AP PHOTOS: In Israel, antique car collectors find an escape

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RAMAT GAN, Israel (AP) Each weekend, at gas stations and parking lots and parks across Israel, car collectors gather with their beauties and take a step back in time.

They bring Plymouth Pontiacs from the 1930s and 40s and Chevrolets from the 1950s. One Israeli man named Coco owns a nearly century-old Ford Model T, considered to be the world's first affordable car.

About 1,000 people belong to Israel's car collectors' society, with about 4,000 cars between them. It's called the Five Club, named for the bygone era up until 1960, when Israel's license plates carried only five digits, not today's seven though any car older than 30 years is eligible for membership.

Most of the Five Club's members are businesspeople or retirees in their 50s or older, with a great love of classic cars and a disposable income to match. Many buy their antique automobiles and spare parts online from the United States and import them to Israel.

They steadfastly keep their prized wheels covered from the beating Mediterranean sun, and then bring them to club gatherings on weekends. They line up their cars in rows, and other Israelis come and gawk. Sometimes, they bring their cars to mental hospital patients and at-risk youth, who enjoy honking the old horns.

The club's logo is a Middle Eastern tableau: a camel peeking out from behind an antique vehicle. The club's members are also a colorful mix representing some of Israel's diversity.

There are yarmulke-wearing Jews who drive their classic cars home from Friday afternoon gatherings before the start of the Sabbath, when the devout don't drive. There are non-religious Jews for whom the Sabbath is a gleeful opportunity to enjoy their old cars when the roads are largely empty. There are also Arabs, who make up a fifth of the population of the Jewish state.

Sitting by their parked cars, they chew sunflower seeds and talk shop about horsepower and engines, and where they bought spare parts. They talk about a time, long ago, when cars lasted longer and seemed to be made with soul.

"People forget the politics and the problems and everything," said Ron Akerman, 56, a real estate broker and proud owner of a 1980 Volvo 245 DL station wagon.

He said the theme at their annual gathering this year held on Friday is old cars vs. their newer models. A Chevrolet from 1967 was displayed with a 2017 model and a Jaguar from 1970 with one also from 2017. The oldest car was a burgundy red Austin 8 from 1936, he said.

Akerman said this year's get-together is the biggest so far, featuring about 300 classic cars.

"In this crazy place called Israel you have islands of sanity," he said.

AP photographer Oded Balilty has taken a closer look at some of the Five Club beauties, and here are some of his photos.

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Follow Oded Balilty on Twitter: https://twitter.com/obalilty and on Instagram: https://instagram.com/odedbalilty

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