Chances are good that you and I have at least one thing in common: We appreciate cars—or at least the BMW marque. But I also have a hunch that even though there is a tendency to play favorites, we are at least partly brand-agnostic, and therefore enjoy looking at and talking about many different makes and models.
When a diverse assortment of enthusiasts and machines gather regularly without a specific agenda, we often refer to these congregations as Cars & Coffee. The coffee part is less critical than the cars; sometimes it’s not even available. But since these get-togethers generally occur in the morning, the name seems to fit just fine.
Every single Saturday and Sunday of every weekend, there is a Cars & Coffee going on somewhere in the United States—so says the Allentown, Pennsylvania-based transportation museum America on Wheels, which has amassed a comprehensive database of well over 200 established Cars & Coffee locations across the country.
Cars & Coffee has become a social phenomenon, attracting automobile enthusiasts of all varieties. These gatherings have been around for some twenty years, and informally perhaps even longer. Some may have their own websites or Facebook pages. Some are themed—most typically by make, model, or genre of vehicles, while others may be categorized by organization or profession.
I was surprised to find that there are varying degrees of C&C awareness, from their very existence to the numerous locations and classifications. Some of us have discovered Cars & Coffee by accident, such as leaving the hardware store and suddenly noticing the parking lot is exceedingly interesting. Others are discovered through local car clubs or like-minded friends.
At least for the mainstream enthusiast, Cars & Coffee affairs are a great equalizer. Roaming about and mixing with other owners feels less intimidating than the atmosphere that you might find at a more conventional car show. Few will judge your ride with a critical eye, and there is a universal understanding that this activity is not expected to be a concours d’elegance.
Cars & Coffee meets are generally free (not that I’m a scrooge). The more I like it, the longer I’ll stay—from five minutes to five hours. There are exceptions, of course: C&C meets that are specially arranged, for instance, which may collect an entrance fee for a charitable cause. These events are often well promoted, and may be a little more organized, with somewhat better attendance.
I live just outside Philadelphia, where I was introduced to my first Cars & Coffee about ten years ago when a friend suggested that I join him at Bucks County Exotics (BCX), where owners of this curiously described genre meet. At the time, I owned a 2009 Cayman (customized just enough to technically qualify), with a value fractionally less than that of much of the attending hardware.
My visit was truly life-altering, and the founder of BCX has made a point to keep me current with activities in the area through his website and regular email blasts. Since then, I have attended too many Cars & Coffee events to count. I try to be indiscriminate, and purposely check out new locations when I learn of them.
It is early in the 2022 season, and I have already attended more C&C events than I did during all of last year. I had forgotten how much fun you can have with such little effort! I’m not one to sleep in late on the weekend, so they generally fit in within my schedule. This year I lined up my calendar with potential contenders, and I’ll attend as many as feasible.
Across the street from my office is a municipal parking lot that is generally deserted on the weekends. It is also the venue for a new C&C gathering that debuted last year, Main Line Cars & Coffee. Their 2022 premiere was the first of the season for me. It was also the largest I have ever attended—not to mention the highest net worth of vehicles, bar none.
A few weeks later I went to the annual Thompson BMW Cars & Coffee, which was as well attended and equally sprawling. I caught up with my BCX friend, who had promoted it through his website and email blasts. I saw a most diverse group of BMW models—including a few 2002s, a pair of dealer iX and i4 M50 models, and nearly everything else in between.
At the end of this month, I’ll visit the second annual Cars, Cops, and Coffee, sponsored by the Newtown Township police department. You can guess the theme: It’s a chance to bring your car (all makes and models) and mix it up with local law enforcement. As I’d indicated earlier, there are countless Cars & Coffee themes and sponsors!
I can confidently recommend most C&C activities to friends and other enthusiasts because of their informality and convenience: Go or not. Bring a friend or don’t. Arrive with your unique car or your weekend beater. Come early or late, dress up or down. Anything goes, and if the event is local, a few hours won’t monopolize your day.
Cars & Coffee is a blast—even more so if you follow a few guidelines. Try to get there early, as some of the most interesting conversations take place as people arrive and are available to chat. You can often meet the promoter and learn what prompted the group to formalize their informal gathering.
If you’ve never been to the location of a particular C&C, scope it out for access, parking, refreshments and—most important—facilities. There’s nothing worse than finishing off your favorite morning beverage and then realizing that there isn’t a restroom around for miles.
Bring a camera or keep your smartphone in hand. Photo opportunities occur in a three-second window of opportunity as people move around and converge on the latest arrival. Don’t spend any time planning; round up the usual suspects of friends, and don’t be offended if some don’t show. Cars & Coffee gatherings are spontaneous and without condition.
Bad weather should not necessarily be a deterrent. You won’t find much activity in a deluge, but a cloudy or even drizzly day might surprise you.
Whether you are showing—or just going—please behave. I know of two C&C locations that were forced to close because of burnouts and other unruly behavior from a handful of hooligans.
Finally, I have never been to a Cars & Coffee event that wasn’t attended by both regulars and newbies. There always seems to be both, which makes things all the more interesting. If you are the former, reach out to the latter; suggest other venues and events. But above all, talk to them about their cars or automotive interests.
If you haven’t ever attended a Cars & Coffee, you owe it to yourself to check one out. If you haven’t gone in a while, go to one you haven’t been to before. It’s a great way to see a variety of intriguing cars, network with interesting people and talk about their rides or yours—all in a relaxed and spontaneous environment.
Maybe you can even grab a cup of coffee.—David Newton