We knew we were in for a long day as we passed the first off-ramp. Siri was kindly urging us to take the backed-up exit from the freeway, but the procession of multi-colored classics snaking off of and around the overpass was enough for us to want to find a secondary route. A few side streets and a dozen traffic officers directing which way to go later, and we pulled into a nice shady spot alongside Finley Stadium; home to the Chattanooga Mocs – about three blocks from where we had parked the year before.
Somehow, the Chattanooga Cruise-In has turned into one of the biggest car events in the South overnight, welcoming over (an estimated) 2,500 cars, and 25,000 spectators this past Saturday, April 1st. The event effectively shut down much of downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee, and filled side streets, parking lots (both open and private) as well as flowed into the surrounding asphalt circling the stadium. For 2017, the Scenic City Swap Meet was added to the event, allowing a few vendors to sell their wares beneath the pavilion.
In the morning shadow of Coker Tire’s reaching brick headquarters, the guest parking lot welcomed American Powertrain’s traveling medicine show, displaying their latest 5- and 6-speed Tremec conversion kits, shifters and other manually-shifted goods. Unfortunately flanked by jewelry vendors and others hocking unusual items unbefitting of a growing event of this caliber, spectators and car enthusiasts were greeted by “Eddie Munster” himself, Butch Patrick as well as the infamous George Barris-built “Dragula” and “Munsters Koach,” all available for photos.
At the foot of the steps leading to Coker was the infamous color swatch ‘Cuda, a bipolar 1970 Plymouth ‘Cuda painted in meticulous deep green, topped with a vinyl top and interior of the same hue – that is, on one side. The other side is fractured into vertical stripes displaying every single color available for the model year, a pair of funny car zoomies and drag race wheels and tires. Provided by the Tim Wellborn Museum just south of Birmingham, Alabama, the car drew more stares than the former child star.
If the literal thousands of hot rods, muscle cars, and sports cars didn’t demand enough attention, Coker happily threw open its doors and allowed foot traffic to peruse the halls of the world famous tire and wheel manufacturer. A line serpentined through the Honest Charley Speed Shop, visitors welcome to gawk at the vintage photos and make a purchase or two as a miniature standee of Miss Golden Shifter herself, Linda Vaughn blew each customer a tempting kiss.
Even as we filtered through the masses, selectively photographing each and every Mopar of note in attendance, it took us nearly 4 hours to walk the whole event. Thoroughly winded and ready for a late lunch, we said our goodbyes to a few friends who were showing their various project cars and loaded back into our truck and sped off to grab a bite to eat. It wasn’t until hours later when the last of the cars turned over their engines and headed home, marking the single largest cruise-in in the Southeast.