On the third Saturday of the month through October on the side streets north of Broadway in Lenoir City, Cars and Coffee offers classic car lovers the chance to show off their unique vehicles and swap stories with other enthusiasts.
At the most recent event, there were lots of vintage muscle cars with chrome wheels and fat racing tires. The sound of big-block engines with big carburetors and free-flowing exhausts filled the air as cars pulled in and out of the show.
Lenoir City Councilman Mike Henline, owner of a 1957 Chevy on display, said he and Lenoir City Safety Director Don White got the idea to start the event about nine years ago. Some people questioned at first whether anyone would come downtown early Saturday morning to look at cars.
“People really enjoy it,” Henline said. “You see a lot of the same people coming back.”
Henline said the gathering is as much about the fellowship of guys who love cars as about the cars themselves. He said one of the first rules of the show was to have as few rules as possible.
“You can come when you want and leave when you want,” he said.
Typically, 100-200 cars will show along with entire families, often with children in tow. Henline, whose grandchildren were with him, said future car enthusiasts will get started as children attending shows with their fathers.
Those who want coffee have their choice of drinking the free stuff and eating donuts that are usually available or stopping at Ugly Mug, a coffee shop owned by David Valentine. Owner of the Auto Director car sales lot as well, Valentine said he looks at the event as a chance to show off the 1925 gas station he restored and other downtown attractions.
“We’re proud to be part of a vibrant downtown,” he said.
Jim Beever drove from Knoxville in his 1969 Pontiac GTO for the first chance of the season to show off the car he has been working on for 15 years. He said he drives the vehicle short distances to shows and only in good weather.
“There were a few drops of rain on the way down this morning and I thought about turning around, but it looked like it was going to clear up so we kept on going,” he said.
Marlon Johnson is a Ford Mustang guy. He started with the body of his 1969 Mustang and spent a few years looking for parts, including the 351 Windsor engine and C-4 automatic transmission. He topped off the build with a baby blue paint job close to the factory Ford blue.
He said he only drives the car from his home in Louisville to shows close to home. He’s a big fan of Cars and Coffee and attends whenever he can.
The cars featured ranged from antiques to relatively late model sports cars like the 2008 Corvette displayed by Ed Barrett. He said he’s owned the car since new and even went to the factory in Bowling Green, Ky., to see it being built.
The “buyer’s tour” offered Corvette purchasers by Chevrolet lasts two days and the buyer gets to see the car come together on the assembly line. Barrett watched as the body of the car was lowered to the chassis before windows and doors were added.
Barrett said he’s been collecting cars for years and owns a 1951 Chevy, a 1965 Corvette and a 2003 Mercury Marauder.
Trucks are also popular, with Terry Marlar driving his 1976 Ford Ranger from Oak Ridge for lots of the shows with his bulldog, Abraham. The truck is quite clean and runs great, but Marlar seems most proud to display the vintage original Ford factory 8-track tape player.
“Some people don’t even know what this is,” he said, holding up an 8-track cassette. “They think it’s a hard drive.”
A few cars, like the 1929 Ford Model A driven to the event by Jim Wolfe, could be right out of a museum. He said he bought the car not running from a barn in Maryland about 8 years ago and has been restoring it little by little.
“It’s pretty simple,” Wolfe said. “With three wrenches and a screwdriver you can take the whole car apart.”
The four-cylinder, flathead engine makes 40 horsepower and has a top speed of about 45 mph, which is just enough to get him to shows using secondary roads in a 50-mile radius.
“It couldn’t keep up on the interstate,” he said.
The oldest engine on display at the event wasn’t even in a vehicle. Albert Presley of Loudon restores antique gas-powered engines from the early 20th century. The engines were used to power equipment around farms, including saws, grain thrashers, water pumps and cement mixers.
Some of the engines crank on gasoline and run on kerosene. Water is sometimes poured into the cylinder head while the engine is running to clean out carbon. The engines are efficient, shutting down between piston strokes but maintaining consistent RPM with the help of a heavy flywheel.
Presley said he rescues the old engines from fields and creek beds where they were abandoned decades ago. The broken and rusted engines are disassembled one bolt at a time and cleaned before being reassembled with repaired or repurposed parts. He said he likes to see the old engines running again and explaining their working principles to those who ask.
By noon, most the vehicles had pulled out of their spots and were headed home. Councilman Jim Shields, also a car enthusiast, said he was pleased with the turnout and anxious to promote other events in the area.
“Life is coming back to downtown,” he said.
Shields said the next stage of the revival will include the side streets off Broadway. He said there are lots of ideas in the air, including maybe turning the old Lenoir City Utilities Board building into a restaurant or a brewery. He said the area might become a recreational stop for people traveling on U.S. Highway 321 toward the mountains.
“If you want to see America, you have to travel the side roads and see the small towns,” he said.