California’s granddaddy Cars and Coffee revives for a one-time (maybe) reunion

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Irvine Cars and Coffee reunion Aaron Robinson

For 410 mostly consecutive Saturdays over eight years, John and Linda Clinard trudged out to a parking lot in Irvine, California in the wee hours to lay out trash barrels, put up signs, and welcome hundreds of early morning car enthusiasts to what became known as Cars and Coffee. Indeed, the Irvine Cars and Coffee, itself the evolution of an informal gathering that had begun a few miles away at a coastal shopping plaza called Crystal Cove, is credited with launching the Cars and Coffee movement. These caffeine and automotive-fueled gatherings now regularly take place across the world as well as at Hagerty’s headquarters in Traverse City, Michigan.

“I loved every minute of it,” said Linda Clinard, who met John in college in 1971 when her fastback VW suffered a dead battery and John came to the rescue. “The best gift is to see friends who share the car passion.” However, the Irvine event came to an end in 2014 when the crush of Saturday morning crowds clashed with encroaching development, and the Clinards had to call it quits. Other events have sprung up around Southern California, but none ever quite matched the original in terms of size and pulling power.

Until last weekend, that is, when John and Linda Clinard once again went out to the old lot and hosted a somewhat secret and invitation-only “Cars and Coffee Reunion” to raise funds for a local youth gang-intervention program.

Irvine Cars and Coffee reunion
Aaron Robinson

Something north of 200 cars braved a damp forecast to line the tree-shaded lot adjacent to the bustling I-5 freeway where so many weekend gatherings had once occurred. Since the event was special, it pulled more than its usual share of noteworthy cars, including a lineup of industry concept cars both old and new that, when the heavens did eventually open up, got soaked right along with the MGs, Corvettes, Cobras, and Alfas that turned up.

Stars of the show included the wild wedge-like 1970 Bertone Stratos Zero, the bat-winged 1966 Pontiac Vivant roadster, the 2013 Cadillac Elmiraj concept, a 1989 Mazda 787B sports-prototype racer, a streamlined Porsche tractor, a bubble-top 1953 Alfa Romeo 6C 3000 CM coupe, Ford’s Shelby GR-1 concept, and several authentic Shelby Cobras.

Was this just a one-off show? Well, “today was a trial run,” said John Clinard, a Ford man for almost four decades before “retiring” as the company’s West Coast public relations manager in 2011 (he has continued working as a contractor to Ford helping plan special events). Will there be more Irvine Cars and Coffees then? “Maybe,” he said, adding that were 255 RSVPs though threatening rain showers probably limited the attendance to somewhere over 200 cars.

Irvine Cars and Coffee reunion
Aaron Robinson

For eight years the Irvine Cars and Coffee was a fixture on the local car calendar, even becoming a destination for overseas visitors who stopped in LA just to see the Saturday morning show. But in 2014, the parking lot that once sat between the U.S. headquarters of Mazda, which has since moved to a nearby office tower, and a building occupied by Ford’s former Premier Automotive Group of luxury brands (which closed down, the building now the headquarters of Taco Bell), began to be threatened by other changes. A Marriott hotel went up across the street, which caused noise complaints to skyrocket. And, says John Clinard, he and Linda began to have grandchildren and, thus, other things to do on Saturday morning.

However, the chance to raise money for the Orange County Gang Reduction and Intervention Partnership, or GRIP, seemed a good opportunity to host a reunion. Attendees were charged $20 for entry to benefit the gang-intervention program, which Ford has supported for years by hosting design studio tours and classroom visits by Ford execs intended to show troubled kids that there are other paths in life besides the street.

Even if the Clinards aren’t running Cars and Coffee every weekend these days, there’s no doubt the movement they started is a force for good.

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