Cars and coffee is the best: no competition, no trophies, just community

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flickr / Zarani aka Vanitea

I’ve been around great cars and events for almost 50 years, but my first car (a 1951 Chevy), my first Formula 1 race (Watkins Glen, ’68), and my first cars and coffee (in 2007) are particularly vivid memories. All three involved little or no planning: I stumbled upon the Chevy when a neighbor offered it cheaply, and I decided to go to the race on two days’ notice. As for cars and coffee, I didn’t even know I was headed there when I went.

My collector friend Tom Shaughnessy had a car I wanted to see, so I booked a flight to Los Angeles and told him I’d meet him in the morning. He gave me an Irvine address and advised me to be there at 6 a.m. Thinking that I was going to meet him for breakfast, before viewing the car, I drove to the location—which turned out to be the Ford/Mazda campus. It was packed with about 500 cars. There happened to be a Gullwing Group meet nearby, too, so about 20 300SLs showed up in addition to the Mustangs, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Miatas, Corvettes, Packards, Cadillacs, Hondas, and everything else imaginable that lined the parking lot. I’d never seen anything like it.

After I found Shaughnessy and his amazing Ferrari 375MM, I asked him about the show. “It’s called cars and coffee,” he said, pointing out a nearby table laden with coffee and donuts. Only later would I learn that—according to Ford PR man John Clinard and designer Freeman Thomas—Tom was also one of the prime movers behind cars and coffee.

That first visit to cars and coffee was eye-opening. According to Clinard, it started as a Saturday morning breakfast at Donut Derelicts in Huntington Beach, California. Gradually, more people joined in until about 2003, when it became a loosely organized gathering at the Crystal Cove Mall in Orange County, held every Saturday from 6–9 a.m. The event outgrew the location, so Clinard and Thomas got Ford to offer its Irvine facilities and, ultimately, pay for a police presence due to the heavy traffic. Clinard also told me that when he and Thomas met to discuss the gathering, “Freeman thought aloud, ‘Crystal Cove CC let’s call it Cars & Coffee.’”

Beyond rows of vehicles, some folks liked to see cars in motion, and less-inhibited drivers would rev their engines and pull burnouts as they left the lot, all while cellphone cameras clicked away. Those photos and videos quickly appeared online. It was the perfect car show: no competition, no trophies, and you could leave at any time. Even if you stayed to the bitter end, you were still on your way before midmorning.

A couple years later, I attended my third cars and coffee. Another friend had told me about a car in Costa Mesa that I just had to see, so I flew out. After seeing the car—a three-wheeled 1948 Davis—for about 10 minutes, I bought it, then took it to Irvine for cars and coffee the next morning. As soon as I’d parked, a crowd gathered around the odd-looking three-wheeler. One older guy approached me and claimed that my car was the prototype that constructor Gary Davis had used as his personal car. When I asked how he knew, he explained that he had been the one who welded the suspension when it broke. I popped the hood, and he proved his claim by showing me where he had made the repair.

I’d still not heard of cars and coffee on the East Coast, so I asked Shaughnessy to find out if I could use the name. Our first gathering, held at my shop, had about 25 cars. When I finally brought the event to a close three years ago, about 400 people had been showing up regularly. We simply couldn’t accommodate that many cars, so we had to stop, just as Ford had to discontinue that original cars and coffee in 2014 due to overwhelming attendance.

Now, cars and coffee events are pretty much everywhere. They’ve brought together all kinds of enthusiasts to look at all kinds of cars. The original may be gone, but wherever you happen to be on a weekend morning, there’s probably a cars and coffee nearby where you can get your weekly car fix.

This story originally appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of Hagerty Drivers Club magazine.

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