It’s one thing to run your eyes over a Ferrari Dino 246GT and appreciate the low, lithe profile that makes it one of the world’s most beloved sports cars.
It’s another dimension entirely to behold its V6 engine barking to life, the snick of its steel-gated gearbox, and perhaps being invited to sit in hammock-like bucket seats and grasp the leather Momo wheel.
But this is no club show ‘n shine, and it’s certainly not a motor show – well, not in the traditional sense. The ‘cars and coffee’ concept was conceived with lazy Sunday mornings in mind; a chance for enthusiasts and the uninitiated alike to engage with some of the world’s most incredible cars. And for their owners to see their pride and joy getting the adoration such vehicles richly deserve.
Feel the dream
“It’s important that people can feel the dream,” muses restaurateur and Italian car enthusiast Lido Russo, who organised among the first of such gatherings in Australia, Cavallino Cars and Coffee, which ran from 2014 to 2016 and was named for Russo’s Italian restaurant in Sydney’s northern suburbs where the gatherings were held.
“There were cars that dad wants to look at, that the kids want to look at. You could talk to the people, kick the tyres, sit inside, smell it, touch it,” he recalls.
Russo, who has since sold Cavallino, says the monthly event was born of “friendship and passion”.
“I had a group of mates with nice cars and we started having Formula 1 nights on Sundays, but we’d be standing outside talking until 2am, so we changed it to Sunday mornings,” Russo laughs. “It got bigger and bigger, so we decided to put it out on social media."
“People with interesting cars don’t want to drive them to get the groceries – you want an excuse to take a drive with friends, have a destination, stop for a coffee. And the partners are happy, they’ve had a sleep-in at home.”
Sunday fun day
The Cavallino event might be gone – a victim of its own popularity as the size of the event outgrew the available space – but other ‘cars and coffee’ meets have taken its place.
Now, instead of schlepping between kids’ sport, touring big-box home improvement stores, or lunching with the in-laws on Sunday mornings, you can be fired up by Ferraris, enlivened by Lamborghinis and served with a smorgasbord of sports, classic and super cars.
Whether it’s the nostalgic cocktail of leather, petrol and exhaust that pervades old car interiors, or a squadron of current-model supercars with not a rope barrier in sight, ‘cars and coffee’ is all about not just seeing, but experiencing. And enthusiastic owners are usually more than willing to share.
A quick search turns up two or three such events per month in the bigger capital cities, and some in rural towns. Usually informal in organisation and execution, they typically attract around 50 to 150 – or more – cars and are usually free for owners and attendees alike.
The concept traces its roots to Southern California’s post-war hot rod culture, when enthusiasts met regularly at a diner to run their modified cars on nearby routes.
Detroit’s annual Woodward Dream Cruise, staged each August since 1995 on the 26km-long Woodward Avenue, is said to draw 40,000 participating cars and 1.5 million people. Despite its size, the WDC remains absolutely free to attend, for car owners and onlookers alike.
The scale may be different, but Australian ‘cars and coffee’ events similarly provide exposure and running time for rarely-seen vehicles. There’s no restriction on marques, models or eras, and none of the perceived pressure of specialist marque car clubs.
It’s also significant that the rise in popularity of these relaxed events has coincided with the decline of the traditional, industry-backed motor show. The last Australian International Motor Show was held in Sydney in 2012.
Up close and personal
Sydney patent attorney Ryan Curnick is a regular attendee. He has owned several classic cars, including Porsches and Ferraris, and has recently acquired a 1985 Lamborghini Countach 5000QV.
Despite the rarity and value of his ride, Curnick estimates he had 30 people, adults and children alike, climb through its ‘scissor’ doors at a recent showing in Sydney’s Centennial Park.
“Everyone’s happy to talk about their car, everyone’s there because they’re proud of their car,” Curnick says. “What I really like about ‘cars and coffee’ is the variety, and getting to talk to owners and see stuff being driven.”
At the same Centennial Park event, wrangled monthly via social media by the Eastern Classic Car Club, Curnick’s Countach sat in company with Porsche 356 and 911 models, classic Ford Mustangs, a patina-rich 1949 Ford sedan, a Datsun 240Z rally car, and a Ferrari 250 GT Pininfarina coupe with a likely seven-figure market value.
Property developer and investor Matt Carolan is one of a small group of businessmen from Sydney’s eastern suburbs to have formed the Vaucluse Car Club. Thus far it has staged two non-profit events in the lush grounds of historic Vaucluse House.
Something for everyone
The setting, and the catering attached to the $50 car entry fee (spectators are free), is about creating a welcoming environment for families – and for the 130-or-so car owners.
“There’s a lot of money invested in collections, and some cars see the light of day only rarely,” Carolan says. “But we want people to feel they can bring whatever they like, whether it’s a beaten-up barn find, through to a $3 million Ferrari Lusso. We’re not precious.”
Graphic designer and early Holden enthusiast Sam Princi of the Sydney Machina Social Club has driven the growth of Machines and Macchiatos, a monthly event on Sydney’s northern beaches.
“There’s a real appreciation of cars and respect for people,” Princi observes. “Everyone’s happy and excited, you walk around with a coffee, it’s just fun. We’re not saving the world, we’re just being social and sharing an interest.”
Machines and Macchiatos charges $5 for car pre-registration or $10 on the day, and a gold coin donation for walk-ins – with all monies going to cancer charities.
“As a part of the motoring community, we wanted to tell the general public that we’re not a selfish bunch of knuckleheads just blowing a lot of money in our garages,” Princi says. “We love our cars, but there’s an underlying benefit for the community."