One of my favorite things to do on a Saturday is roll out of bed at 5:30 a.m., grab a camera and my jacket and drive 48 miles from LA to a business park in Irvine. There, on any given Saturday, hundreds of cars worth millions of dollars gather for Cars and Coffee. Happening all over the world (and in 12 locations in the U.S.), Cars and Coffee is one of the only places you might find a Ferrari Enzo on your left, a Morris Mini on your right and ’64 Corvette Stingray in front of you. From brand new supercars flaunted by attending manufacturers to auto enthusiasts’ daily drivers and rare collector pieces in Concours d’Elegance shape, the parking lot looks more like a flea market than a museum and changes week to week.
Getting up before the sun for the chance to view rare cars is almost enough, but it’s the requisite freshly brewed coffee and breakfast burrito that seal the deal. The coffee, a basic Starbucks Pike’s Place roast, and the standard So Cal breakfast burrito with its bacon, potatoes, cheese and egg are the perfect companions for the few hours of walk and talk ahead of you. The lot fills up around 7 a.m., but people only hang for a few hours so I make sure my conversations are quick — like a wedding buffet, it’s good to do a lap before committing. Get stuck in a conversation about the history of Lotus with a loyal fan and you’ll miss the rest of that morning’s offerings.
The importance of coffee in this scenario cannot be overstated. It’s not simply an early morning power drink. It’s something bigger. It provides a common denominator and settles a casual atmosphere over the whole event. People drinking coffee are more likely to be approached by others with coffee; we both like cars and I also see you like coffee, too. It’s not unusual to see four or five people huddled around a car chatting and drinking, then dispersing, only to descend on another story-laden vehicle. Conversations fill the air and become the soundtrack to this gathering, building to a trading-floor level of frenzy. Fathers and sons, wives, girlfriends, families and acquaintances all gather around to celebrate this love of car facilitated by a roasted bean. Then, one by one, engines fire and the lot empties as quickly as it filled.