In Reverse

W hen George and Bob Civitelli attended Hamden High, they’d drop their girlfriends off at home and cruise their 1956 Chevy Bel Air down to Glenwood Drive-In, where they’d hang out with their friends and chow down on the diner’s now famous 10” dogs.

Some fifty years later, not so much has changed. The Civitelli brothers still drive down to Glenwood, and they’re not alone. They’re met by a staggered caravan of car enthusiasts driving street rods and hot rods, muscle cars and roadsters, Corvettes and Camaros, even a WWII-era military jeep—all part of the Glenwood Drive-In Cruise Night. A classic car gathering that happens every Wednesday, weather permitting, from mid-April to mid-October, each occasion officially runs from 6 p.m. ’til the cars disperse, though they often start arriving around 5.

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The Civitellis and other Chevy lovers started Connecticut Classic Chevy, a club that originally convened around Chevrolets but admires all kinds of classics, in 1994. Not long after, CCC was looking for a place to meet and George’s wife, Phyllis—his high school sweetheart—suggested their old, nostalgia-filled haunt.

The Drive-In, an order-from-the-counter affair owned and operated by Wayne Stone and family, was happy to have them. Today, the 22-year-old partnership is still roaring.

On April 20, Glenwood had its first cruise of the season. The temperate spring evening brought primped and polished cars of all shapes and shades. A DJ played jukebox oldies with a heavy helping of ’50s rock ’n’ roll. Drivers stood with hands in pockets, admiring each other’s machines.

The Wednesday meet-ups at Glenwood are more casual than most, in that they require no minimum age for participating cars and levy no fees to the driver. Anyone can roll in and strut their stuff—just as long as they’re riding a classic or specialty car.

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On the lot that Wednesday there were some real throwbacks. John Barbara sat beside his heavily modded 1929 Plymouth Roadster. “It was a regular car and I made a hot rod out of it,” says Barbara, who outfitted it with a bigger engine and left it exposed, installed a new transmission and crowned the long gear shift with a Viking skull ornament. As for its top speed, he says he doesn’t know. “The speedometer broke.”

Bill and Kathy McCarthy rode into the lot on a blue 1940 Willys—a curvy, bulky beaut with a behind like a Victorian bustle. The Willys was originally a “putt-putt car” according to Bill, with only 60 horsepower and a 4-cylinder engine. Despite its low aerodynamics and wimpy front wheels, the car was routinely souped up and reconfigured for drag racing. The McCarthys say their Willys burned rubber back in the ’60s.

One of the most intriguing arrivals rode in with fiancés Richard Abbate and Carole Peterson: a WWII-era military Jeep named Burma Belle. Abbate—who plays a colonel of the 1st Air Commando Group during war reenactments, and who’s a captain in the US Air Force Auxiliary Civil Air Patrol in real life—restored the vehicle to its active-duty specs and uses it in war games as well as local parades. The Jeep is armed with a replica .50 caliber MA-2 “ma deuce” machine gun, an officer’s M1 carbine rifle and an infantryman’s M1 Garand rifle—and occasionally a pro-Allies German Shepherd named Cooper.

As the sun set and the evening deepened, the lot was packed with more and more cars, special and otherwise. When drivers and spectators had their fill of eye candy they went into Glenwood for some real food.

Any day of the week, diners can enjoy an ample boardwalk-style selection of fried finger foods, angus burgers, lobster rolls and, of course, charbroiled 10” franks—all served on no-nonsense paper plates and plastic trays. What impressed me most was the super-smooth, well-balanced homemade ice cream at the attached Kelly’s Cone Connection. Kelly Ciccone, daughter of Glenwood owner Wayne Stone, opened the Connection in 1985. 31 years on, her “old-fashioned gourmet ice cream,” as one neon window sign advertises, has kept its cool. The Coffee Oreo Sundae recently won “Best Dessert” from the Hamden Chamber of Commerce.

I’m told Glenwood Drive-In’s decor, food, owners and even many of its customers haven’t shifted much since the Civitelli brothers were in high school. They say they still run into many of their high school buddies there.

Having made their ways in the world, they no longer have to share the ’56 Bel Air. It now belongs exclusively to Bob. But while George (pictured sixth) was at Glenwood that day with his ’65 Pontiac GTO—colored in its original “Irish mist,” which took on a cool lavender glow as twilight settled in—he admits that he now has his own ’56 Bel Air sitting at home. He missed the original too much.

It just goes to show: some things never change.

Cruise Night at Glenwood Drive-In
2538 Whitney Ave, Hamden (map)
Wednesdays at 6 p.m., through October
(203) 281-0604

Written by Daniel Shkolnik. Photographed by Dan Mims.

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Daniel is an aspiring novelist. He owns a Yale sweater he will never wear and takes his Faulkner with vermouth and his vermouth with an orange wedge. An avid traveler and retired hooligan, he was kicked out of the largest club in Africa for breakdancing, joined an Andalusian metal band and, while in Istanbul, learned to read the future in his coffee grinds. Despite the omens he finds at the bottom of his morning joe, Daniel continues to write.

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