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Start Your Engines!

Every summer, the hot rods and hot bods descend on downtown Danville for four cool car shows.


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Start your Engines!

Start your Engines!
Your handsome, yet modest, correspondent checks his hair in a Cadillac's side mirror.

 

Start your Engines!
Hot rods and convertibles park on Hartz Ave with open
hoods so that car nuts can take a gander at the engines.

Start your Engines!
A classic Pontiac hood ornament.

I feel as though I’m walking through a dream. Everywhere I turn, I see Chevelles and Bel Airs, GTOs that would get Vin Diesel’s heart thumping, chromed-out Camaros, Stingrays, Cobras—and not the glorified Mustang that Ford tries to sell as a Cobra these days; I’m talking about a Shelby Cobra—and then I realize that I haven’t even gotten to Danville’s Hot Summer Nights Car Show yet.

The muscle cars I’ve been drooling over are camped out in an auto shop parking lot, because a car isn’t allowed in the show unless it was manufactured before 1960. So I pull myself away from the Cobras and slide between the barricades on Hartz Avenue, and I’m there. Hot Summer Nights has been going on for 12 years, ever since three Danville men—Tony Carnemolla, Jim Wadsworth, and David Allen—had a moment of inspiration.

Start your Engines!

“This all originated with three of us sitting in a bar, having a beer,” says Carnemolla, vice president of the Danville Merchants Association and owner of a ’29 Ford. “And we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be unique if we could bring a car show here?’ ”

Start Your Engines
A two-door 1934 Plymouth.

Start your Engines!
A mean green 1959 Cadillac.

Start your Engines!
the T-bucket is a hot rod based on the Ford Model T.

Start your Engines
This 1950 Ford coupe is outfitted with a boatload of custom
features, including the grill, headlights and, of course, paint job.

It’s unique, all right. I wander down the middle of the street, my eyes jumping from vintage Porsches to Ford F1s, Austin-Healeys to Aston Martins, Model Ts to MGs, a whole block of ’55 T-Birds. Passing a Cadillac so sweet it would make Cruella De Vil forsake her coat for Dalmatian seat covers, I hear a teenage boy behind me tell his father, “You can’t argue with the coolness of that Cadillac, Dad.”

Start your Engines!
This purple people eater is a 1934 Chevrolet two-door sedan.

Start your Engines!
Blues pioneer Robert Johnson used the Hudson Terraplane
as the metaphorical subject of his song "Terraplane Blues."

Start your Engines!
The 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air is among the most
recognizable American cars.

The street is crowded, but the vibe is friendly. When the first show took place, the city of Danville had no outdoor drinking ordinance, and when you have 3,000 people and no law against drinking in public, things can quickly get out of hand. The city took care of that, though; revelers now pile into downtown Danville’s restaurants and bars—standing room only at every one—and the police line the streets just so you know they’re there.

Start your Engines!
Young and old alike cruise down tree-
lined Hartz Ave like teenagers in a
James Dean flick.

“It’s a family-oriented show,” says Carnemolla. “You can bring your kids, and it’s over at 9 p.m.”

Start your Engines!
What would your sweet ride be without the fuzzy dice?

All the same, this family event has grown up. Attendance reached as high as 15,000 at last year’s final show. There’s a band at every corner—like the one doing Ray Charles’s “Hit the Road Jack.” And while the cars are hot, the women checking them out might be even hotter. One of them walks up to my buddy and rubs his chest. “You’re lucky now,” he tells her. My eyes get wide—until I notice the silk-screened four-leaf clover on his shirt. Just then, I see a small child approaching a gruff-looking dog in a leather Harley-Davidson collar. Uh oh, here’s where the tranquility ends and the drama begins. The kid reaches out to pet the dog … and the pooch smiles.

One thing you can say about Hot Summer Nights: It’s not guilty of false advertising. Even at 8 p.m., it’s scorching. I make my way back up the street to a packed Pete’s Brass Rail and Car Wash and squeeze inside for a cold brew. It’s getting dark by the time I exit the restaurant. I hear a starter turn over and an engine roar. The party isn’t over quite yet, but that’s my signal to hit the road.

 

Start your Engines!
Few cars are quintessentially Californian than the
Chevrolet Bel Air.

Hot Summer Nights Car Show, every other Thursday in July and August, starting July 12, 4–9 p.m., Hartz Avenue, Danville, (925) 820-5750, www.ci.danville.ca.us.

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