guys wanted to stop by, and Thursday Car Night was born.

“It was wild. I never saw more beer get consumed in such a short time,” he said. “I think the event became an excuse for car guys to get out of the house, away from their wives and to drink.”

When things went missing, it was hard to know who was responsible, because Car Night had become so big.

“There were people hosting that had 200 or 300 people walking through their garage,” said George Shapiro, a Pasadena chiropractor and vintage vehicle collector who has hosted multiple Car Night events. “You might know a hundred of them, but you’ve never seen the other 200.”

Van Curen, as Car Night’s unofficial steward, felt she could no longer guarantee hosts that their garages, cars and belongings would be safe. She announced she would resign her position unless some suspects were eliminated from the group.

“There were a few bad apples, and they spoiled it for everyone,” Van Curen said. “We all had such fun, and everyone made so many good friends. But it became a drinking and light finger society.”

After Van Curen’s departure, Car Night stumbled along for a couple of years under other stewardship, slowly losing momentum. In time, management of the once-popular weekly event fell to Steven Mandell, a Claremont chiropractor and car collector who said he first attended the long-running event in 1991 and became a regular shortly afterward.

“I am officially the self-appointed grand pooh-bah now,” he said. “I took up the office when no one else would take it.”

By then, however, a Car Night schism had developed — with Mandell on one side and Van Curen on the other.

Some Thursday veterans felt they could no longer host the event and risk appearing to take sides.

“A lot of people joined Tina’s army, and it’s a big army,” said one member who asked not to be named for fear of furthering bad feeling in the group.

Mandell, who has a collection of more than 50 micro-cars and is also the proud owner of a rare Lamborghini Miura that he values at near $ 1 million, said he has felt that older members are reluctant to host or attend events.

“It’s an aging population.Car Nighters are getting older, and lazier, and dying off,” said Mandell, who at 66 is 14 years younger than Turner or Simon, both 80. “There has been a gradual decline in attendance.”

Recent venues haven’t been all that great, either.

“The guy who hosted the last one, he only has one car — a Datsun 1600,” Mandell said. “But he offered to do it, and he served really good food.”

Mandell said he was determined to keep the legacy alive, but worried that its days were numbered.

“It’s become harder and harder to create these events,” he said, “and there is the danger that Car Night could just fade away.”

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