Eclectic Classics on Chicago’s North Shore

Recent years have seen the explosion of local weekend show-and-shine events for car enthusiasts of all stripes. The popular Cars-n-Coffee gathering that started in Irvine, California, back in 200X has spawned a rash of similar events throughout the country. The effortless format is part of the appeal: drivers simply show up in their classic rides, hang out with fellow enthusiasts and check out what else rolled in, and then head out after an hour or two. No voting, no awards, no announcements – just a bunch of car people admiring each other’s tastes.

For the last couple years, Chicago-area car enthusiasts have enjoyed the low-key Coffee and Classics event held on the streets of old downtown Winnetka, one of the affluent lakeside communities that makes up Chicago’s suburban North Shore. On the last Sunday of each month from April to October, two blocks of the town’s picturesque shopping district just east of the commuter rail line are closed off for classics and future classics.

What gathers is an ever-changing mélange of mostly European sports cars, as envisioned by Coffee and Classics founder Brian Hughes. An offshoot of his FuelFed organization – an informal society of Chicago-area car collectors and enthusiasts – Coffee and Classics was originally conceived as an alternative to the frequent and numerous American classic and muscle car events that are held throughout the area all summer long.

Jaguar XKs and Mercedes SLs are a common sight, and you can always count on a slew of Porsche 356s, not to mention MGs and Triumphs. But it’s also not uncommon for something like a BMW M1 to roll in and take a spot alongside a Citroen DS. A handful of vintage bikes routinely make the scene as well, ranging from single-cylinder Ducatis to early Triumphs and Nortons. Despite the decidedly European focus, there is always a small spattering of American performance history on display, including vintage Corvettes and Shelby Mustangs, to say nothing of the odd AC Cobra from time to time.

There are regulars, for sure, but the beauty of FuelFed’s Coffee and Classics is that you just never know what may show up. And despite the precious metal that may arrive, most participants are surprisingly modest about their cars, very approachable and quite willing to share their passion with others. Egos are largely in check here, as there are no classes or awards to divide the field.

By 8:30 AM, the intersection of Lincoln and Elm is alive with the sights, sounds and smells of another era. By 9:00, the two cafes that anchor the gathering’s main corridor are filled with car enthusiasts who catch up with each other over breakfast at outdoor tables. By 11:00, the crowd breaks up and the lucky owners hit the road in their pride and joy.

There is still one more chance to take part in Coffee and Classics before the 2013 season draws to a close on October 27.However, it’s not uncommon off-season events to pop up during the colder months, such as the indoor Cocktails and Classics gathering. For more information on the event and on the Fuelfed group, visit