For three hours on the second Saturday of every month, the Millstone Towne Center parking lot turns into a popup car show.

Cars & Coffee, an informal gathering of automobile enthusiasts partially fueled by caffeine, comes to town with a powerful and proud collection of everything from American muscle to European style.

“You’ve got some people that think a car is just a way to get from point A to point B, but it’s more to us,” said event organizer Jessica Hullender, who drives a Dodge Challenger Scat Pack.

About 120 cars were on display this past weekend with the pop of Eric Ludwigsen’s Monza Red 1970 Corvette Stingray shining despite the overcast sky.

In full sunlight, the color — painted on by Unique Image Auto Body on Bragg Boulevard — looks almost like the Tiger Orange from South View High School, where Ludwigsen graduated before starting his 20-year stint in the US Army.

Without the glare, the pigment settles into a speedy-looking scarlet. And as striking as it is, the color might be the least-interesting thing about the car.

The 430 horsepower motor with a 6-speed transmission that Ludwigsen installed pushes a sleek, sinewy frame.

“In the summer of 2013, my son Matthew, who was 12 at the time, said, ‘We should get an old Corvette and fix it up,’ ” Ludwigsen said. “So, it wasn’t about, I’ve got to have a neat car, or anything like that. It was an idea that my son brought up to me. And I like being able to share it.”

The next year, Ludwigsen found his '70 Stingray. He decided to go with that era because he liked accents such as the chrome bumper that would go away in ‘72, and prices of cars from the 60s were a lot higher.

His history of working on engines — starting with small 2-strokes and going into the more electronics-based 2000s — led him to tackle the Stingray.

“We’ve had this thing gutted down to where it was just body on frame,” he said. “I go underneath this car all the time.”

And nothing, he says, compares to driving a car that you’ve practically put together.

“I always wanted that Trans Am since it came out in ‘98. I finally got one a month ago and it doesn’t hold a candle to the Vette because I’ve done so much of the work on it,” Ludwigsen said.

“You just appreciate it so much more.”

That do-it-yourself sentiment was prevalent at Saturday’s meet.

Jim Smith restored everything on his 1964 Cadillac Coupe deVille except the top.

“It rides like a Cadillac. It’s just beautiful. You put the top down and you can just cruise,” he said.

Frederick Giarette’s 1971 Dodge Demon is painted “as close to a Mountain Dew can” as it can be, with a dazzling green body and black side stripes.

Growing up in Illinois, Giarette’s dad took him to stock car races every weekend. He’s loved cars as long as he can remember.

He’s added bucket seats and a bigger motor to the original 6-cylinder. And, as much as he enjoys sharing his passion for cars, he appreciates the supportive community of the Cars & Coffee crowd.

“Everybody helps everybody out,” Giarette said. “There’s people that like their Chevys or their Plymouths or their Fords or the Asian cars or the European cars, or the guys that like the trucks or the diesels, but everybody helps everybody. Everybody comes together.”

That spirit abounds, from the folks who grew up racing to the younger generation that learned about cars from other sources.

Aaron Banks’ love for all things automotive was stoked by the first game he got for his PlayStation 2, “Ford Mustang: The Legend Lives.”

Banks rolled up on a 2007 Bone Stock BMW 328i, “with about 245,000 miles on it.”

“Over the last 8 years, I’ve owned about 14 cars,” he said as his huge brindle hound dog looked on while engines rumbled all around.

Banks said he likes “the fun of just being able to jump in the car and drive anywhere.”

His friend Foster, who declined to give a last name, liked the atmosphere at the meet as well. “It’s awesome to be able to talk to people in an open forum that you normally wouldn’t on a daily basis.”

Foster cited the Porshe as his favorite car, thanks to the 911 Turbo 3.6 that Will Smith drove in the first “Bad Boys” movie.

Foster appreciated the 1987 911 that Paul Archambault parked at Millstone. Archambault, like Parks, savors the fun and freedom behind the wheel.

“The ability to break away from everything else and just drive,” he said, is what he loves about cars.

Cars & Coffee has become a national phenomenon after starting as a small weekly meet in Irvine, California, in 2006. It spread across the country and, ultimately, the globe with its easy access and appeal. No membership is required, there's no fee, and anyone's welcome.

The Hope Mills meetups had nearly come to a screeching halt when Hullender took control in 2012.

“It got to the point where people weren’t showing up and i hated to see it end,” she said.

Hullender used social media to get the word out, and she consulted with other C&C organizers about ways to build interest. She partnered with local businesses and charities, and it all culminated with some of the largest gatherings the group has seen.

The local group meets throughout winter months, when some other in-state meets are put on hold, and that helps drive attendance as well. 

As it has grown, Fayetteville’s C&C participants have offered a platform to Mutts to Majesty, an animal rescue group that had dogs available for adoption at Saturday’s event. The group also organizes charity rides to Falcon Children’s Home, delivering toys at Christmas. And Frostings Cakeshop provides java for the Millstone meet.

“It’s just something I enjoy,” Hullender said.

“I love cars and I love going out there and talking to other people.”

 

Sandspur editor Monica Holland can be reached at mholland@fayobserver.com or 486-3518.