It’s all about getting in your car — the older the better — and hitting the open back roads.
Henry Ford’s Model T changed everything for an incredible number of Americans. The car was dependable, fast (for its time), and most importantly it was attainable. When introduced in 1908, a Model T cost $850. But thanks to Henry Ford’s assembly line, by 1925 the cars were selling for under $300.
Suddenly, cars were available to middle-class Americans — and with cars came freedom. People fell in love with cars. Even more, people fell in love with driving.
And with that, cruising was born.
“Basically, cruising is going no place in particular for no particular reason. Getting in the car and enjoying the drive,” says Renee Crist, curator of collections for LeMay – America’s Car Museum.
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That’s a big aspect of what Crist calls “the sport” of cruising. It’s all about getting in your car — the older the better — and hitting the open back roads.
“Most of the times, cruising is not done on major highways. We take back roads. The thing that’s so wonderful about Washington state and the Puget Sound area is the wonderful roads,” Crist says.
In addition to being the curator at LeMay — a Tacoma museum that counts 259 vehicles in its current collection — Crist is a car collector herself, along with her husband. She still owns the first car she bought, a 1965 Volkswagen Bug, but they also count a 1964 Porsche 356 as a part of their collection. Her job at the museum often has her cruising in a 1939 Packard or a 1963 split-window Corvette.
For her, cruising is “just for the love of driving and the love of cars.”
“When you’re in these cars, it’s not like modern cars,” she says. “In older cars the windows are bigger, they’re more expansive, and if you’re in a car that goes a little slower it’s interesting how everything kind of slows down and you actually become more a part of your surroundings.”
She adds that meeting up with friends who also own cars of the same era has the power to make you feel as if you’ve been transported in a time machine.
“When the only thing you can see in front and in back of you is a car from an era, and you’re sitting in your car from that era or near, you can squint a little and feel like you’re back in that era.”
Of course, it doesn’t have to be a Sunday and it doesn’t have to be daylight to go for a drive. Just give the 1973 movie “American Graffiti” another watch to witness sultry, summer-night cruising.
Another key component of cruising is the act of being seen. It’s often called a “cruise-in,” and it is the natural end of a driving cruise; a chance for the car owners to hang out together in a designated space, checking out each other’s cars and giving other people a chance to check them out, too.
“Cruising is a social engagement,” Betsy Bennet of Goodguys Rod & Custom Association says.
Goodguys has been hosting the Pacific Northwest Nationals event in Puyallup for 32 years. It’s the second-longest annual event in their yearly schedule, and it brings to the event nearly 3,000 vintage hot rods, trucks, customs, and classics spanning from some of the earliest makes and models to vehicles from 1987.
“Our events are a huge gathering of classic cars. Obviously, guys like to hang out with their cars and hang out around other cars, but we also have cruise lanes at all our events and people will just drive them around. It’s part of the cool factor,” Bennet says.
She says some of their events have big cruising elements — cars just coasting up and down the event grounds, taking laps from morning until well past dark — and Puyallup is one of those events.
“They cruise all day and hang out all night,” she says with a laugh.
Even if you aren’t a “car person,” there’s just something about a car; the lure of the open road, the wind rushing through the windows, the music or the conversation happening on the drive.
“I always say, everyone has a car story,” Crist says.
“Cars deeply connect people,” Bennet adds.
“We run into people who have a car and maybe it’s a car that’s been in their family for generations or maybe it’s a car they rebuilt with their dad or their granddad. Cars have that deeply connective factor,” Bennet says.
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