Car enthusiasts peruse the eclectic mix of automobiles at a recent Cars and Coffee Orlando event.
Gary Merideth of Gotha discovered his passion for cars before he could even walk.
“Car appreciation was pretty much bred into me,” he said. “My first time at Sebring International Raceway was when I was 4 months old. I have been around cars a long time.”
An avid car enthusiast, Gary is an active member of the Porsche Club of America and Sports Car Club of America. He also has autocrossed with the Martin Sports Car Club of Orlando for more than 40 years, although he is not an official member. And while he likes the challenge and competition these pastimes provide, Gary decided to take his vehicular appreciation to another level.
Following the concept of a hugely successful car-based gathering that originated in California, Gary founded Cars and Coffee Orlando in 2009. The group meets the third Saturday of every month from 8-10 a.m. in the parking lot at House Blend Café, located at 10730 W. Colonial Drive in Ocoee. There is no official membership for the group, which usually has 20 to 30 attendees.“Most car events are a long affair,” Gary said. “Saturday morning, you get up and bring your lawn chair, and people walk past your car all day. I wanted to make this one a little different. Once a month, we get a bunch of folks together and trade knowledge and talk about our cars, and still have the rest of the day to do chores, go to our kids’ baseball games, and pursue other interests.”As a State Farm insurance agent, Gary also has gained inspiration from his clientele.“A lot of my clients have special-interest kinds of cars that never leave the garage,” he said. “I wanted to give them the opportunity to get them out from under covers and out in use, so people can see and enjoy them.”Cars and Coffee Orlando’s continued popularity has everything to do with its simple objective to be Central Florida’s premiere car hangout, where anyone can drive up in any car and feel welcome.“It’s just a bunch of guys and gals who like cars and assemble at the coffee house to look at cars and talk with each other,” said Bert DelVillano, a Dr. Phillips resident who owns a 1931 Model A Ford. “It’s very low-key, friendly and relaxed. We don’t care if you drive up in a beat-up Rambler or a Porsche — that’s just the kind of group it is. There are a number of people who like to just polish their car and take it out. For those people, this is a wonderful opportunity to do so.”“It’s just a great gathering of all kinds of people and all kinds of cars,” added Raddy Schatte of Windermere, who enjoys bringing his 1930 Model A Ford Tudor Sedan or 1981 right-hand drive classic Mini Cooper.“I specifically designed the club to not have any rules or trophies,” Gary said. “Just come, have a cup of coffee or breakfast, and hang out. We are open to anyone who has an appreciation for cars.”“The way it’s set up is great,” said Don Wright, a Conway resident who drives a white BMW. “There are no RSVPs or commitment. It’s well-organized in its free form. It’s a good chance to meet with a group of people who appreciate cars. People bring a great variety of cars. It’s an eclectic mix; we see everything from sports cars to exotic supercars to antique cars.”Cars and Coffee Orlando is not just for “the guys,” according to Gary, who usually pulls up in his dark-green 1994 Porsche 968. Many women and other family members also attend. “My wife and I load it up on Saturday morning and off we go,” Bert said. “My wife enjoys it as much as I do. It’s very much a family affair.”“I just love going and talking to the guys about their cars,” said Anne DelVillano, Bert’s wife of almost 49 years, who contends that she and her husband are fully immersed car enthusiasts. “I enjoy the car atmosphere. I don’t go to be polite or just tag along. I really enjoy the whole experience, and I love being with Bert.”The monthly gathering also provides its attendees the perfect opportunity to catch up with each other and talk about life.“Not all of it is exclusively car stuff,” Gary said. “Friends talk about spiritual things, health issues, family stuff and other interests. From my own perspective, I enjoy the camaraderie, the companionship and having car things in common, but not being restricted to just that. It’s a good Saturday morning, and I do look forward to it.”“It’s not just the cars, it’s the people,” Bert said, quoting a popular phrase from the Porsche Club of America. “This is unique. There’s no competition at all. We just go and hang out. I absolutely love it the way it is.”The mutual excitement for the group’s future is a common thread. “We are waiting for someone to bring something we haven’t seen out of their garage,” Raddy said. “Somebody’s got something tucked away somewhere. We hope they bring it out at the next meeting.”
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