The Coker Tire Chattanooga Cruise-In means one thing. Car show season is upon us. Time to break out your ride after a miserable winter. Car enthusiasts from all over the south and beyond hit the road for the free one-day show held each spring in beautiful Chattanooga, Tennessee. This year the show moved out of downtown Chattanooga due to lack of available parking – a result of rapid growth and new apartment buildings. Camp Jordan in nearby East Ridge, TN was the new venue of choice, and while the entrance road turned into quite the traffic nightmare later in the day, it was perfect for those who got there early enough to avoid the longest of lines. I arrived in my 1965 GTO right after the show officially opened at 8:00 AM with a Porsche 911 in race trim behind me and a slammed Chevy C1500 in front. This turned out to be an indication of the variety of automobiles that I would eventually see. After gawking at the vast quantities of cars already at the show, and laughing at the guy riding an ATV with a large dog for a passenger (its paws were on the handlebars), I realized just how big this show was going to be.
Great weather, along with pent-up winter boredom, and the simple fact that the show is free combined to create such a scene that I quickly realized I would never be able to see all the cars. With this in mind, I chose to bypass swathes of late-model muscle for more unique or unusual vehicles. It’s not that I don’t like newer stuff, just that I see plenty of it at Cars and Coffee events. Amongst the mass of vehicles, several things stood out to me. The first thing I noticed was the unusually large number of early 1950’s cars. Maybe they aren’t so rare on the west coast where chop-tops are more common, but they are an infrequent sight in the southeast. Their numbers were not limited to lead sleds as many might assume, either. Everything from rat rods with holes from slide hammers used to pull dents out to a mint 1950 Pontiac and a few taildraggers made an appearance.
Speaking of that 1950 Pontiac, you’ve never seen someone drool over a four-door car like I drooled over that car. It was in factory stock condition, equipped with a straight eight and automatic transmission. It currently belongs to a husband and wife, was originally sold in southern California to the wife’s uncle. I talked to the husband who told me it cruises down the road like a dream, makes decent power and doesn’t overheat. Impressive accomplishments on modern roads for a car that rolled off the line during the Truman administration. Was it in good shape? Put it this way: mint isn’t just this Poncho’s paint color. I’m no concours judge, but I didn’t see anything wrong with this old more-door. The miles of stainless steel and chrome that adorn most cars of the era was pristine, as was the shockingly expensive Pontiac Indian hood ornament. It even has a nifty little mirror on the dash that serves as a periscope so the driver can see traffic lights that are otherwise obscured from view by the sun visor.
As I made my way through the hordes of cars, I came across a lifted 4×4 Squarebody with Super Swampers and a violent cam, a couple gassers and more muscle than a bodybuilder convention. I eventually found myself looking at a C2 Corvette with a massive banner display next to it. Initially, I rolled my eyes and thought, “Great, another one of these obsessed Corvette people.” Then I saw what the banner said. This was the highest documented mileage survivor ‘67 Corvette in existence. With almost a quarter million miles, I would wager that it is the highest mileage ‘67 – restored or not – and probably in the top 1% in mileage of all Corvettes.
I remarked to an event staff member around 10:00 AM about the scale of the show, to which he responded, “We’re already over 3,000 cars.” The stream of people coming into the event was as strong as ever at that point, and it remained that way for a couple more hours. In the farthest corner of the lot, I came across a beautiful red four-door, hardtop 1960 Impala. As I talked with the owner, I mentioned that I had never seen one like it before, to which he replied, “Neither have I, except that one right there!” Sure enough, I turned around and another four-door, hardtop Impala from the same era cruised past. The second one was gold with solid chrome fender skirts and some serious rake in the rear end.
As I made my way to the front of the show, I wandered through the central lot where everything from an Austin Healey Sprite to a ‘71 Buick GSX could be found. I talked with members of the East Tennessee Street Rods club and the Tennessee (Hot Rod Power Tour) Long Haulers, reminisced on Power Tour 2018, and lamented that I won’t be able to go on Power Tour 2019. The front lot continued the “something for everyone” theme, and hosted a recreation of the early Cook & Bedwell Slingshot Dragster, a monster truck and some crazy hybrid of a tank and UTV called the Terrorist Tracker.
Realizing the herd of car enthusiasts heading to the exits was causing a massive traffic jam, I picked a clean, dry spot on the grass and sat down. I snapped a few final photos, and started to mentally process just how huge this car show was. The Coker Tire Chattanooga Cruise-In has become one of the preeminent car shows in the southeast, and it has achieved this without charging an entrance fee and while only taking up a few hours on a Saturday in early spring. What could be a better way to kick off car show season than a Saturday spent with a few thousand car enthusiasts with a winter’s worth of cabin fever to dispose of?