Lucky Cruisers Weekend: How Czech US Car Fans Party
Imagine a campground in the heart of Czech Republic – a place normally populated by a few families on a cheap holiday with their diesel Škoda, a tent or a caravan, and a beer. And now imagine it’s chock-full of American cars. Hundreds of them. And of all kinds. From rough traditional hot rods to gleaming ’50s fin-tailed landyachts and shiny ’60s muscle cars. From Mustangs and Camaros of all generations to Jeeps and trucks. Boxy sedans from ’70s and ’80s. Modern Challengers and Voyagers. And even some PT Cruisers or Calibers, which get laughed at. Occasional there’s a $500 Buick Century from ’80s, which doesn’t get laughed at.
It may sound like some weird dream, but it’s the actual reality of an event called Lucky Cruisers Weekend. I’m there to enjoy the atmosphere and spirit, to bring the experience to you, my dear readers. I’m not driving my Chrysler LHS, because I managed to find a fool who gave me some money for it. I’m also not driving my diesel Alfa Romeo 164, because it would get turned into a trash can.
I’m doing this one in style. My bottom is pampered by rich, white Corinthian leather. My eyes switch between checking the green digits of the instrument cluster and looking over the long, maroon hood with a Pentastar made of Cartier crystal and, weren’t it for the fact that no one uses the citizen radio in the Czech Republic of the 21st Century, I would be tempted to try and do my impression of Burt Reyonlds into the dash mounted CB. I’m sure Frank Sinatra would approve, even though I’m listening to Rádio Country (the only thing I’m able to get a good tune of), which is terrible even if you like country.
At this point, I’m pretty sure you either know exactly what I’m driving (in which case I tip my imaginary hat to you), or I managed to totally confuse you with the previous paragraph. The latter is more likely, because I’m driving a 1982 Chrysler Imperial. It was Chrysler’s last V8, RWD, personal luxury coupe. It borrowed the platform, venerable-but-slow 318 engine and Corinthian leather from the Cordoba, then added trippy design – similar to the bustleback Seville and that Fox-bodied Continental TTAC’s own Sajeev Mehta so lovingly restores – and finished it with lots of wacky electronics like digital instruments or dash-mounted CB. It was conceived by the genuis of Lee Iaccocca and promoted by his good friend, the Ol’ Blue Eyes. However, unlike the decidedly unsexy K-car, it just didn’t work on the market, which makes it much more interesting now.
At this point, it’s probably clear that I’m not going to cover this event as an outsider trying to make sense of things as was the case with GTI Treffen at Wörthersee a few weeks ago. American cars have been my main hobby for almost half of my life. It’s been a decade since a bought my first American car and started to be a regular at the US car meets. Picking up the Imperial at my friend Petr’s place, I once again felt the combination of joy, sadness and maybe even a little jealousy. The fancy barn full of interesting old metal (some his, some of other friends) makes me grateful to be able to experience it, but it also brings memories of all the cars I had to sell a few years ago.
Bit this is no time for nostalgia. It’s Friday afternoon and there’s going to be a party.
Even miles away from the place, it’s clear that something strange is going on. You can see American cars in Czech traffic occasionally, but seeing a 1970s Eldorado here, late ’60s Olds 4-4-2 there and a classic Mustang in the opposite direction is not your typical Friday afternoon.
Coming to the venue on Friday is advisable for two reasons. First, the Friday night is a much better party than Saturday when everyone is hungover. And second, the “civilians” don’t come on Friday, which means there is no traffic jams around the camping grounds and no need to risk some pedestrian’s bottom damaging your precious hood ornament.
Even so, there’s a lot of cars already – I’m arriving as number 140 or so, and before the sun sets, we’re at 200. A decade ago, when I started frequenting these events, a US car meet with two hundred cars in attendance would be fairly huge, probably the second biggest in the season. Today, there are more meets and more cars at each of them.
Since it’s Friday and the campground isn’t totally choked with cars yet, it’s time to do what the “Cruisers” part of the LCWs name is about. The unique part of this meet is the fact that it’s encouraged not to leave your car parked all weekend, but actually drive it around the venue. The paths form something of two figures of eight intertwined and there are cars slowly driving around constantly. Friends greeting friends from the car windows, people hitching rides in friends’ rides or even in cars of people they just met, an eclectic mix that’s typical for European US car meets. Those who are not “cruising” are gathering around hamburger stands, beer stands or making their own barbecue. Some others are going for a swim in a small lake.
For the most part, it still feels a lot like the old US car meets a decade ago where there were only a few dozen people who mostly knew each other. The spirit still remains, though with a lot more people and a lot more cars – since importing US cars (and especially classics) became much easier in the 2000s and Czechs became richer, the old cars started flowing in. A decade ago, anything from the ’60s was unique and revered. Now, ’60s and early ’70s classics outnumber the beaters from ’80s and the numbers of modern muscle and modern trucks are starting to be really significant.
But what keeps together such a diverse group, driving everything from a pristine ’59 Cadillac or ’30s antique to a modded ’05 Mustang or a ’01 Town Car? If there’s any common theme besides the fact that we all love American cars, it’s probably the style of the 1950s. In the last few years, most US car meets in the country started following the rockabilly/pin-up/vintage ’50s style that’s so popular in Germany and Scandinavia. It used to be if you went to a US car event, you either ignored any “style” (which most people still do) or you had to have a cowboy hat, cowboy boots, cowboy shirt and generally look like the ’80s German idea of a Texan. Now, while you still see these kind of outfits, there’s more of a “hotrodder/rockabilly” style permeating the scene amongst the gents. For girls, it’s pin-up. Even girls who are not into it in the “normal life” often dress up. There’s a pin-up contest and, of course, rockabilly bands playing live on the stage.
The cars cruise around well into the night, but more and more drivers switch the steering wheel for a beer and the whole thing starts to become more and more of a party. I retire from driving quite early and the rest of my evening is nothing to be discussed about on a family-friendly site like this. Let’s just say I wake up shortly before noon the next day not feeling very well and minus one pair of glasses.
Waking up in a really hot tent (it’s one of the first true summer days here) and to the sound of countless V8s is really quite a unique experience. A hamburger, coffee and a swim cures the worst from the night before and the main day of the event begins. There’s no cruising for me today. First, I feel I really shouldn’t get anywhere near a steering wheel for at least a few more hours. Second, while the campground seemed nearly full with 200 cars yesterday, we’re now over 500 and I’m blocked from going anywhere anyway.
The Saturday tends to be more of family-friendly fun for spectators at Lucky Cruisers Weekend. Hundreds – or even thousands – of “civilans“ come to look at American cars, buy stuff, listen to the music and eat burgers. In a typical year, this means the place is jam packed with people and even loses lots of its charm for actual US car owners, who can’t really socialize with one another in the huge crowd. This year, though, the bad luck for organizers was good luck for the rest of us. On the same weekend, there was a huge airshow in my nearby hometown of Pardubice and lots of people apparently preferred to see the P-38, B-25, Hurricane and some other WWII warbirds fly.
Even so, the Saturday is probably quite similar to any big car meet in America or elsewhere in the world. People sit around, drink beer and cook barbecue, stand around food stands, walk around cars, look at them, take a pictures and ask their owners silly questions. Plus, of course, this being in Czech Republic in the beginning of summer, lot of gazing is spent on girls. Which is, by the way, another sign of how the times are changing – a decade ago, there weren’t many pretty girls at US car events in Czech Republic. There were old, fat guys everywhere and all the girls were with young guys at “tuning parties“ reliving their Fast & Furious fantasies. As the tuning events dwindled, the US events soared in popularity. It’s hard to say whether it’s just a question of fashion or if it’s got something to do with maturity, either of individuals or the car culture as a whole. With the simultaneous rise in popularity of trackday events, JDM meetings, classic car show and other interesting stuff, I’m starting to suspect it’s the latter.
The Saturday program continues with prizes for best cars of show – which I’m not really interested in and just a sight of 52 cups makes me feel really glad about turning down a place in the jury – and a car auction. Just one car is on sale – a 1977 Chrysler New Yorker, belonging to the same friend who loaned me the Imperial. It is, though, the first time such an auction is being held here and people seem to be really interested. I guess it’s not the last time.
Shortly after the auction, I leave to attend other duties at my local pub. The Saturday evening is usually uneventful and Sunday, with all the hungover people and cars leaving home, is even a bit depressing. When I’m driving through the gate, I have no idea that my expectation of “uneventful evening” couldn’t be further from truth.
Have you wondered how cruising around the campground in old, cool and valuable cars gets together with the presence of a few hundred people who are mostly drunk? Well, apparently not so well.
Not long after my departure, a young pin-up girl manages to shove a borrowed ’70 Charger into a custom Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a ’71 Thunderbird that belongs to one of the organizers, and a ticket stand (thankfully empty by the time). No one’s hurt and the cars are repairable, as is the bike, but it is likely this means the beginning of a slow end to the two-faceted car event. The days when you could have a party for hardcore US car lovers and a huge family-friendly event with hundreds of cars in one place are probably gone. The scene is growing and the big events will probably become much more policed and much less wild than they were. The party life will probably move to smaller, more specific events where people still know each other and are able to stop anyone trying to do anything stupid.
On one hand, it’s necessary and inevitable. On the other, I will probably miss the quaint, crazy Czech US car meets when they’re finally gone.
@VojtaDobes is motoring journalist from Czech Republic who previously worked for local editions of Autocar and TopGear magazines. Today, he runs his own website, www.Autickar.cz. After a failed adventure with importing classic American cars to Europe, he is utterly broke, so he drives an Alfa 164 Diesel he got for free. His previous cars included a 1988 Caprice in NYC Taxi livery, a hot-rodded Opel Diplomat, two Dodge Coronets, a Simca, a Fiat 600 and Austin Maestro. He has never owned a diesel, manual wagon.
Photography: Radek “Caddy” Beneš
The Cadillac on the left is powered by 6.5 TD engine from Chevy van and came to the meet from Sweden.
Classic Firebird and half-japanese Dodge
Boxy Caprice was the typical car at US meets decade ago
A 73-74 Charger. With “01” on the side :(
Classic Cherokee is one of the most popular US cars in CZ
Some people picnic in style
Totally restored ’67 Mustang and its proud owner
To some people, Edsels are cool
Strange whitewall tires
Mopars in early 60s were crazy
A perfect example of ’60 Polara
Every meet needs a ’59 Caddy
Craziest fin of all time
Edsel, once again
Fullsize convertibles, like this Pontiac, are very popular
A nicely preserved early 70s Buick
Conversion vans are quite popular in Europe
Freshly restored ’71 Monte Carlo
There’s lot of modern metal as well
And cars need a good polishing
2nd gen F-bodies have a great following in Europe
… and some of them take on the 70s look
A typical American classic in CZ. A Mercury road yacht.
Mid-50s cars are still rare, but the numbers are growing. A 55? Caddy.
Freshly restored ’69 Road Runner (clone)
A beautiful ’70 Charger
This is one of the last pictures of the car before crash
A slightly “hotrodded” ’89 Caprice STW
Pin up and a ’70 Deville
Another pin-up, and a ’60 Dodge Polara
The Polara was one of the coolest cars of the meet
Girls liked the Polara
This ’70 Fury belongs to same guy as the Imperial I drove
Crazy detailing on ’60 Polara
4th gen F-bodies are popular as well
… and once again the “batmobile” Polara
Strangely for a Mopar of this era, the steering wheel is round
… but the fins are crazy
… and the face is unique
Full convertible experience with an old F-body
Four-door Electra. Cars like these are prime material for importers
No, it doesn’t talk
A big rig came as well
’59 was truly a crazy year
Furry dices are popular even here
’70s Eldorado and ’70s Ranchero
The typical layout of the 65-66 Oldsmobile dash
Photography is to new-school
Work in progress…
Burgers and American cars go well together
Landbarges, a muscle car and a lot of Mustang in the background
You can even find C1 Corvettes in CZ
Late-model Mustang. Common, not very popular.
A ’57 or ’58 Buick convertible
another shot of the 73 Eldorado
A wonderful ’66 Pontiac. The owner also has ’65, ’67 and ’68.
Another one of the beautiful Monte Carlo
This car was in auction
Even a 4-door Buick in brown can be a coveted classic here
A nice early 70s Pontiac
Once again the diesel Caddy from Sweden
’66 Impala, one of the prettiest cars of the meet
A Buick, cruising
Eldsel was popular
Edsel at the center stage
Pontiac Bonneville cruising
Boss Hogg came to town
Poor student’s Lincoln Continental
Lincoln is a great party vehicle
Professional cars are popular as well
If you have money, you can bring a house
Cadillacs are among the most popular brands
… easy to see why
an Astro, a Tahoe and a classic Cadillac. typically eclectic
Inside a living room
Lebarons are quite common, as they were imported officially
Who needs a 1 ton truck to tow a truck?
Another New Edge Mustang
Modern Camaros come to meets, too
These belong to a pair of brothers.
All with 302, I think Sajeev will approve
Freshly finished. Still overheats.
Cruisin’ in a diesel
The photographer’s car
This ’69 Eldorado was a birthday gift
Once again, a sedan in beautiful shape
’60 Polara, belongs to owner of US car magazine
Once again the Polara
Myself in Imperial
Cheesy hood ornamets are a must!
Beginners V8 sedan!
If you don’t have money, a turbo four will have to do
A ’71 Thunderbird and a ’66 Bonneville
A typically varied group
Before leaving, we met up at my hometown
An Imperial and a conversion van
Big Chryslers from different decades
A cool ’79 Lebaron with a 318
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