A square portrait photograph of Nick Licata posing for a picture with his arms crossed
Cruisin’ in the ’70s typography

rowing up in Southern California during the ’70s there was no shortage of cruise spots to roll onto any given Friday or Saturday night. I’m sure just about every city in the country had their own popular cruise nights, too. Yet, in living in the Pomona Valley, home of the NHRA Winternationals, and with Irwindale Raceway and OCIR just a quick freeway drive away, those dragstrips had a big influence on the cars that showed up to one of the many SoCal hot spots.

In the mid-’70s, I had yet to possess a driver’s license, so I was limited to hitting up the cruise spots closest to home, as my main mode of transportation was a ’71 Schwinn Orange Krate (thankfully, I still have it).

Each cruise had their own local group of cars that would show up, and all the “Ricky Racers” who drove the really badass rides would meet up at one spot, brag about how they had the fastest car around, then prove it by challenging someone to a street race on the outskirts of town later that night. The information regarding the time and place was sketchy at best as we relied on word of mouth for the latest intel. This was pre cell phones, so it was common to get bogus information or there would be a last-minute change in venue to keep the cops off the trail. I compare it to the scene in American Graffiti that takes place on a very early September morning sometime in the early ’60s. A long trail of cars follow Milner, in his ’32 Ford coupe, and Falfa, in his ’55 Chevy, to a deserted road where they attempt to settle the score on whose car rules the streets of a small town in Southern California with an impromptu drag race. The movie is iconic–an absolute must-see.

Today, in SoCal there are very few cruise nights still happening, and the remaining ones are more organized and likely to have been approved by city officials and the parking lot tenants where the events take place. That’s fine and all, but the lack of acceptance by local law enforcement is part of what made cruising in the ’70s cool. It gave the impression that the guys with the coolest and fastest cars were outlaws.

That was then and this is now. Today it’s all about getting up early on a Saturday or Sunday morning and heading out to the nearest Cars and Coffee cruise destination.

No way would teenage hot rodders of the ’60s and ’70s ever think of getting up with the sun to meet in a parking lot for a round of coffee and eat doughnuts–it just wouldn’t happen. But today it’s those same defiant teenagers who came up with the whole morning cruise concept. Funny thing is, I’m now at the age where getting up early to hit a local cruise doesn’t sound like such a bad idea. Thankfully, I now have a car of my own and no longer rely on that Schwinn to get around. That’s a good thing, because if I go down, something’s going to break, and it’s not going to be a part of the bike.

So, wake up, all you rebels. We got some hellraising to do! Just remember, no burnouts, speeding, open headers, loud mufflers, or cranked-up stereos. Have fun and be sure you are out of there by 9:00 a.m.

You in?

a line of Chevy muscle cars at Southern California’s Quarantine Cruise
At Southern California’s Quarantine Cruise, most are in by 7:30 a.m. and out by 9:00 a.m. It’s quite a bit different from a cruise night in the ’70s, but it still draws a crowd who appreciates vintage rides.
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