“We have a Rolls-Royce today, and the Mercedes over there is one of a kind," Joe Picogna says, as Cars and Coffee gets rolling in Mount Laurel.
Marie, his wife of nearly 50 years, points out a yellow Dodge Viper aglow beneath the morning sun. “The color, the lines, the spoiler on the back,” she says. “I love looking at it.”
Just then a 1966 Chevy Impala station wagon like the one in which I learned to drive glides by — black, boat-like, beautiful. It’s a kick to see it.
“You find everything here!” Joe, a retired clinical psychologist, says. And he’s right.
These regular Saturday morning meetups for members and friends of High-Octane South Jersey are where one can encounter high-end imported sports cars parked next to vintage American muscle cars and more mundane, but beautifully restored, Detroit models of various vintages. And the self-described car enthusiasts and petrol heads who drive them.
Car snobs, please take note: Although there are many well-heeled collectors and owners of Ferraris and Morgans in its ranks, High-Octane South Jersey is for anyone who loves cars —and helping others, too. The club collects thousands of toys annually for kids served by the Deborah Heart and Lung Center and other organizations in Burlington County. This year’s effort kicks off with an event May 31 at Cafe Aldo Lamberti in Cherry Hill.
“The club started seven years ago with a group of guys that were looking to bring together people who have different styles and makes of cars, which is kind of unusual,” founder Chris Scafario said. “We typically get 200 people out on Saturdays, people from all backgrounds and walks of life. The common denominator is love of cars.”
A 42-year-old management consultant who lives in Moorestown, Scafario first became infatuated with automobiles at age 7 after seeing a Jaguar E-Type parked on a street in Cape May. Club member Steven Booker, a network engineer from Mount Laurel, was similarly smitten as a kid.
“This car is like a time capsule. You know how people listen to music to take them back? I get into this car and it takes me back to when I was a kid riding around with my dad,” Booker, 58, said as he showed me the 1969 427SS Chevy Impala convertible he’s restoring.
Picking up tips about parts and restoration, as well as hanging out with other folks who share the same passion, is one of the club’s chief attractions.
“We have become a family, because of Cars and Coffee,” said Hamid Afsharzand, 58, a handyman who lives in Cherry Hill and helped Scafario establish the club. “It used to be, people would take their cars out and put them back in the garage. Now we see other members on the road. We respect each other. The knowledge that we have and the cars we enjoy. ... That’s the connection," he said.
Club members “are an awesome group of people who are very community-minded,” said Donna McArdle, a spokesperson for Deborah. It’s a festive event when High-Octane South Jersey holds its holiday rally at the hospital in Browns Mills and delivers the toys, she said.
“They bring 100 cars, the public is invited, and they let kids and grownups take pictures with the cars,” she said. “They really exemplify that it’s better to give than receive.”
Picogna knows firsthand how important the club’s spirit can be. A cancer survivor who recently had a cardiac episode while on a cruise, he was unable to reach his regular doc. So he got in touch with his club buddy Louis Seiden, an endodontist, who connected him with another cardiologist. “He gave me reassurance when I was stuck in the middle of the ocean,” Picogna said.
Seiden also happens to be the owner of the aforementioned one-of-a-kind Mercedes. This is a 1987 Mercedes-Benz 560 SEL ... a Koenig special," he said. “I got it from the original owner, who was my best friend.”
It’s not uncommon for car enthusiasts to sell or pass along beloved vehicles like heirlooms to family members or friends they know will take care of them. Said Picogna: “We hope Chris [Scafario] eventually gets our Jag.”
That’s Jag, as in the gorgeous Jaguar Portfolio he and his wife drove to Cars and Coffee. “They only made 100 of them,” Picogna said. “It has Recaro racing seats, specially stitched. And the dash is Brazilian hardwood with molten bronze in the varnish to make it gleam.”
He and Marie suggest I take a seat behind the wheel, and I do.
All I can say is wow.
And thank you.