Whether it’s a 1959 Cadillac Coupe de Ville with flared tailfins, a 1940s hot rod with painted flames on its hood, or a standard black 1925 Model T Ford, classic cars transport you back in time. Even if you weren’t personally around when these autos originally hit the roads, you’ll experience a Marty McFly moment at the sight of them. Luckily you can still catch hot rods, muscle cars, vintage bikes and more at cruise nights around the area.
wo years ago, owners Bill Perkins and his wife, Audra, started inviting classic vehicle drivers to park and mingle outside the Shopiere Soda Shop and Ice Cream Bar, 5218 E. County Highway J in Shopiere, during the warmer months. The action spilled over across the street to their other business, The Shopiere Tap. Tuesday Night Taps N Tires run from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. through early October.
“It’s grown to where any given night we’ll have 75 to 100 vehicles out here, including hot rods, classic cars, Harley and Triumph motorcycles,” Perkins said. “I’ll bet you we’ve had $1,000 vehicles and $60,000 vehicles. We’ve had a working steam engine and even a 1940s police car. You never know what will show up.”
This being Wisconsin, farm boys drive their vintage tractors in to show off, too.
Just a short drive away, Fort Atkinson is the place to be from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on the second Monday of the month through September. Classic vehicles fill Jones Park, 600 Janesville Ave., said Patrick Smith, the new owner of Big Bar, a dairy plant dating back to 1941 that sponsors the event.
“We generally get around 250 cars, and we’ve seen everything from classic ’57 Chevys to newer Corvettes and Camaros to cars that go back to the late ’40s,” Smith said. “We even take out our 1952 Chevrolet step van and a 1972 three-door Suburban station wagon.”
Cruise night crowds often include those old enough to remember their own hot rodding days, but there are plenty of families who show up, too. Perkins said during the past season, he saw a father bring his 4-year-old son almost every week. After a slice of pizza or a scoop of ice cream at the soda shop, folks love meandering down the sidewalks, admiring the classic vehicles, he said.
Many cruise night venues supplement their events with additional attractions, and most organizations post detailed information on their Facebook pages or websites.
At Jones Park, there are concessions — including Big Bar ice cream treats — a DJ, classic tunes and trivia contests with prizes.
At Millgate General Store and Deli, 151 Millgate Drive in Burlington, manager Gabby Garner said she tries to get an animal shelter and local food and beverage vendors to attend Millgate’s Friday cruise nights. The events run from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and include July 19, Aug. 2, Aug. 16 and Oct. 25.
The crowds gathering for Millgate’s cruise nights — held every summer since the business opened in May 2016 — are diverse and dedicated classic vehicle fans, Garner said in an email.
“We received an email from a woman looking for a white and teal ’57 Chevy to surprise her parents for their 50th wedding anniversary pictures. Her parents had one when they were younger,” Garner said. “I emailed our list of cruise night attendees and posted on our Facebook page to see if we could find the car. Word got around, and by the end of the day we had found a guy willing to let this woman use the car for her parents’ 50th anniversary pictures. They sent us the pictures and it was a great moment for us.”
Cruise night, DIY style
Hot rods are a staple at cruise nights, but rat rods are just as popular. While hot rod owners often meticulously and accurately re-create a period vehicle, rat rodders don’t restore their cars as much as use what they’ve got to build a hot rod. Think of a mashup between a 1932 Ford frame and a Model A sedan body, with a 1939 Ford three-speed transmission thrown in.
“Back in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, guys would take whatever they could weld together, put big tires on,” Perkins said.
Some think the kind of cars turned out today have fueled a hunger for these cobbled classics.
“The prices of old cars have soared because everybody wants to put together a hot rod,” Perkins said. “It used to be you’d just junk cars, but there’s a generation getting all nostalgic on us.
“We’ve noticed the cars we would have discarded, a new generation is fixing cars up and thinking it’s cool. We’re living in a high-tech world where every car out there has the potential to be a hot rod.”
Cars Time Forgot
What: Annual car show that attracts about 1,200 show vehicles
When: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, July 14
Where: Lake Lawn Resort, 2400 E. Geneva St., Delavan
For more: Go online to carstimeforgot.com
Saturday, July 13: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., South Side Cruise-In, 1900 Center Ave., Janesville
Second Mondays: 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Jones Park, 600 Janesville Ave., Fort Atkinson
Tuesdays: 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., Shopiere Soda Shop and Ice Cream Bar, 5218 E. County Highway J, Shopiere
Thursdays: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Brain Freeze, 535 Milwaukee St., Whitewater
Saturdays through Labor Day: 4 p.m., Gus’s Drive In, 3131 Main St., East Troy
Saturdays, Aug. 10, Sept. 14 and Oct. 18: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Downtown Cruise Nights, 1 Parker Place, Janesville