“‘The best laid schemes of mice and men,’ the poet once wrote,” I growled to myself late Thursday evening. I was doubled over the fender of our long-term street/strip project car “Brazen” draining the fuel bowls for the umpteenth time. It was part of a last minute dash to get our ’69 Dodge Charger R/T ready for the 300-some-odd miles from just north of Nashville to the Chattanooga Cruise-In that Saturday.
We had already announced that Brazen was going to make the trip, beckoning to other Mopar enthusiasts to join us in the cruise down, so I felt committed. Heck, Coker Tire, who was hosting this event, even sent a new set of Pro-Tracs so that Brazen could make the trip on something other than a pair of non-DOT cheater slicks.
Alas, sticky accelerator pumps, and bad jetting kept Brazen from even wanting to cruise at 60mph on the highway. Our digital O2 sensor blipped in the red as the pumps stuck open, bathing our pistons in zero-ethanol 93 octane, causing the big 535 stroker motor to spit and sputter to a near halt as traffic passed us by. This had potential disaster written all over it, so I opted to scrap my plans to drive the Charger the distance, and got the trusty shop truck ready instead.
Waking hours before dawn, I hustled the Ram as quickly as possible to the 5am meeting point. Alas, I arrived too late and the party of nearly a dozen Mopars had left without me. Strike two, I thought. Moving on, a resigned myself to filling up on caffeine and getting to the show before it filled up.
What once began as an open house at Coker Tire and Honest Charley Speed Shop, in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee, the Chattanooga Cruise-In has ballooned into one of the largest in the South, welcoming cars and spectators from the entire Southeast region. The cruise-in still swings open the doors to the entire 100-year-old brick-and-mortar Coker Tire facility, as well as the legendary Honest Charley’s Speed Shop, but has swelled past the plant’s own parking lot, effectively taking over several blocks’ worth of parking. This year was no different, as the Cruise-In welcomed an estimated 2,000 cars, trucks and motorcycles, and upwards of 15,000 spectators throughout the day.
Despite the announcements calling for a 10am opening, cars were claiming prime parking spots as early as 5am, with vendors needing to have their trailers on site the night prior. Free admission for both vehicle and bystander beckoned this year’s massive numbers, and despite securing additional parking, local police were forced to turn away dozens of cars for an outright lack of room to park them. Even the two host restaurants, T-Bones and Southside Saloon & Bistro, both within walking distance of the Cruise In area, welcomed record numbers, their parking lots brimming with standing clients waiting to be served.
In the shadow of the looming Coker headquarters, a DJ played classic rock tunes, while special giveaways and door prizes were raffled off shortly after lunch. Equally, back by popular demand was the “blemished tire sale”, offering discounted prices on blemished, otherwise unsellable tires. Nearby, the Chattanooga Cruise-In welcomed the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow engine build teams as they battled in a National Qualifying event for its year-long series, hurriedly disassembling and reassembling the engines on the stands before cheering crowds. I spent a fair amount of time socializing with Gray Frederick and Matt Graves from American Powertrain, whose massive trailer was on hand, displaying their different Tremec TKO and Magnum kits for every hot rod and muscle car platform imaginable.
Fatefully, I did reunite with the early-bird group from the Music City Mopar Club, who laughed that had I gone one exit down the highway, I might’ve joined them for breakfast at the Waffle House. A lone ’69 Dart (equipped with a sweet Six-Pack setup on its low deck 383) made the haul amid a throng of modern Mopars (a few SRT-10 Rams, SRT 392 Challengers and a ’11 Mopar-edition Charger to name a few).
The Dart though wasn’t alone, as the whole show welcomed a king’s ransom in vintage Chrysler muscle including a ’70 Superbird, several ’68 Chargers, a gorgeous ’69 Hemi 4-speed Road Runner and many, many more. One stand-out was a father-and-young-son duo who pulled up in a peculiar-sounding ’78 L’il Red Express. Beneath the hood was not the typical LA 360, but a ’93 Cummins 12-valve diesel – and one of the cleanest engine swaps we’ve seen in ages.
The crowds began to dwindle in the early afternoon and with a two-and-a-half-hour drive ahead of me (and the caffeine from the two energy drinks I downed beginning to fade), I thought it best to head on home. I shared the road with some gorgeous examples of American automotive artistry and even came across the aforementioned Six-Pack 383 Dart, loping along at 65mph. It’s such a treat to be so close to such a rich vein of car enthusiasts and incredibly motivating to get Brazen’s carburetor issues resolved so that we can get back out on the highway.