The MC at New Canaan, Connecticut’s Caffeine and Carburetors sounded like a radio disc jockey because, well, he is one. Peter Bush has had a long career at radio stations like 95.9 “The Fox” in Connecticut, but classic cars are his passion. He’s one of those deeply knowledgeable guys—Jay Leno is the same—who can, for just about any celebrated model, rattle off arcane details, submodels and production secrets.
To the attendees at the informal event—which sprawls across the downtown of affluent New York suburb New Canaan, when it’s not at a nearby park—Bush related a chance meeting with a legend. “I was in a Walgreens parking lot in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and I see an older guy sitting in a C8 Corvette. I went up to him and said, ‘It’s not a good car, it’s a great car.’ He turned around, and I see it’s the racing driver A.J. Foyt, a Triple Crown winner for victories at the 12 Hours of Sebring, the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.”
Bush, who is the show host and producer at Caffeine as well as the MC, said the eponymous get-together was first held in 2008, when it attracted 35 cars. Today, it’s hundreds, ranging from beat-up Trabants to million-dollar restorations. The streets become so thronged with onlookers—including many families—that it’s hard to make forward progress. It’s all over by noon, and shoppers recapture the streets. “It just organically grew up this way,” Bush said. “And now there’s a real sense of community.”
The pre-story goes all the way back to 1995, when Doug Zumbach of Zumbach’s Gourmet Coffee began hosting small groups of car nuts on regular Sundays, but that effort went on hiatus after a year and a half. The idea was resurrected as Caffeine and Carburetors with fewer events (four this year) but much bigger crowds. The coffee shop is still ground zero, and the cars fan out from there and park wherever they can. The cars don’t get judged, and nobody wins a trophy. It’s the anti-concours, though some of the cars can and do appear at the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance up the road (this year, June 3-5).
The innovative and aerodynamic 1975 Czech-made Tatra 603 in basic black belonged to Michael Stach of nearby Redding. “It’s got a rear-mounted air-cooled V-8 engine,” Stach said. “This was the last year.” Asked how it handles with a V-8 in the tail, he said, “It’s lighter than a Porsche.” Stach, born in what is now Slovakia, has several other Tatras, going back to a more conventional 1934 T75 model with a front-mounted 1.7-liter air-cooled boxer engine.
“You only see Tatras at Caffeine and Carburetors,” Bush said. “And it’s not a Russian car, by the way.”
A block up from the Tatra was a Shelby Cobra. Replicas are thick on the ground, but this one exuded originality from its patina-rich red leather seats. “It’s a real 289, and it was found in a coal mine,” Bush said. “The white paint is original.” Now there’s a story. The Cobra in the Coal Mine sounds like a Tom Cotter book.
Looking like it had just emerged from a seven-figure restoration, a C-Type Jaguar was surrounded by admirers. It appeared utterly real, but Bush said that it was in fact a very exacting and rare Hawker replica from the UK. An original 1952 C-Type, one of just 53 built, sold for $5,285,000 at a RM Sotheby’s auction in New York circa 2017, but even replicas like the one in New Canaan are pretty valuable.
At some car shows, the marques are lined up neatly, but it’s all rather willy-nilly at Caffeine and Carburetors. Fairly consistent, though, is a British car alley at the end of the street, this time recording Austin Minis, Austin-Healeys, a Lotus or two, MGs and Triumphs. But a Bullitt-replica Mustang and a highly original Mercedes-Benz 300SL “Gullwing” weren’t far off. A group of 1930s Fords huddled together for protection.
As usual, there were dozens of Porsche 911s, with a blue metallic GT4 getting a lot of the attention. BMWs are also common, and this time a pristine 1972 3.0 CS coupe stood out. A 1963 “split-window” Corvette Sting Ray looked like a work in progress, missing its rear bumper. A cheerful blue-and-white Nash Metropolitan and a very battered 1938 Ford convertible named “Dirty 8” might have been laughed out of some shows, but they were appreciated in New Canaan.
Anna Herring of New Canaan sat in the well-used white 1967 Triumph TR4A IRS that had been in her family for 30 years. When it left an hour later it was loaded up with more family members than you’d think would fit. An owner taking off in his small European sedan with “suicide” rear doors said it was a 1951 Lancia Aurelia B10, with a 1,750-cc engine.
There’s no policy against selling your car at the event, so buyers could go home with a 1974 TVR 2500M that had jettisoned its original engine in favor of a Ford 301-cubic-inch V-8. The owner, Angelo Bonvenuto of Danbury, Connecticut, said he bought the car five years ago with the original 106-horsepower Triumph inline six already gone in favor of a British Ford V-6 putting out about 150 horsepower.
“There were only 947 2500Ms built between 1972 and 1977,” said Bonvenuto. “I wouldn’t have cut up an original car, but this one had already been altered. In creating what I call a TVR 5000M, I thought it was important to keep it balanced and not put too huge an engine in it—it’s a very light car.” The TVR Griffith was sold in the early 60s with Ford 260 V-8s under the hood, and they have a reputation for being difficult to handle.
Somewhat more sedate and also for sale was a fully restored 1974 MGB, and a 1990 Mazda Miata with only 39,000 miles. Definitely not for sale was a 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible. The owner uses it on long-distance cruises, and it’s been in the family for a long time.
Bush said he’s mostly hung up his radio microphone, and is now spending time at a New Milford, Connecticut restoration shop, The Third Garage. The garage specializes in Porsches (a Steve McQueen tribute, an “Outlaw” 356) but had recently completed a nut-and-bolt 1967 Mercedes-Benz 250SE convertible. It was parked right there. The next Caffeine and Carburetors event, in the same place, is May 22.