Update at 12:08 p.m. Nov. 29, 2018: Richard Rawlings will operate Cars & Coffee in the Dallas area in 2019. Rawlings is one of the best-known car guys in the country and is the star of TV show Fast N' Loud on Discovery Channel and the founder of Gas Monkey Garage in Dallas. This story details the beginnings of Cars & Coffee in Plano, before Rawlings owned it. See the bottom of the story for updates on Rawlings' new role.
Long before sunrise on Saturday mornings, millions of dollars worth of cars line up on the Dallas North Tollway. There are vintage Lamborghinis. Brand-new Ferraris. Fully restored '60s-era Ford Shelby Mustangs. A $2.8 million Bugatti Chiron.
They idle, in the dark, waiting to park at Classic BMW in Plano. By 7 a.m., the lot is full, and Cars & Coffee kicks into high gear.
"The idea was to create a great place, an open environment," says Eric Maas, owner of Classic BMW. Families would come, pushing kids in strollers, and teenagers would talk shop with gearheads who had worked on a single car for decades. "We had amphibious cars. We had vintage, ancient cars. We had barn finds. We had race cars. We had tanks. Anything that could be motorized and run down the road, we had here," Maas says.
But after thousands of car enthusiasts have attended this monthly event since it launched in May 2009, Cars & Coffee is hitting the brakes at Classic BMW after its last event on Dec. 1. The "little car show" that started with 226 vehicles has grown to as many as 1,000.
Cars & Coffee is too big, Maas says. And too complicated.
"It's an enormous amount of work," Maas says of the free event. It has raised about $120,000, according to the website, for a rotating group of charities. His employees move 400 to 600 BMWs out of the lot on Thursdays and Fridays to make room for an unknown number of cars that show up the next day. The dealership hires extra security to keep watch of the throngs of people geeking out over North Texas' most interesting cars, many of which are irreplaceable.
Over the years, though, Maas says Cars & Coffee began to attract vehicles he says were not "show cars."
"These really ordinary cars have come in and pushed the extraordinary cars out," he says.
"It's hard, but you kind of have to pick and choose. Most of what comes in — and is expensive — is worthy. Sometimes really inexpensive stuff is even more worthy.
"We were putting on an average show, and it really needed to be excellent," he says. "It was just time."
Cars, coffee and community
Cars & Coffee in Plano was launched, at first, as a marketing tactic. The BMW dealership had moved from Richardson to Plano, and Maas wanted car enthusiasts to know where to find the new showroom.
But Cars & Coffee was never about selling BMWs, Maas says, and the show attracted cars of all makes and models. "It became a place to show your car, meet like-minded people in the car community, and provide a unique opportunity for people to see cars they may not see that frequently," says Chris Casten, a car enthusiast who moved from Orange County, Calif., to Plano 10 years ago.
He lined up at 5 a.m. on Saturdays to show off his 1968 Ford Mustang, a vintage car he paid $6,000 for in 2006. "All in, it's probably worth $20,000," he says. "But it's more fun than the value of it. It's more about working on it and tinkering on it."
Drivers and car enthusiasts come from all over North Texas for Cars & Coffee. John Taylor, a Highland Village resident, attended the very first Cars & Coffee with one of his luxury cars. That day, he drove his Alpha Romeo 8C, a rare vehicle worth about $275,000 back in 2009.
It was thrilling to see this car community created almost overnight, Taylor says. "Most car owners enjoy sharing their cars with other people. I particularly love sharing them with young boys and girls who have an interest in it," he says, noting that some of them have lots of car knowledge from playing a motorsport video game called Forza. "Occasionally, I learn something from them."
He complimented Cars & Coffee, calling it "unusual" because of the high caliber of cars on the lot. "There's something here for everyone," he says.
What makes a car 'extraordinary'?
That's part of the problem at Cars & Coffee: Nobody, including the organizers of the event, want to define an "extraordinary" car. Any car enthusiast who has put money and time into a car likely thinks it's special.
Maas understands, calling it the "last thing I wanted to talk about" — telling car people their cars weren't high enough quality.
Arlington resident Taylor Brown won't be returning to the Dec. 1 event after his 2003 Ford Mustang Cobra was turned away in November. He woke up at 4:30 a.m. in Arlington and had finally made it to the front of the line in Plano at 7:05, where he says he was told "they had hit their limit on Cobras."
He believes his car is extraordinary. "Every time people see a 'Terminator,' they always go crazy over it," he says of the nickname Cobras got in 2003 and 2004 because they 'terminated' their competitors, the Firebird and the Camaro.
"My car does not look stock," Brown says. "I've changed my tire setup to make it look more appealing. I've wrapped it [in a sky blue color]. People who follow me and know about my car absolutely love it."
For Brown and other car enthusiasts who complained on social media, Cars & Coffee inadvertently dissed the work they'd done to make their cars unique.
"This is my trophy," Brown says. "I wanted this car since I was 17 years old."
It felt like a "slap in the face" when McKinney resident Addison Duhon wasn't allowed in with his 2015 Scion TC. He, too, woke up at 4:30 a.m. and arrived at 5. He was turned away after that.
Enthusiasts like Drew Cox, who drives a 2017 Hyundai Veloster Turbo that he built, says he'd rather find smaller groups of like-minded car enthusiasts. He helps operate a group called DFW Velosters and is a regular at Cars & Cantina, which takes place at 10 a.m. on the first Saturday of the month at Lava Cantina in The Colony.
He says he enjoys meeting other people who put "time and effort into making their car their own" — regardless of how expensive it might've been.
"I don't think refusing people is the best message to send," he says of Cars & Coffee in Plano. "We're all enthusiasts. We all enjoy one thing, and that's cars."
"They're creating more division in the car community that doesn't need to be there."
And Cox — and Brown and Duhon — want to be part of that community.
"When I was a kid, I would go to car shows," Cox says. "I'd think to myself, 'I really want a car to put into a show.' Now I have one ... and this event tells me I can't bring my car in. It's a little degrading. It's a little upsetting."
An audience of 32,000
McKinney resident Luke Brooks' way to get into Cars & Coffee was to snap photos of his favorite luxury vehicles on his Canon Rebel T5i camera.
Since 2014, he's been posting his photos to the Instagram account @cars.and.coffee.dallas, which has grown to more than 32,000 followers. It got so popular, so quickly, that the executives at Classic BMW didn't even know who was running the account. The answer surprised them: It was Brooks, who started it when he was 14 years old.
"I realized they didn't have a page to show off Cars & Coffee, so I kind of just went into it without realizing it was a thing," Brooks says. Now 18 years old, the Prosper High School graduate is still posting to his avid fanbase with this mantra: "post good-quality photos, and post often." He runs some of the only Cars & Coffee promotional outreach, still as a volunteer.
Over the years, he's seen the quality in cars diminish. "If you read some of the comments on my Instagram, you can see a lot of complaining of the quality of the cars coming in. And it's really hard to control them," he says.
Casten says the opportunity to meet people was challenged as the event ballooned in size.
"The numbers got so big that it was difficult to make that connection," he says. "A lot of people couldn't even get into the venue because it was too large."
Fifteen-year-old Southlake student Steven Wayland sees the end of Cars & Coffee as an opportunity to start his own car meet. In 2019, he plans on organizing a recurring event in Southlake. "I was devastated when I heard the Dallas Cars & Coffee was shutting down," says Wayland, who just got his learner's permit and purchased a 2005 BMW M3. "But I found it to be an opportunity to start my own — but at the same time, change the game." He plans on handing out business cards at the final Cars & Coffee.
The buzz ends Dec. 1 — for now
The final Cars & Coffee at Classic BMW starts at 7 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 1. Like many of the events over the years, it will be a fundraiser for Toys for Tots, and attendees are asked to make a cash donation or bring an unwrapped toy.
A few hours before sunrise, fans are expected to stop traffic, like usual, on the Dallas North Tollway as they wait for a coveted spot inside the dealership. Hundreds or more will show up, not to show off their vehicles but to get a glimpse of cars they may never see again, all parked in the same place, for free.
But it will return. Cars & Coffee is now a franchise that has expanded to New Zealand, Bulgaria and Italy. Maas is hopeful that Classic BMW can sell its ownership in Cars & Coffee to someone else in the car community in North Texas.
"We're hoping to hand this off," says John Kobell, general manager at Classic BMW in Plano. See the section below for breaking news on Richard Rawlings' purchase of Cars & Coffee.
"This show did more than Eric and I had ever imagined," Kobell says. "We've watched a father teach his son how to look at a car. When we see that, we've said, 'This is a total success.'"
The big reveal: Richard Rawlings will operate Cars & Coffee Dallas
Just after noon on Nov. 29, Richard Rawlings announced via Facebook he will be the new operator of Cars & Coffee in Dallas.
Rawlings is the star of television show Fast N' Loud and Garage Rehab. He owns Gas Monkey Garage in Dallas and has launched Gas Monkey Bar N' Grill, a restaurant, and Gas Monkey Live, a music venue.
"I do believe everybody will be very, very happy with where it's going," says BMW GM Kobell, who helped find and sell the Cars & Coffee Dallas franchise to Rawlings.
More to come on this developing story.