Before I move on to the action from the within the main show at the 2012 Cruisin’ Nationals, I want to spend some more time sharing Friday’s pre-show action including the gathering at the Historic Santa Maria Inn and the evening’s cruise session through the heart of Santa Maria.
While shooting vehicles in a car show setting is fine, I have to say there is something very special about seeing these custom machines in their natural habitat – the street.
Before I had even stretched out after the long drive into Santa Maria, I was surrounded by the cars that had gathered in the hotel parking lot. The cruising wasn’t scheduled to start until 7:00pm, but the action was already in full swing.
It was barely three in the afternoon, but already people were beginning to claim their spots along Broadway to get the best view of the night’s action. The cars had also come early to get the good spots, like this ’56 Nomad that was posted up in front of a restaurant across the street.
Even before the cruise officially kicked off, there was plenty to see as ars made their way in and out of the parking lots and down the street.
I used this time before the cruise to walk around and get an early look at some of the cars that would be taking to the boulevard later on. I spotted many familiar machines hanging about, like this scalloped ’60 Ford I recall from last year’s event.
This bubble-top Buick was sporting more of a race car look with an open engine bay, side pipes, and Moon Discs. Not a typical custom style, but cool nonetheless.
As I mentioned earlier, Hot Rods are outnumbered quite heavily by customs in Santa Maria. That’s not to say that fans of traditional-styled roadsters and coupes couldn’t get their fix though.
The “Turkish Delight” drop-top Ford out of San Diego caught my eye at last year’s Long Beach Motorama so it was cool to see the car again – this time under the fading Santa Maria sunshine rather than the lights of the Long Beach Arena.
With as popular as chrome reverse wheels once were, it’s surprising how rare they are these days. They are far more uncommon than the five-spoke Astro Supreme, which has become the defacto wheel of choice for 1960s-era custom builds.
As I hung around the parking lot on Friday afternoon, I ran into Toshi-san, an online buddy of mine from Japan.
Toshi runs the Local Hero – a web site and brand dedicated to custom car culture in both Japan and the US. With my interests in Japanese car culture and American customs, I’m a big fan of what Toshi has done with the Local Hero.
Toshi flew into LAX from Japan and hopped in his ’60 Chevy Wagon for the ride up to Santa Maria. The idea was to enjoy the car in California one last time before it’s loaded up and shipped to Japan next month.
I can’t wait to see what he does with the wagon in Japan. Hopefully we’ll get the chance to catch up again when I head back there later this year.
By 7:00 a huge crowd had assembled along Broadway and the Santa Maria Police Department closed down the street to normal traffic. An activity typically frowned upon by law enforcement was being facilitated by them. It was time to cruise.
One by one, the cruisers filled the street, packing the roughly one-mile stretch of Broadway the police had blocked off for the evening. It was like a small town parade but instead of floats and marching bands, it was custom cars.
At this point I began to see why the West Coast Kustoms organization has fallen in love with Santa Maria as the location for this event. The accommodation that the city extends to showgoers and car enthusiasts is extremely respectable.
Any car that had registered for the show was invited to the cruise, and there was quite a variety in the line of machines that were circling up and down the street.
Having a station wagon comes in handy not just for trips to the hardware store or junkyard, but for when it’s time to go cruising around with your buddies. I came to know this very well as the first car I ever drove to high school was an old wagon.
Something like this Chevy Suburban also makes for a proper cruiser. It’s comfortable, has plenty of passenger space, and not to mention looks cool as hell.
Whether its airbags or hydraulics, adjustable suspensions are perfect for raising your car to a sensible ride height while rolling down the street. Sometimes though, you just want to keep it scraping. It’s the right thing to do.
Another one of the world’s quintessential cruising machines – the chopped Merc.
While some of these cars were built for cruising, others were slightly out of their element crawling up and down the street at parking lot speeds. This fat-tired blown Coupe is an example from the latter category.
The same goes for this ’57 Pontiac drag car. It may not have been built for this, but the crowd sure got a kick out of it.
There isn’t much in this photo to give away that it was shot in 2012. The modern license plate on the Merc to the left is one of the only things that jumps out at me.
Most of the cars were not on the street for the entire two-hour cruise session. Many would pull off into a parking lot for a little break before resuming the action.
A lead sled Chevy leaves its mark on the streets of Santa Maria – literally.
When it comes to outright presence, few cars could beat this heavily chopped ’59 El Camino as it made the rounds up and down Broadway. What an amazing car.
Few cars take better to mild customization than GM models from the 1959 and 1960 model years. Case in point, the Oldsmobile on the left of this shot.
Nobody likes a traffic jam, but for this one we’ll make an exception.
Each event we cover on Speedhunters has its defining scenes – whether it’s a GT machine rounding the Nurburgring’s treacherous corners or a GT-R car under the lights of the Daikoku Parking Area. For the Cruisin’ Nationals I’d say this scene fits the bill.
It’s with visions like this in their heads that so many travel to Santa Maria each year.
With that I’ll close out my Friday experience at the Cruisin’ Nationals.
Make sure you stay tuned as tomorrow we’ll continue with a look inside the main event.