Car cruises catch on in Western Pennsylvania
On a recent summer evening, hundreds of classic and antique cars parked in a Pine lot created a kaleidoscope of color.
Some shined with the hues of jewels: Emerald, ruby and sapphire. Others were coated in soft shades of cotton candy pink, creamy light lime or pale banana yellow.
All got looks of appreciation from those who went up and down the rows.
The event held at the lot at North Way Christian Community Church is just one of dozens held each week around Western Pennsylvania. Car cruises are so popular in the area they have grown from just a dozen or so a year in the late 1980s to several being scheduled nightly across the region, collectors say. Cruise season typically runs April through late fall.
“It's a sense of community,” said Vito Capaccio, of the South Side. Capaccio runs carcruises.com, a nationwide database of cruising events. He also helps with a weekly event at Pittsburgh Mills mall.
“We have people I guess who are millionaires and we have people who are average people. They sit and talk about their cars.”
Cars are classified as “antique” or “classic,” based on state law.
An antique must be more than 25 years old and maintained or restored to a condition in conformance with manufacturer specifications. A classic is more than 10 years old and because of discontinued production and limited availability, is a model or make of significant value.
At the cruises, collectors of both bring lawn chairs and picnic benches, listen to oldies, grill and gab. Car aficionados and casual observers of all ages comb the rows, stopping to chat with the owners or peer into windows to glimpse the interiors.
“It's an experience,” said Karen Smith, 51, of Plum, who along with husband, Robert, owns a Tropical Rose 1955 Ford Crown Victoria.
At cruises, they accessorize it with a stuffed pink pig on the roof and a plastic tray with a burger and soda bottle attached to the driver-side window, making it a hit with children who marvel at its huge steering wheel and wind-up clock.
“We have four-by-60 air-conditioning,” Smith said. “That's when you have all four windows down and are going 60 mph.”
Like many classic car owners, the Smiths attend several car cruises each month.
Ron Miklos, 75, of Plum, is a regular at the events. He often has a camcorder in hand to document them. Since 1997, he's attended nearly 2,500 cruises. At a cruise held at the American Legion Post 980 in Plum, he sat near his white ‘62 Corvette Roadster, a car he bought 45 years ago for $1,600 to “get it out of my system.
“Forty-five years later, I'm still in love,” he said.
He shares his heart with a 1950 Oldsmobile 88 four-door with glass hood — a popular cruise vehicle; a '57 Lincoln Premiere four-door hard-top; and a '96 Chevy Impala super sport.
He has no idea how much the Corvette is worth today, saying anyone who wants to know will have to “ask my widow.” For Miklos, the value is more about the feeling the cars give him. Driving the Oldsmobile takes him back to his teen years, he said.
“Then my feet his the asphalt, and I wonder, ‘Who do you think you are?'” he said.
Donald Unger, 54, of Plum, bought his '64 Thunderbird based on a childhood memory. When he was 6, his father test-drove a T-bird, and the dealer gave Unger a toy model. His dad didn't buy the car, and Unger was “crushed.” He spent years sulking over Thunderbirds at car shows.
So four years ago, when he came across the pagoda green beauty with black leather interior for sale, he didn't hesitate.
“I was grinning ear to ear,” he said. “It was a dream come true, essentially.”
Rough weather, such as this summer's heat and storms, can threaten attendance at a cruise. But cloudy skies weren't enough to keep John Murray from a weekly event outside Sonny & Jo's in Dormont on a recent Tuesday.
Murray, 72, of Mt. Washington, visits five cruises around the South Hills a week with his orange 1975 Corvette Stingray T-top convertible. He prides himself on the car's lack of technology.
“There is no computer in this car,” he said. “There are no electronics. New cars, you hook up to a computer to fix.”
Cruises can be good for businesses when held in parking lots at malls or shopping centers.
Sherry Frisch of Frisch's restaurant in Caste Village, Whitehall, said the cruise there each Sunday attracts hundreds, many who stop by her business for a bite beforehand.
“I love the business it brings into the center,” she said, adding that many cruisers become repeat customers. “It's like a big reunion every Sunday.”
But for those who cruise, it's all about fun.
“I enjoy the camaraderie and talking to people who enjoy talking about the same things,” said Leonard Metcalfe, 68, of Penn Hills, who organizes the Plum event and attends alongside his bright red 1969 Chevy Chevelle Malibu convertible.
“I could do this every day of the week.”
Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 .