The History of Cars & Coffee 

Cars just have a special appeal to some folks.  Young or old, wealthy or not, doesn’t matter what race, nationality or religion… for some guys (and gals – yeah gender doesn’t matter either) the sound of nice car’s exhaust can be as universally appealing as certain genres of music.

Do a Google search for Cars and Coffee and you’re very likely to receive results for small unofficial and barely organized local events on a Saturday or Sunday morning where local car buffs get together.  They’re passionate.  Have to be because many of these car shows start as early as 5:30AM!  The bond that ties is automotive.  And while some are specific to a segment of car – super cars/exotics, low-riders, muscle, antique, etc.  Most are open to anyone who loves cars.

You don’t have to own one to show up.  It usually doesn’t cost anything to show up anyway.  Just enjoy cars and company… maybe have a coffee too.

Tom has a conversation with legendary car guy Barry Meguiar about how this, now global phenomenon, got its start right here.  Crystal Cove in Orange County to be exact.Tom Smith and Barry Meguiar pictured as part of the iDriveSoCal 011 Podcast - The History of Cars and Coffee

***Transcript***

Recorded, November 21, 2017 in Irvine, CA

The Cars & Coffee Phenomena 

Barry Meguiar: The good news is that we created a phenomenon that people from all over the United States, even the world came to visit. It became that famous without any PR publicity.

It became that famous and those people went back to their regions their homes and around the world and said I want to do this here. Right. And so now we have I think something over 80 different Cars and Coffees around the world.

“…now we have I think something over 80 different Cars and Coffees around the world.”

I’m very proud of what happened here and the impact it’s had around the world.  To bring opportunity for car guys to come together and share their stories and share their love for each other.

It doesn’t matter, you love cars, you’re having fun hanging out. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, it doesn’t matter the color of your skin, doesn’t matter what language you speak, doesn’t matter if you’re a guy or gal. If you’re a car guy you’re car guy.

Tom Smith: Welcome to iDriveSoCal, the podcast all about mobility in the automotive capital of the United States, Southern California. I’m your host, Tom Smith, and today I’m joined by automotive legend, Mr. Barry Meguiar.

Barry is president of Meguiar’s Car Care Products. He is the host of Car Crazy TV, which is a global television show, been on the air for almost 20 years.

Just this year he was inducted into the Sema Hall of Fame. And he’s one of the original participants and promoters of the unofficial car show that has really swept the entire United States and really in multiple countries around the world – Cars and Coffee.

Barry, thank you so much for joining me today. I’m excited to meet you and have the opportunity to sit here and speak with you.

Crystal Cove – Original Cars and Coffee

Barry Meguiar: Great to be with you Tom.

Tom Smith: First, just an overview of Cars and Coffee as it started here in Southern California.

Barry Meguiar: Well it did. Yeah. It was actually in an area called… it’s identified as Crystal Cove. It’s on the coast of Southern California, Orange County, just south of Newport Beach, north of Laguna Beach if you know that area.

“It’s on the coast of Southern California… just south of Newport Beach, north of Laguna Beach…”

And it was kind of a new shopping center that went in, and just across the highway, you’re looking at the ocean so palm trees and all, kind of a small shopping center. And we started… we didn’t call it Cars and Coffee at that time, we called it just Crystal Cove.

“You’re going to go to Crystal Cove?” It was the insider thing, you know? And Southern California’s kind of full of car guys so it’s not… I mean you just kind of wave at somebody you have a crowd.

And so we kind of filled that shopping center pretty quickly and just started this camaraderie. And that went for several years and then, unfortunately, the Irvine company had everyone saying it was the Irvine company.

It wasn’t the neighbors, the neighbors never complained, Irvine Company said it was the neighbors. The Irvine Company said it was the police. I actually talked to the police and they said we didn’t have any more complaints when you’re there than when you weren’t there.

It wasn’t the police, it wasn’t anybody. It was just the Irvine company that decided Donald Brenner owns the Irvine Company’s kind of an anti-car guy. I don’t mind saying it. And he just stopped it.

And I put together a group after they shut it down with pokes and patient island big shopping center.

Shutdown Number One

I had the tourist area and I had everybody in the area, the city council, the police, everybody. And the guy at the Irvine Company said this is a non-starter it’s not going to happen.

And that stopped us in our tracks and we had no place to go. But one of the original guys that helped start the first one that was there, he didn’t actually start Crystal Cove was named John Kleiner.

“…the Irvine Company’s kind of an anti-car guy. I don’t mind saying it. And he just stopped it.”

There are a lot of others tell yourself a mentioned name but John is by my number one hero, head of PR for Ford for the western region. And John is just such a car guy and has quite a few cars himself. And he called a meeting and he said okay let’s have a meeting.

About 12 us met at Ford headquarters there and we got up a chalkboard and we listed all the places that we could possibly go. And we had probably 15 different locations that were possibly large enough.

So each took some, we went out started looking to see who might be open to having car guys coming in at 5:30 in the morning. And we couldn’t find one. And so John said “Well until we find one, why don’t… we’ve got a parking lot here and we could certainly host it here.”

So for a temporary basis because the next Saturday was the last Saturday at Crystal Cove and there was no database. Nobody’s ever collected names. So if we didn’t get the word out that next Saturday, everybody’d be scattered right now.

We were down to Tuesday of that week and Saturday was our last Crystal Cove car show. So we had great pressure on us. We have to go somewhere. And so it’s pressure.

A New Location is Born

So finally out of desperation, we couldn’t go, and finally, John said, “Let’s just meet here. We can do it here and that’ll give us a place until we find a real place to go.” We say oh, can we do that? Yeah, we can do that. They have quite a large parking area and trees scattered throughout.

It’s not just straight asphalt but it’s quite pretty you know. And so we went and we put the word out and the first Saturday, we had a lot more than we had at Crystal Cove because we had more room.

“It grew and grew and grew until you know it just is mind-boggling.”

It grew and grew and grew until you know it just is mind-boggling. And John, I’m not sure John came up with it by himself I don’t remember exactly how the name came to be but John was integral to it. And come up with this name Cars and Coffee.

He created the name. He didn’t copyright the name. Didn’t feel like he should, didn’t want to, didn’t want to have ownership on. Just a car guy.

Like his gift to the car you know so let’s just call it Cars and Coffee. And it just grew like crazy. I did two Car Crazy TV shows there, and over a period of time it went for a lot of years.

He called me one day he says “Barry, I have a very unusual request.” I said, “what’s that?” He says “Don’t don’t run that episode more. Please don’t run that episode anymore.” He says when you run that episode, we get more people and we get people mad at us. I don’t want people mad and I don’t want to turn anybody away. So we don’t need any promotion.

Car Families

So please don’t do that anymore. All right. I love you, but don’t run your Car Crazy TV show anymore on Cars and Coffee, so we left. Cars and Coffee is wonderful because I mean there’s a 190… whatever.

And then there’s a 2007… or concept car and everything in between. It’s just a surprise. And anybody that gets up that early, pretty passionate. Even the people that don’t have cars. They’re passionate.

“…car guys are the same the world over. If you’re a kid growing up a car guy family, there’s no question you’re going to be a better adult. “

So it was one of the great experiences of our lives. Car guys are special. I say that in the TV show, but I mean it and I have some expertise on that because I travel the world.

I know the car guy really, really well and I can tell you car guys are the same the world over. If you’re a kid growing up a car guy family, there’s no question you’re going to be a better adult.

Because you learn work ethic, you learn respect, responsibility.  You honor your mom and dad.  You have quality time if not hundreds of hours of time with your dad whether you’re the daughter or the son to work on that car.

And guess what? You’re not talking about cars all the time. You can talk about life, you can talk about God, you can talk about guys and girls, and life and everything.

But the whole thing of car guys and what they’ll do for you is just… I think it’s the greatest fraternity in the world. And so when you get in a region where you can meet week after week after week… And it was not just a few months in California we can meet year-round almost never rains in California.

Shutdown Number Two

And for our case, civilization started moving in around and it wasn’t anybody that was doing anything wrong.  But all of sudden you got condos or whatever got homes around.

People starting to say I don’t like the sound of this. How are they not like the sound of a V8 rolling down the road at 5:30 in the morning? I don’t get that but some people don’t like that.

“People starting to say I don’t like the sound… of a V8 rolling down the road at 5:30 in the morning…”

I guess I just go figure. And they start complaining and all the sudden the complaints come in.  So, Ford finally had to say we’re getting enough complaints that we’re going to have to shut it down.

And so that last morning it was in the wintertime. And we were there in the dark and everybody was like in tears. I mean we just hugged each other and some of those people I’ve not seen since.

The good news is that we created a phenomenon that people from all over the United States, even the world came to visit. It became that famous without any PR publicity.

It became that famous and those people went back to their regions their homes and around the world and said I want to do this here. And so now we have I think something over 80 different Cars and Coffees around the world that John Kleiner… and let me tell you, Linda. Linda Kleiner. She’s almost more responsible.

Tom Smith: John’s wife.

“Linda Kleiner. She’s almost more responsible.”

Barry Meguiar: John’s wife. I mean you expect the car guy to do it right? But at the driveway every morning John was usually there.

Linda was always there. She’d get there 5:30. How many of you car guys so right now would have your wife standing beside you or even if you couldn’t make it, she’s there? 5:30 every Saturday morning with her smile.

Linda & John Kleiner – Founders

Tom Smith: Maybe once.

Barry Meguiar: Welcome everybody in. They are my all-time heroes. I mean they’re just amazing, amazing people. And we’ve tried to duplicate it. We have been all over Orange County trying to find a venue where we could do it again.

And some have gotten traction for a little while and done well and then neighbors complain and they’ve gone away and we have one now. It’s looking pretty good. And it may survive but we’ve been all these years trying to find, you know, to reproduce what we had here.

“I’m very proud of what happened here and the impact it’s had around the world. “

Tom Smith: In which location is the one that you’re talking about?

Barry Meguiar: Well…

Tom Smith: Because I know it’s splintered.

Barry Meguiar: Yeah there’s the one down by the outlet stores down San Clemente that’s really catching traction. So it’s pretty cool but yeah. I’m very proud of what happened here and the impact it’s had around the world.

To bring opportunity for car guys to come together and share their stories and share their love for each other.

Tom Smith: In Crystal Cove? That was a morning thing? A Saturday morning thing?

Barry Meguiar: Yeah. Got there at 7:00 in the morning, 6:30, 7:00 in the morning and started that. I was a latecomer, I didn’t get there until after I’d been doing it for two or three weeks…  Didn’t come till about a month and I was there. But, I was hooked after that.

Tom Smith: What year was that?

Barry Meguiar: Oh my. Now you’re really testing me. If you’re suggesting that we close. That sounds right that we that we in 2015. We were at Ford for more than 10 years. My guess is we were there for 10, 12 years.

It All Started in Southern California

Tom Smith: Okay. So then Crystal Cove was before that for three or four years?

Barry Meguiar: Yeah. Exactly. So go back 2000, 2003 something like that.

Tom Smith: It was a couple months before the Ford location shut down. I went and visited a buddy of mine in Texas who had just moved with his company, State Farm was here and then moved to Texas.

“…there was a section of McLarens and a section of Bugattis and a section of Model T’s and a section of muscle.”

So I went there and we spent the night catching up having cocktails whatever. Wee hours. And the next thing I know he’s waking me up saying “we’ve got to go to this car show.”

And I’m like “what are you talking about? we’ve been sleeping for like two or three hours. What are you talking about?” And we went and that was my first Cars and Coffee. And it was technically in Plano.

But I mean as you say, there was every socioeconomic, you know, represented. There was… and the money that was… I mean there was a section of McLarens and a section of Bugattis and a section of Model T’s and a section of muscle. It was like this is crazy. And lo and behold, wow wait. This all started right down in Irvine.

Car Guys are Car Guys

Barry Meguiar: What you said there I think is very significant. The car hobby has none of the regular social barriers. I mean that’s one of the things I love about it so much.

It doesn’t matter how much money you have, it’s not a matter of money. You have some guy that’s got his exotic car, you’ve got some guy that’s got his… it doesn’t matter, you love cars, you’re having fun hanging out.

“…doesn’t matter how much money you have… color of your skin… language you speak… if you’re a guy or gal. If you’re a car guy you’re a car guy.”

It doesn’t matter how much money you have, it doesn’t matter the color of your skin, doesn’t matter what language you speak, doesn’t matter if you’re a guy or gal. If you’re a car guy you’re a car guy.

Tom Smith: So did the TV show… obviously you have it in your blood. But did the TV show somehow… was it inspired or did it come out of Cars and Coffee?

Barry Meguiar: Oh, no. Oh no no gracious no way before that. What inspired the TV show was frankly… and it’s hard to even imagine now.

But the car if you go back 25 years ago, the car hobby was suffering. It was going down. Car clubs were disbanding. Car shows were having fewer people all the time.

And we look at our business. The only people that wax their car are car guys. I looked at SEMA. I’m a big part of SEMA and thinking everybody at SEMA is depending on car guys you know?

It’s not regular consumers are buying all those aftermarket things, it’s car guys. And if we don’t have car guys we’re all in trouble. Somebody needs to do something. But it happens that the car hobby is not like motorsports.

Motorsports has governing sanctioning bodies and they want another motorsports event over here, we need another NASCAR event there, they do that.

The Car Hobby Show

But in the car hobby there, it’s just it’s all over the world. I love this car, I really, really love it. And, I find somebody else that loves the same car, great. Hey let’s take our cars on Friday, let’s both drive our cars down to whatever.

So you do that and all of a sudden some other guys come along and say “we gotta get those cars too.” And all of a sudden hey, let’s form a club you know? And then say “hey you know there’s some other guys over yonder that they like. Let’s have a car show.”

That’s basically how the car hobby happens. It’s grassroots. It’s the ultimate grassroots. How do you grow that?

“That’s basically how the car hobby happens. It’s grassroots. It’s the ultimate grassroots.”

So we kept saying somebody’s got to step up and grow that. And one day the gal that ran corporate communications for us Leslie Kennedy, she said “you know Barry, Roger Werner started this new channel called Speed Vision, and you know about everybody there is in the car hobby. You know all the sheriffs. You could interview them.” I said “nobody’s gonna listen to that interview show.”

“No, but you could talk about their passion. Talk about why there’s so passionate.” I’d say “well we need to come up with a name.” So it hit me, this name Car Crazy and we ended up getting a trademark.

And we just we looked at always always always as not selling car wax per se. You know of course, we were selling car wax. But we needed more car guys.

So my focus was on how do we get more car guys? We’re going to have more people with good values. I’ve said it with tongue in cheek but really meant it. If we have more car guys we’d have less wars.

Cars Against Conflict

We’d have less racial tension. So I’ve been on a mission for 25 years. How do we get more people in the car hobby? Because when we do that, yeah SEMA will grow, but that’s secondary to a higher thing of just get more kids to grow up with values and work ethic.

And I could say this without hesitation. I’m a better person… every car guy can say this without hesitation. I’m a better person, I have better friends because I’m a car guy.

“…said it with tongue in cheek but really meant it. If we have more car guys we’d have less wars.”

So anyway that’s I think whether people understand that part of it or not they’re a part of it. And Cars and Coffee making it happen and that’s something all over the world. That’s cool.

Tom Smith: And it’s unofficial I guess is the thing that’s always boggled my mind from the very first time in 2015. And I actually had planned on making the last event in the Ford parking lot.

But then that last event was actually canceled because of the event before that was too big. Right?

Barry Meguiar: Exactly right. We had a sense that was the last one but yeah. That was one of the highlights of my life.

I’ve celebrated a lot of things, been to a lot of emotional events. I count that as one the very highest privileges of my life to have been there that last day. It was great.

Tom Smith: As we move towards more and more technology, and you know I got my license I think in 1986. And I couldn’t get it fast enough. I couldn’t get it fast enough and I was working on, you know, junkers that I was hoping was going to be in my car before way before that.

The Future of the Hobby

But now, you know, manufacturers are concerned that kids aren’t so much in a rush to get their license anymore. What do you think happens? How do you think that impacts the car hobby moving forward?

Barry Meguiar: Well it’s their biggest challenge. There’s no question about it. I have in my own family one grandson that turned 16 and didn’t care.

In my own family. Hanging around my cars and all the coolest car shows and in my own family, I have one? I have five grandsons. It is a concern obviously. It really is.

“…when we see a young person looking at your car, strike up a conversation and ask if they have any questions.”

I don’t know where that’s going to take us. I hate to even speculate. I’m going to enjoy the present. I don’t think where technology what it’s doing for performance and design.

We’ve got cars… and you know it’s interesting now that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to have style and performance.

I love it that without getting into the specific cars, but I mean you cover them, you know there’s a lot of relatively inexpensive cars that I’d be proud to drive. I mean they’re cool.

But that’s obviously Tom, I mean that is the biggest challenge to the car hobby as we know it today it’s a big one.

And whenever I speak to car guys I say we all have a personal responsibility to hedge against that. So, when we see a young person looking at our car, strike up a conversation and ask if they have any questions.

And if their parents are there you can say “can I let them sit in the car?” And I’ll let them sit in the car. We each one need to be an evangelist for the car hobby.

The Future of the Car

And I think that’s the number one responsibility we have if we’re going to save this car hobby. All the good things that come out of it beyond the cars, that we need to take personal responsibility make sure this car… That we hand this car hobby down to the next generation.

Tom Smith: What do you think about the idea that the fuel combustion engine is going to be only something that we find in museums in the not so distant future? Everything is going to be electric?

“The Tesla I didn’t think would ever catch on with car guys. But to the contrary.”

Barry Meguiar: Well I’m finding it quite interesting actually. The Tesla I didn’t think would ever catch on with car guys. But to the contrary. You know in the end car guys like cars that look good and go fast.

Tom Smith: And that does. Check, check. Right?

Barry Meguiar: And I tell you what, that Tesla is mind-boggling. Joe Barnes who owns all the exotic car dealerships in Newport Beach, a great friend of mine and he can have anything he wants and he drives a Tesla.

Tom Smith: Daily driver?

Barry Meguiar: Yeah. And I said that’d be like me using X brand wax, you know? He’s a very… he’s a Ferrari guy. He’s going to buy a Ferrari.

It doesn’t matter what kind of car I have, he’s going to buy a Ferrari. He’s a Ferrari guy. So it makes no difference to them at all. But for me, I’ve driven them all.

I don’t get a discount on Tesla. But this Tesla’s an amazing car. So you know, I mean it is what it is. And the performance acceleration. I mean it’s mind boggling. So I miss the visceral sound, and you know some people played around with having imitation sounds or whatever.

Car Crazy’s Cars?

But the sound of the V8 quite frankly is I think the number one ambassador for America worldwide.

Tom Smith: I want to say what’s in your garage, but I’m assuming that’s either a really big garage or there’s multiple garages.

Barry Meguiar: Well, you know probably the most asked question I get asked is what kind of cars do you collect?

“I want everybody to love me and I want everybody to love my products.”

And it’s the one question I don’t answer for this one reason because of the show because of radio and television and because of my products. I want everybody to love me and I want everybody to love my products.

So if they pigeonhole me into being a certain type of car guy right when I go there, they’ll say well we’re glad you’re here, but we know you’re not really one of us, you’re one those guys, right?

I have never advertised the types of cars I have people locally here know, because I drive my cars, every one of them. They’re all cars that I love. I don’t believe in just having cars sit. And they all have a special purpose for me.

Flying & Autonomous Cars

Tom Smith: From your perspective, I think you have some unique insight and contacts. How far out are we from actually experiencing flying cars running around Southern California?

Barry Meguiar: You know I don’t hear a lot of talk about that. I mean I sit with the car makers at the end of the day at Pebble Beach on Sunday where the heads of design for several of the car makers.

“You’re a car guy. Why on earth do you want to go that way?”

And the fascinating discussion on technology, where it’s going and all that. Talked about everything. It’s a wonderful thing getting to get to be a part of those kind of conversations.

I never heard flying car mentioned that, you know. That’s not top of mind for them at the moment.

Tom Smith: What about the autonomous driving aspect?

Barry Meguiar: Well that very much is. Yeah. They all talk about that a lot. So that’s coming. It’s coming I think probably faster than some of us might realize.

So and that’s a little bit of a challenge for us as well. I mean I don’t like the thought of everybody just calling up a driverless Uber and have a pod pull up take us to our destination.

I’m not real excited about that concept. So the carmakers feel like that is… will be a role. I mean, to the last one they all… because I’m saying why are you advancing this? You’re a car guy. Why on earth do you want to go that way?

Technology Takes the Lead

Well, you got to follow technology. They can’t be left behind so the pressure moves on, you have to do that. They’re all convinced that that will be a part of the market, but that will serve its purpose.

But people are never going to get away from the ethereal experience of driving a car. And the just the whole driving experience of having control and independence and it goes on and on.

Tom Smith: Freedom.

“…driverless thing will play its role… people keep wanting to have their independence and freedom and control driving a car…”

Barry Meguiar: Freedom. They’ve done a lot of research on that. And they are a rock solid believer, and that’s going to go on forever.

And the driverless thing will play its role. But it will be for some applications but for the mainstay, people keep wanting to have their independence and freedom and control driving a car wherever they want to.

Tom Smith: Well, Mr. Meguiar, I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this talk and appreciate your time. While we have the podcast running, is there anything else that you might want to cover?

Barry Meguiar: Wax your car today. Go buy Meguiar’s.

Tom Smith: Well, thank you again very much so much appreciate your time. And all the historical facts you can share with us.

Barry Meguiar: Well, I am historical. Sometimes hysterical, but always historical. Thank you. Congratulations again on your show. And let’s do it again sometime.

Tom Smith: I would love to do that. I would love to do that. That was Mr. Barry Meguiar, this is iDriveSoCal. Thank you so much. I’m Tom Smith. Until next time.