Robbinsville resident Carl Giambrone smiles from his 1966 Ford Thunderbird at the Cruise Night July 11, 2013 at the Foxmoor Shopping Center. (Photo by Mark Wetherbee, Jr.)

Robbinsville Hot Rods club hosts cruises nights on Thursdays throughout the summer and fall.

By Kyle Kondor

Robbinsville resident John Holden sat at a registration table, and smiled.

Every Thursday since the weather started warming, he has watched as dozens of passionate car owners and their hot rods roll into the parking lot at the Foxmoor Shopping Center. He has watched, in a few months’ time, a dream become a reality.

Holden, founder of the Robbinsville Hot Rods club, wanted to bring car enthusiasts from all around the area together. He approached Robbinsville Friendly’s owner Lee Paroly about launching a cruise night at Foxmoor. Paroly agreed to partner with Holden, and was able to provide space in the shopping center’s parking lot for the event.

The free event now brings car owners from all over Mercer County, and includes more than 100 hot rods each week, a variety of oldies music from the ’50s and ’60s and trophies awarded to the owners of the top five cars, as voted by attendees. (Businesses have sponsored the event, which pays for the music and awards.)

Cruise Night will continue every Thursday at 5 p.m. until Oct. 31. An Aug. 22 theme night features imported cars. The once-a-month theme on Sept. 26 is late model muscle cars.

The club is also looking for more people to join and come out every Thursday to display their cars, Holden said.

“Car cruises are great,” he said. “They’re a lot of fun, a huge social event, and it gives people a chance to come out and show off the cars they’ve put a lot of work into.”

A majority of car owners at events like Robbinsville’s Cruise Night will only show off their hot rods special events. The amount of time and money that goes into restoring some of these vehicles means it isn’t worth driving in every day, particularly in traffic or less-than-prime weather conditions.

The typical owner will have worked on a car for more than 500 hours, and will likely have spent anywhere from $5,000-60,000 fully restoring their car, a polling of car owners at a recent Cruise Night revealed.

The July 11 cruise night featured cars as old as a 1926 Ford Model T to something as new as a 2013 Corvette. As the night went on, more and more cars pulled into the parking lot as the owners walked around, mingling with other car owners. Some sat in lawn chairs, relaxing.

Robbinsville resident Carl Giambrone showed off a 1966 Ford Thunderbird that he completely restored and has won him dozens of awards. Giambrone said he attends Cruise Night almost every Thursday.

“There’s a great camaraderie between all the guys here,” Giambrone said. “So you come out each week, make some new friends, see some new cars and have fun.”

Mike Pisano from Hamilton—the owner of a 1957 Chevy Bel Air—also attends the Robbinsville Cruise Nights regularly. He said he has spent countless hours working on the car he’s owned for 35 years. He installed a 454-v8 engine and added a hydraulic hood to his car, just to name a few restorations. He was most proud to point out the car’s license plate, which reads “U WISH.”

“Most people tell me how they wish they still had their car and how they wish they never sold it so it makes hot rod owners like myself proud,” Pisano said.

Ewing resident Larry Katona attends several car cruises in his 1980 Chevy El Camino. There are more than 30 cruise events in New Jersey—including ones in Hamilton, Neptune and Freehold—but Katona especially enjoys Robbinsville’s.

“No other cruise I go to has music,” Katona said. “Not all of them are as often as once a week either.”

The atmosphere—and regularity—of Robbinsville Cruise Night also seems to be a boon for the restaurants and stores that surround the event. Business owners in the Foxmoor Shopping Center have ached for something to draw customers since the mall’s anchor, a grocery store, closed almost two years ago. Restaurants, such as Friendly’s and Thai eatery Ploy Siam, have tried to capitalize on the Thursday crowds by offering food discounts when the hot rods are in town. Lee Paroly offers free ice cream and meal discounts at Friendly’s every Thursday.

He’s pleased to have been a part of a new Robbinsville tradition.

“I decided to team up with John because I knew the type of group that these car guys are,” Paroly said. “They’re so meticulous about their cars, and they create such a nice environment for everybody. We really wanted to get some more business in the shopping center.”