Wallace “Wally” Wahl joined AMA in 1950, fresh out of high school. He didn’t own a car, but his father—an auto enthusiast who occasionally lent the teen his Hudson Pacemaker—insisted on a membership.
It was about being part of a community.
Today, more than seven decades later, it’s that feeling of community that the 90-year-old Edmontonian treasures most about his life as a member. And much of that has to do with the company he kept.
Wahl spent his career in the auto industry, where he worked in almost every role there was—from running errands and tracking inventory, to heading a major car-leasing agency. During that time, he rubbed shoulders with local automotive legends the likes of Frank and Joe Healy, Murray Koch, and even AMA’s first president, Charles Grant.
Wahl has especially fond memories of Frank, who not only gave him his start in the business but also his first real car—sparing him daily rides on the street trolley—and a loaner Hudson Super Wasp for his 1954 honeymoon.
“Frank was a good friend, a good man,” says Wahl. “My wife and I drove that Super Wasp all the way down the west coast, to San Diego, then back up through Las Vegas. We were gone for a whole month!”
In those days, an AMA card was inside every car dealer’s wallet—a binding tie between salespeople who might otherwise have been rivals. Every time a vehicle was sold, Wahl says they’d procure a licence plate from AMA as a customer courtesy.
“If we couldn’t get down there, we had a close enough relationship that a gopher from AMA would get the plates for us and deliver them right to the dealership,” he says. “That was usually a nice country boy—great guy—who went by the name George MacDonald.”
As in, George A. Macdonald, AMA’s longest-serving president.
“The AMA was wonderful to work with, and well known for things like the School Patrol, the driver training program, and roadside service,” says Wahl. “We always expressed to our customers that membership would be good for them.”
Wahl turns 91 in July—and his membership card remains fixed in his wallet. When asked if he ever imagined he’d still be driving at this age, he can’t stifle a good-humoured laugh.
“I didn’t even know I’d be alive! I can remember cranking a car to get it started; now, all you do is touch a button. My car has so many gadgets, I don’t know what half of them are for. My father would have loved it.”