LOS ANGELES – As tricked-out old cars rumbled past on Van Nuys Boulevard, Reid Stolz still had trouble believing what he’d done.
This was not just any crowded six-lane urban thoroughfare but the storied street immortalized in the 1970s film “Van Nuys Blvd.” and in folk tales as the place where cruising may have begun.
But much has changed here in the land of cars since then. The cruisers left long ago, driven away by police. In the years since, they and their gas-guzzling cars were replaced by the big worries of global warming and $3-a-gallon gasoline.
Today, just as the decades-old American love affair with cruising seemed to be ebbing, the 52-year-old mechanic is all but single-handedly bringing it back to Van Nuys, giving thousands of car lovers a place again to transform it into a rolling ode to the 20th century.
“That first night, there were about 600,” Stolz says as he leans back on the hood of his 1972 candy-apple red Corvette. “Then it just grew.”
On this night, there’s a little 1923 Ford T-bucket replica here, a hulking 1969 Camaro with its thundering V-8 engine there, and any number of 1970s Pontiac muscle cars. As the first anniversary of the return of cruising approaches, thousands sometimes show up on the second Wednesday of every month.
So far, however, they haven’t brought with them a return of the huge traffic jams, drunken fights and other problems that led police to shut down cruising on Van Nuys in the 1980s.
Instead, as the sun goes down, cruisers rumble peacefully onto the historic if slightly ugly urban blacktop that cuts through the heart of the San Fernando Valley.
And they do it in seemingly every model of American car to roll off a 20th-century assembly line.
“It’s kind of like bringing a field of dreams on fuel to the public, a big line of cars that are actually moving instead of just sitting still,” Doug Auzine marveled as he prepared to launch his 1955 Chevy into the parade from a restaurant parking lot.
Soon that old station-wagon-turned-dragster would join such other moving museum pieces as little deuce coupes, Ford flatheads, historic Model Bs and restored 1957 Chevys busy traversing a two-mile stretch of the street dotted with car dealerships, modest restaurants and small businesses.
Then they would all turn around and do it again.
Stolz worried about what he’d started when he received hundreds of responses to a half-joking message he’d posted on the Internet last June announcing the Van Nuys Cruising Association’s return to the streets.
For one thing, there was no such group, so Stolz quickly formed one and had T-shirts made up.
Then he notified the neighborhood what was coming and put out a list of ground rules: No alcohol, drugs or weapons, no drag-racing and no engines with open headers.
To his relief, the thousands showing up pretty much follow the rules.
“Every now and then we’ll get a loud-party call” or a complaint of a jammed parking lot, said Officer Anthony Cabunoc, senior lead police officer for the area. “But that’s about it.”