The Magic of Motoring
Mornings with Caffeine and Octane
written and photographed by BROOKS METZLER
MY FIRST MEMORY OF ANY VEHICLE WAS MY DAD’S CHEVROLET S10. I don’t remember much about the truck, other than it was black and the windows would fog up on early mornings when he’d take me to school. What
I do remember vividly are warm summer nights, air rushed so thick and humid through the open windows I felt like I could scoop it in my hands. No older than 5, I had realized the freedom that cars
Caffeine and Octane, a car show that begins – rain or shine – around 7 a.m. on the first Sunday of every month and wraps by 11 a.m., captures a bit of that same spirit. This past March, a record-breaking 20,000 people attended the monthly car show, now the largest in the country. Free -admission for spectators and participants alike make the numbers that much
The real key to the show’s success, though, is the incredible variety of cars on display. “Everybody has car memories and everyone remembers their first moments in a car,” said Bruce Piefke. Piefke owns High Octane Events, LLC, which is responsible for producing Caffeine and Octane, both the monthly event and now its television show of the same name on the Velocity channel.
“The goal [of the show] is and has always been bringing people together through a love of cars,” Piefke said. Car culture, he related, crosses all ages, ethnicities and genders. Cars are omnipresent and part of what has electrified the growth of a truly grassroots event.
Rev Your Engines
Caffeine and Octane began in 2006, when a group of men gathered on the first Sunday of every month outside the Panera Bread at The Avenue East Cobb. Skip Smith, owner of Classic Autosmith in Marietta, first attended the show that year. “Back then, it was a small group of guys. I’d take a chair and the Sunday paper and we’d talk cars,” he said. Those Sunday mornings, the only time they found during the week to break away from work and household projects, were spent chatting about cars and life. Soon, others started catching on. Curious folks would chat, bring their cars and tell their friends about the gathering. The upward trend steadily began.
By 2009, the show had become pretty big, according to Smith. “There were still no sponsors and not much organization to it. People were peeling out; there were no police on hand to control the crowds,” Smith said, estimating 500 to 600 cars were in attendance, taking up the entire front section of the parking lot.
“Next, they moved to Windward Parkway,” Piefke recounted. At that point, six years running, the show had attracted enough of an audience to necessitate police presence. The early morning time frame, once a deterrent to those who might act out by spinning tires and racing through the streets of Milton, wasn’t as effective given the word-of-mouth popularity the show had gained. Milton police started handing out tickets and the original organizers were faced with an unforeseen dilemma: what was once
a quiet Sunday morning refuge had become a show bigger than anyone could have imagined.
“The original organizers started talking to sponsors,” Piefke said. “They knew they had something valuable, but hadn’t figured out a way to make money from it.” By the time 2012 rolled around,
the organizers had struck a deal with -Autotrader, an affiliate of Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises.
Autotrader had plans of going national with the show, Piefke said, but ultimately needed someone to take it to the next level. They had begun to feel the strain of rapidly growing crowds at a small venue. With more than 25 years of experience in directing and managing events, Piefke was the person they called.
“I saw the tremendous opportunity with this show. I saw what it could be with just a little more organization and sponsor help,” Piefke said. He purchased rights to the show in 2014, putting it under the umbrella of High Octane Events, LLC and set to work.
Where to Park It
First order of business was a change of address. “We moved around a bit in that first year, holding [the show] at a local high school, but even there the crowds were too much to handle,” he said. Eventually, they parked it at Perimeter Mall.
In January 2015, the first Caffeine and Octane was held at its new location. “That’s when things really started to take off,” Piefke said. It finally allowed organizers the flexibility to add some desperately needed structure to the gathering. A main show area was established in the far corner of the lot, where unique cars could be featured every month. This never-know-what-you’ll-see phenomenon was already a
big draw for the show, but now it’s easier
“Our goal is not to exclude anyone,” Piefke added, “but we also don’t want 10 of the same cars in the show area.” With 7,700 parking spaces, Perimeter Mall finally gave the show the room it needs as well as opened up much more area for others to participate. While the main Caffeine and Octane show chooses cars based on diversity and quality, the surrounding parking lots are packed with local clubs showing off their own cars.
Television came into the mix as a way to tell stories. “You won’t see many owners camped out next to their cars here,” he said. “A lot of the owners come because other people’s cars are here.” This camaraderie leads to long talks about quirky or intricate engineering details, lost loves and trips to faraway places.
Piefke pitched the idea for a television show to Velocity, an automotive enthusiast cable network that hosts shows like “Chasing Classic Cars” and “Wheeler Dealers.”
“I didn’t want something with the manufactured drama of a reality show;
just a show where people tell stories about what make their cars special,” he said.
Now in its second season, the -television show has given Caffeine and Octane international reach, evidenced through merchandise sales in Germany, Finland and Australia. In May, the show was given a “Placemaking for Dunwoody” Tourism award and Piefke said this is just the beginning.
“Right now, our biggest goals are growing reach through social media,”
he said. One idea is a smartphone app made exclusively for the show, where owners can upload supplemental information on their vehicles like performance specifications, track times, fun facts, -stories and more. They’d then place a barcode in the window of their car and spectators could easily learn more through these interactive exhibits.
Expansion of the Caffeine and Octane website is also on the horizon. “We want to make a place for that extra owner information, but also open up the potential for car sales and even auctions,” Piefke said.
A Place and Time for Chevy
Affable is a good word to describe Lenny Thompson. Step inside his salon on Church Street in Marietta andyou’re instantly greeted with friendly Americana. On the counter, a Mickey Mouse rotary phone. In the back corner, a Seeburg Select-O-Matic Jukebox with Chuck Barry and The Beatles on its track list. On the back wall hangs a painting of a red Tri-Five Chevy and behind Lenny’s Salon, an identical car is parked.
Tri-Five stands for 1955, -56 and -57, three years when Chevrolet poured their heart and soul into creating an extravagant car for the everyday driver. Thompson bought his 1957 Bel Air Sedan from a man in Michigan. “Not too long after I got the car home, I discovered it had been built in Georgia, so the car had made it home in a way,” Thompson said. His car was built at Doraville Assembly, a General Motors plant that opened in 1947 and continued to build cars until 2008.
His Bel Air represents everything to which Thompson has devoted the decoration of his salon. “Being a younger guy, someone who didn’t grow up during [the 1950s], it’s great to hear stories from older folks who had one, or who have memories of one someone else [who did],” he said.
Before this, Thompson owned a Ford Explorer and several Camaros, but he said that the car community surrounding this car has been one of the most supportive he’s encountered. “I’ve worked on this car myself and a lot of what I’ve done has been through trial and error,” he said.
He’s also discovered a few quirks to owning a car built more than a decade before seat belt laws were introduced. Vacuum wipers, which run off of the engine’s intake pressure, will slow down at speed and when the car is at idle. There’s also a device mounted to the dashboard on the driver’s side that looks like glass ornamentation. It’s actually a traffic light viewer, useful in a car where the angle of the windshield is almost an “L” shape. Taking these minor differences in stride, Thompson took the car on its first road trip this past month, to a 1950s-themed car show in Nashville, Tennessee and drives his -Tri-Five every day.
Much like many enthusiasts have found, the car community is a way for us to come together. That’s what makes an event like Caffeine and Octane so special and why you’ll see people from all walks of life, even dogs, making up the crowds that surround old hot rods, Italian supercars, Japanese hatchbacks, high-riding Jeeps and everything in between.
Taking the Show on the Road
St. Patrick’s Day weekend marked the first-ever Caffeine and Octane at the Beach, a laid-back road show version held at the Jekyll Island Convention Center.
Three-hundred cars attended on a cloudless weekend, including a 1958 Bentley that was ordered by a Venezuelan dignitary, but never -delivered. Other notable cars included a selection of bespoke hot rods, including one of Hot Rod magazine’s creations dubbed -“Blasphemi.”
“The Jekyll Island show is a way for us to create more featured shows,” Piefke said, adding that he wanted Caffeine and Octane at the Beach to represent everything from American muscle cars to imports, like the Brazilian-built Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia TC on display.
It’s also an opportunity to incorporate automotive workshops, like the Lincoln Electric Welding class, events like the water-bound Sweetwater Brews Cruise and celebrity appearances, like that from famed hot rod designer Chip Foose. Read more about what to do, where to stay and what to expect during this annual event at Jekyll Island at pointsnorthatlanta.com/jekyll-island/