There’s a nostalgic breed roaming the streets of Queens.
They rumble by on a sunny day. They usually spot you at a red light, nod, then leave the acrid smell of burned rubber behind them.
They’re car junkies, the sort of untamed motor-heads who care more about horsepower than miles per gallon, and during the spring you can find them rattling your windows and shaking your walls as they blast down stretches of Northern Boulevard, tackle a turn on Frannie Lew or even risk the odd speeding ticket on Queens Boulevard.
But within that faction of muscle car aficionados, a kinder, gentler variety gathers at parking lots around the borough. They show up to chat and share stories, gawk at each other’s carburetors or tailgate as pedestrians stare.
They are members of Queens’ car clubs, and you’ll find them on a random weekend gathering and dispersing at their leisure. In the meantime, they allow us unlucky pedestrian sedan-owners the chance to gawk at their crushed velvet interiors, V-8 4.0-liter engines and chrome bumpers.
You don’t have to be rich or a master at restoring cars to appreciate American muscle from the 1960s and ’70s.
Take, for example, the Bow Wow Boys, named after the now-gone meetup spot in Howard Beach, The Big Bow Wow.
According to President Frank Tanzi, the group is composed of mostly southern-Queens members, usually from Howard Beach. They gather every Thursday at the Home Depot on Woodhaven Boulevard and Metropolitan Avenue in Glendale.
The club is filled with classic American muscle cars, including Tanzi’s 1971 Monte Carlo. And you’re more than welcome to come and take a peek.
“Just show up,” Tanzi said. “You only really have to have a classic car to be in the club.”
Sounds anathema to the whole point, doesn’t it? But it’s true. Nearly every car club in Queens has the odd late-year model among its chrome tailpipes. And to jarring effect. But for Tanzi and his members, it’s not about that. It’s about community and getting together to talk about four wheels and the open road.
“We just gather together and show the cars; that’s all,” he said.
Their next big hurrah will be on Sunday, April 21 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a car show at 82-12 151 Ave. in Lindenwood.
There is, however, one rule: “Don’t touch. Look but please don’t touch.”
The Bow Wow Boys also occasionally gather donations for various charities and veterans associations. Which leads to another surprising, or perhaps not-so surprising truth about many of these car clubs: more than pea-cocking, the groups usually come with a charitable bent.
The East Coast Car Association, for example, is unique in its designation as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. The group is a partner of Toys for Tots and raises funds for St. Mary’s Hospital for Children in Bayside. It holds various events throughout the year, raising funds for the charity and ultimately the kids.
Yes, you could possibly catch the odd Mustang lover throwing wanton peeks at another member’s Pontiac (sacrilege!), but the group gathers throughout the spring and summer to raise money.
It all started with the association’s founder, Eddie Walter, in 1999. He dedicated time to developing the club, with cruise nights and fairs and shows galore. Funds generated at the events all went to the hospital, and toys were given to Toys for Tots.
Eddie even helped establish the club’s coup de grace, the end-of-season ECCA Annual Toy Run. The group bands together, usually over 100 cars, stuffs the vehicles with toys and makes its way to St. Mary’s with the help of a police escort to hand out the gifts to the kids.
Eddie died on Feb. 26, 2007, but his organization thrives on after him thanks to its current members and president Bob Widdows.
To date, the car association has raised over $100,000 for St. Mary’s.
“We don’t pay dues or anything like that,” Widdows said. “We just volunteer our time. All the members we have, they’re all dedicated the same way.”
The makeup of the cruise nights and car shows is changing, however.
Alongside the usual smattering of classic Fords and GM muscle are newer cars.
Widdows even had the chance to see two Fiat 500s — the new model, not the ancient death trap — squirm up to his 1973 AMC Matador. But it’s cool.
“It’s any kind of car,” Widdows said.