Next a group of lovingly looked-after classic Ferraris line up in serried ranks, though the owners seem to be less pretentious than usual. Maybe it’s something to do with being back-to-back with a rookery of highly tuned Cadillac CTS-Vs that makes the Ferrari boys relax. Maybe it’s the fact that the ‘Deathmobile’ from Animal House has just shown up, tailed lightly by a brushbeaten and worn DeLorean. Cars stream into the parking lot and ‘eclectic’ suddenly seems a very small and inadequate word.
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Caffeine rush: cars and coffee in California
A nondescript US car park is the site of a kind of mini Festival of Speed every weekend. The catch? It only lasts two hours
Talking to Clinard, the rules are loose. You are allowed to park in the display area if you’re in something interesting. In Clinard’s words: “We want every car displayed to be a conversation piece… unusual, exotic, significant, humorous, nostalgic, exceptional. People are quite good about recognising what ‘belongs’ and what doesn’t. It’s great to witness such a like-minded, savvy car culture in action.”
It sure beats the slightly angry gatherings of post-teens that we get in the UK, or the pretentious trailer queens that marr the other end of the spectrum. All the cars here are driven, pondered, here because they can be. As we talk, a Ferrari 599 burbles in, closely tailed by an original Nissan Skyline, a couple of turbo Datsuns and a pair of 1970s Saabs. Stack-headlight Mercs. Custom Chevy Bel Airs. An electric Ford Ranger. More Corvettes. Camaros, Z28s, Cobras, an original Sixties Mini. It’s awesome.
This morning, the car park of the old PAG building in Irvine, California is pretty much deserted. Not much of a surprise, since even the clock is making sluggardly progress past half-past six, and it happens to be a Saturday on an office-cum-industrial park. A set of parameters that do not ordinarily lend themselves to crushing crowds and the full glorious gamut of the human - and automotive - condition.
Words: Tom Ford
Photos: Justin Leighton
We were lured here by the promise of a kind of weekly all-comers Californian car show called ‘Cars and Coffee’, but so far there’s a lovely, smiley lady putting some signs out, a trestle table laden with 30 gallons of weak American kwaffee, a couple of so-so Corvettes and a single, oddly small Riley Elf hiding in a corner. Hardly the eye-swivelling eclecticism we’d been led to believe. We gather a couple of gallon pails of coffee and the legally required donuts, gaze mournfully at the single police bike, and wonder what we’re doing here.
But then, just as the last of the cinnamon ring’s heady spurt of lard-energy is working its way into my bloodstream, it begins. At 7.15am, there’s a buzz-saw shriek from the freeway behind us, followed by the unmistakeable boom and crackle of something sporting a big block and a healthy disregard for silencing. Ears twitch. The hazy background hum of the freeway is destroyed by a myriad of motorsporty noises, and Cars and Coffee kicks off. In a big way.
The first few cars are a genuine surprise. It’s been several years since I’ve seen a healthy De Tomaso Pantera, and yet here are one, two, three, four, five, arranged in some sort of dangerous-looking cabal, all, significantly, working. One has a Corvette engine in the back. This will prove to be a conversation repeated over the next hour or so; the Americans put GM V8s into everything.
Figuring out where to look next is the issue, such is the sudden swamp of interesting metal. By half-seven, the car park is full. With mint - and I do mean mint - BMW 3.0 CSLs butting up against an M635CSi, next to bare-aluminium Cobra 427s, next to a restored old truck which appears to have some sort of giant Redwood chained to the back, next to a triumvirate of NSXs, next to a couple of Pro-Touring streetrods.
Wide-arch M3s mix happily with classic resto projects, the owners smiling and cackling together, pointing and prodding, chatting and laughing. And even though the marques gravitate to one another, the usual car-tribalism doesn’t seem to apply. Actually it does; just that the tribe here is cars, rather than specific badges.
The provenance of the event is almost as exceptional as the cars. The story goes something like this: there used to be an event called ‘Donut Derelicts’ held in Huntingdon, California. It trotted along for some 20 years, until some of the chaps decided to make it more convenient and transfer it closer to home to a place called Crystal Cove.
The problem was that the Crystal Cove site soon became too small, so two of the regulars, Freeman Thomas (Ford’s Design Director) and John Clinard (Western Manager for Ford’s Comms), decided to see if they could accommodate the event in the Ford car park in Irvine. Cars and Coffee was born, dedicated to a simple axiom: ‘The cars that you don’t see the other six days of the week.’
And by 9am, it is also, quite definitively, over. Like some sort of glorious automotive flash mob with added horrible American coffee. It’s eclectic, informal and all the things that a car show should be. Except it’s not a car show. It’s a meeting of minds and of passions, albeit squeezed into the time pressures of real life. A Skyline accelerates away in a fizz of wastegate, I turn and find the car park is empty again. But now it’s a place of potential. Just waiting for next week.
Wanna go? Click on carsandcoffeeirvine.com for the where, when and how to get there.