Having been gifted opposable thumbs and some measure of intelligence, human beings have taken it upon themselves to build things. We've built temples and palaces. We've built monuments, museums, malls, and motor vehicles. We've also built some other stuff, like chairs and deadly weapons. Surely, though, the pinnacle of human architecture is the parking lot.
Yes, amongst all man's creations, the mighty parking lot doth wear the crown. Who can deny the sacrifice of beautiful green spaces for asphalt pancakes? But take heed, fair traveler. One must beware the dangers of the parking lot, as they are fraught with concrete curbs, shopping karts, suburban families, and minivans.
Splendid though they are, parking lots are unique in that they are nearly never a stop in themselves. They're a no-man's-land between driver and destination. Anyone in a parking lot doesn't want to be there; they're simply in transition, passing from their insular existences into the general public and back again. Parking lots, then, are like waiting rooms. They are filled with unwilling occupants and screaming children.
Be all that as it may, parking lots do have a redeeming quality. After all, their sole purpose is to act as an automobile stable. Should you happen to have a fancy for automobiles, parking lots suddenly become quite interesting (often to the chagrin of those in your company). "Oooh, look at that, that's a special car, that is!" you'll exclaim, stopping to admire the 911 or M car or S2000 or whatever vehicle has triggered your childlike excitement. Then you'll look up, prepare to deliver your sermon on the joys of motoring, and find that your companions have sought to make you a stray human. "They just don't get it," you'll say, before hurrying off to regale them with engine specifications, to which they'll reply, "Uh huh."
I imagine that this pain become so great for some petrol-heads in Irvine, California, that they eventually held a meeting and said, "Right. This whole parking lot thing. One morning, we're going to bring our special cars to a particularly large, empty parking lot, and we're going to wander around and look at them. Meeting adjourned." And so it was that the original Cars & Coffee came to be. Enthusiasts woke up early, drove their cars to the designated parking lot, got some coffee, and indulged their desires to look at cool cars. Better yet, they were surrounded by car people, who would eagerly listen to their automotive ramblings and readily share their own. And the event was so good and so pure that many cities rapidly followed suit, launching their own iterations of early morning motoring meet-ups. Now, practically every mid-size-or-greater city has some form of Cars & Coffee—or, in Houston's case, Coffee & Cars. (Clever what they did there.)
A Viper peeks through the pandemonium that is Houston Coffee & Cars.
Coffee & Cars, in the simplest terms, is a car meet. It happens on the first Saturday morning of every month. Any and every kind of car is welcome to join. It is an open-armed celebration of all things with four wheels and an engine, it's completely free, and it attracts everything from 7-figure exotics to ratty Civics.
The more special cars you herd into one place, the more non-car people begin to notice that something is amiss. They're more inclined to stop, look around for a few moments, and think, "Well, these don't look like my Camry." I expect Coffee and Cars attracts the crowds it does because of this principle, which I'll dub The Law of Automotive Attraction. On a scale as large as Houston Coffee and Cars—meaning literal hundreds of vehicles that dominate the vast majority of a mall parking lot—the crowds will number literal thousands. This is perhaps the biggest drawback to attending Coffee and Cars. Want to get in close to that McLaren 675LT? Good luck fighting through the dozen gawkers surrounding it. Itching to snap a photo of that Lamborghini Diablo VT? Your chances of a clear shot appear about as often as Sasquatch. Even walking around becomes a chore, as you must elbow your way through knots of bystanders, dodge clumps of teenagers, and wade through a flood of common humanity. Thankfully, this is only worst around the featured rows of the event, where reside the important, expensive, exclusive things.
Lamborghini got the Diablo so, so right. This is a VT 6.0 from post-2000, but it still had a gated 6 speed.
Never mind the throngs of people or the jungle-like Texas heat and humidity. Coffee and Cars is a mandatory pilgrimage. It's an unparalleled opportunity to see an incredible array of cars. Up at the front row, it's Supercar Street, where the exotics come out to play. Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, and McLaren are prominently featured, including million-dollar machines like the F40, P1, 918, and LaFerrari. What with the sheer volume of exotics in the mix, standard fare like Gallardos, Huracans, and 458s almost get lost in the crowd, although there are plenty of those too. Cars like those would draw the spotlight in any normal setting, but with so many cars demanding the spotlight at once, it's easy to casually pass by a McLaren 570S and think "Oh look, a 570, let's move on then," whereas if said 570 were alone, my reaction would be to lie prostrate in worship of McLaren's minor deity.
The spaceship that is the P1. Not surprisingly, it was roped off from the peasantry.
No matter your preferred flavor, you're bound to get your fix at Coffee and Cars. You'll find many 911s of every type, ranging from big guns wearing RS badges to all-original examples from the '70s. Older, less ogled Ferraris, like 308s, Mondials, and F355s, routinely make appearances. German might shows up in force, sporting M and AMG logos. There might be a Jaguar F-Type prowling about, but there also might be a Series 1 E-Type, its lines putting modern cars to shame. There's always a contingent of Toyota Supras and Nissan GT-Rs, some of which are the Skyline-badged hero cars from the '90s. Classic muscle takes up an entire row, and modern muscle takes up half a parking lot. Right in their backyard, you'll find lower-end imports of all vintages, whether factory fresh, wildly modified, or imported directly from their home country. There's even been a street-driven Ariel Atom with a lady pilot.
If this is what it means to drive like a girl, sign me up and call me ma'am.
Alas, I am a boy with quirky taste, and while the exotic alley does inspire lust and longing, I find more enjoyment in scouring the outer (and less busy) reaches of the parking lot(s) in search of automotive oddments. Something about the under-appreciated oddballs just puts a grin on my face. I've stumbled across an original Honda S600, a truly tiny thing with a 600cc inline four, chains driving the rear wheels, and independent suspension (from the mid '60s, no less). I've seen a pair of Honda Beats, diminutive right-hand-drive imports with bodies designed by Pininfarina and screaming 600cc 3 cylinder engines. I've been blessed with a visit by an S15 Silvia, a modern JDM-only sports coupe that offers unfiltered performance through a turbo four and rear wheel drive. If you couldn't tell, I am also a boy with a taste for Japanese machines. But that's what makes the event so great—if there's something you like, you can probably find it.
S600 on the left, Beat on the right. Mighty mites!
Sadly, Houston's Coffee and Cars is nowhere near as pure as it once was. I first attended the event in December 2015, when a LaFerrari, Pagani Huayra, and two Porsche 918s headlined the event. Despite having these superstars in our midst, the crowd was quite manageably sized—large, no doubt, but not oppressively so. At the August '17 iteration, the parking lot's population numbered that of a small city. Much to my dismay, the event has flourished spectacularly. It seemed that, in its earlier days, Coffee and Cars was the semi-secret monthly meet-up for Houston car lovers. Eventually, the non-car-obsessed public caught wind of such doings, and descended upon the event in droves. It feels as though Muggles have invaded Diagon Alley (shameless Harry Potter reference there, in case you didn't get it).
In the Wizarding world of Harry Potter, one can only be magical if born with magical blood. But in the world of cars, one can make the transition from non-car person (sanity) to car person (insanity) at any point in life. So perhaps I shouldn't lament the hordes of non-car people that crop up on the first Saturday of every month. I should welcome their presence, because that hour spent wandering around a parking lot just might make them car converts. Or, perhaps, I'm wrong altogether, and there really are just that many people in Houston that like cars. Either way, it doesn't matter. I'll be back next month.
Top left: a track-only, very illegal Ferrari 458 Challenge Car. Top middle: a '73 911-T with its original bill of sale in the windshield.
Top right: the almighty wing that is the 911 GT3 RS. Bottom left: An incredibly rare Alfa Romeo 8C Spider—only 35 were shipped stateside. Bottom middle: a JDM Nissan S15 Silvia wearing Advan wheels. Bottom right: holiest of all grails, the F40.