Local Early Rodders Are Comrades in Cars

It’s a Saturday morning tradition the comedian Jerry Seinfeld would toast to: His recent project, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” has Seinfeld — yes, you’ve got it — going out for coffee with other comedians in vintage cars.
The Early Rodders were way ahead of him. Since 2001, the United Artists Theaters parking lot in La Cañada Flintridge has been the weekly destination for comrades in cars getting coffee. Classic and, lately, newer exotic automobiles are driven over by a growing cast of characters who get up early to talk shop over coffee from Starbucks or Goldstein’s Bagels.
By 6:30 a.m., the lot is teeming with cars and conversation — largely about cars. But by 9 a.m., it will all have seemed like a dream. “Like a flash car show,” as LCF’s Scott Swanson put it.
Snooze and you lose on this by-the-people, for-the-people experience, which started with 10 like-minded, coffee-drinking car enthusiasts, and has grown almost entirely by word of mouth to the current couple hundred.
“The best thing is the camaraderie, just meeting new friends and seeing old friends every Saturday,” said Rick Chew, the LCF resident who drives an old roadster and started the club seeking to establish a local version of the longstanding Donuts Derelicts car show that happens Saturday mornings in Huntington Beach.
There’s no charge for admission, no dues, no judging, no registration. If you want to participate, you need only show up and pick up your trash. (Some of the regulars actually show up early to tidy up after the previous night’s movie-goers.) To be a part of the club that’s not a club, it just means that you’ve purchased a $10 shirt.
And, perhaps, that you plan to take part in the annual 9/11 memorial motorcade. Starting at 9:11 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 9, 50 Early Rodder regulars can be seen cruising down Foothill Boulevard to pay homage to those lost on 9/11. For the past four years, the group has arranged to drive past schools in LCF and La Crescenta, intending to draw young students’ attention to the important day.
“We wanted to honor those lost and keep the memory alive,” said Dwight Sityar, the vice president of the Crescenta Valley Chamber of Commerce and a key Early Rodders organizer who also helps make cars available for the Fiesta Days parade and other community events.
“You get to know everyone really well,” said Glendale’s Greg Gaglio, who was among the younger enthusiasts when he started showing up with his unrestored 1963 Sprint convertible a decade ago. “They’re like your Saturday morning coffee pals, and they all have a story.”
There’s a guy who always brings his husky, named Casper, just like his previous huskies. There’s another guy who’s knocking down walls at home, giving up a bedroom so he can fit a fourth car in his garage. There’s a guy who’s a serious collector of old Volkswagens — and old cappuccino machines.
“There are checkbook collectors, unrestored original guys, your modified guys, your outlaws — there are terms for all of us,” said Gaglio, his Starbucks cup in hand.
“The people are genuine,” said Burbank’s Adam Dayvolt, who drives a 1991 BMW M5 and spent a recent morning wheeling around his 20-month-old son James in a classic umbrella stroller. “If you have questions about anything, they’ll talk to you.”
And, as anyone who’s seen Seinfeld’s ode to cars, coffee and comedy on the streaming service Crackle can tell you, the vehicles steal the show.
On the series, Larry David gets in a 1952 Volkswagen Beetle, Louis CK in a 1959 Fiat 600 Jolly, Chris Rock in a 1969 Lamborghini Miura P400S.
For a couple of hours a week, the UA lot looks like central casting for Seinfeld’s new show.
“That’s the theme: It’s everything,” said Corey Jorge of Van Nuys, who couldn’t keep his hands off a black 1969 Buick Electrica as he spoke, compulsively polishing the car’s already gleaming frame. “If it has four wheels, or two wheels, and a motor, bring it by.”
Timmy Pereira, 11, delighted in sharing the details of his grandfather’s hot-rod, which took 10 months’ worth of eight-hour workdays to rebuild.
“That is a Bundt cake pan!” Pereira exclaimed, pointing to part of the self-built engine. “And there’s a toy frog hidden somewhere in there, too.
“And, come in here,” Pereira said, continuing the tour. “The radio is an old post office box. And look up here — want to know how old this roof is? It’s 100 years old. It’s made of old stairs. And we just found this antenna. Do you know what it is? It’s a fishing pole. Oh, and the headlights, these are dish plates.
“What this car has taught me is that I don’t need to go out and spend $15,000 on a car. I can build one myself with a Bundt cake pan and a couple of dish plates.”
That said, Pereira’s favorite cars are Ferraris “because they go fast and they’re expensive.”
Naturally, parked two cars down from his family’s homemade hot-rod was a gleaming red Ferrari.
In the eastern end of the lot, Porsches congregated together. Elsewhere, the cars were displayed like a toddler might arrange them: Jaguars from the 1960s were parked next to Volkswagen Beetles from the ’50s. Chryslers beside Chevrolets, and Model Ts near Mike Burton’s 1957 pale yellow Chevy truck, equipped with a ’73 Camaro drivetrain.
“It’s not a show car, it’s just a driver,” Burton said of his truck, which didn’t need to be defended. It fit right in.
“It’s the best show in the area,” Gaglio said. “You see something new every week, and that’s the beauty of it.”

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