Celebrating 25 Years of Cruisin’

A wide variety of antique cars drive down Main Street as they enter the seventh anniversary of The Villages Cruise-in.

Jack Towner remembers driving his red and white ‘57 Chevrolet Bel Air to the parking lot behind Church on the Square 25 years ago to attend the first Villages Classic Car Cruise In. He made his car stand out by setting up drive-in speakers on stands on each side for that extra nostalgic touch. “I couldn’t keep people away from it,” said Towner, of Summerfield. “When people see that car, it’s like a magnet. I had some interesting conversations.”

The event that put Spanish Springs Town Square on the map is celebrating its silver anniversary today, with classic cars on display around the square from 4 to 9 p.m. (UPDATE: Weather forced a cancalletion) Towner said about 20 cars were on display at that first cruise in, parked behind what is now The Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center. A quarter of a century later, as many as 200 cars 30 years and older park on all the roadways around the town square on the third Saturday of each month.

“It’s the nostalgia of classic cars,” said Chalsi Cox, special events manager at The Villages Entertainment, which hosts the shows. “It’s a great event to come out to with your families and reminisce. You don’t have to be a car enthusiast to enjoy and appreciate the classic cars.”

Towner tries not to miss the monthly event. In the early years, he said, the people’s choice winner would drive around behind the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office old-time police car.

Towner took home a few people’s choice awards through the years with the ‘57 Chevy before he sold it about 15 years ago. Now he takes his 1942 Ford to the event.

“The car I’ve got now is kind of rare,” Towner said. “People ask, ‘Oh, is that a Mercury?’ ‘No, it’s a Ford.’ The Mercury has a similar grille, but the Mercury has more chrome than the Ford did.”

Each month, the cruise in spotlights a particular classic car group, but all makes and models are welcome at every show. For today’s event, the featured club is the King of the Road chapter of the Antique Automobile Club of America.

Members of King of the Road will enter the area at 2:45 p.m. Villages residents can register their cars and enter the square to park at 3 p.m. Once 150 registrants have been allowed in, or it reaches 4 p.m., the general public can register their cars until the area is full.

Resident Kay Mosure worked for The Villages Entertainment for many years and often could be found at the registration tent. She enjoyed talking to all the car owners while they registered.

“They were so excited to display their vehicles and talk about how they came to own them,” said Mosure, of the Village Rio Ranchero. “Some were passed down in the family or they bought it and restored it. It’s a great show for all ages.”

Mackie McCabe, who was director of hospitality in The Villages when the cruise in began in 1997, said Dave Buschman was the main organizer of the first event. In the beginning, most of the car owners came from the surrounding communities, but Villages residents soon formed car clubs and brought their own classic vehicles.

“It just exploded,” said McCabe, who lives in Fruitland Park. “It’s a great little night out on the square. People can come and bring their grandkids. People can walk around and tell stories about the cars.”

Members of The Villages Vintage Car Club have attended the cruise in since at least 1999, averaging anywhere between 15 to 25 cars depending on the time of year.

Club president Alan Carey has been driving his 1963 Ford Falcon to the event on a regular basis for the past 12 years and has formed many friendships through the club and the event.

“We’re sitting around talking, telling lies, sharing stories,” said Carey, of the Village of Amelia. “I enjoy just seeing other people, talking with friends.”

Every January since 2009, the Tin Lizzie Club of North Central Florida has brought its Ford Model T’s to the cruise in.

“It’s great,” said club president John Farr, of the Village of Bonnybrook. “You get a lot of people coming to ask questions. Most of us in the club invite the kids to sit in the cars for a photo op. (The people) just enjoy reliving their youthful experiences. ‘I learned to drive one of those in a field!’”

Music always is a part of the cruise ins as well, with Villages favorite Rocky and the Rollers keeping the tunes rolling today. To add to the festivities, The Villages Cheerleaders will perform at 5:30 p.m. followed by the Mystic Jewels at 5:45 p.m.

Those attending the cruise in can pick out their favorite cars for the people’s choice awards. They can vote for their two favorite cars at the registration tent, and the top four owners will get an award. The Entertainment Department will tally the votes after 7:15 p.m., then announce the winners at 8 p.m.

The cruise in also shows its charitable side each month, holding a chance drawing with half the proceeds going to Shared Harvest Community Garden, which also began in 1997. On average, the drawings bring in $260 each month to the garden, which provides fresh food for area food pantries.

Next month, the cruise in will host its Christmas in July event, collecting new and unwrapped toys for the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office toy drive to benefit children and families in the tri-county area.

The cruise in is the premier event at Spanish Springs Town Square, The Villages’ oldest town center. The monthly car show helped people from surrounding communities discover The Villages when it was in its early stages of growth.

At the recent Evening With the Developer event, president and CEO of The Villages Mark Morse made it clear to his audience of residents that the area is an important part of the community. 

“We are 100% committed to the success of Spanish Springs,” he said. “This team will do everything to make decisions about how and what we offer that is in the very best interests of you guys, always. Take that to the bank.”

Staff writer Michael Fortuna can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5273, or michael.fortuna@thevillagesmedia.com.