With the tunes drifting over the parking lot and the crowd of people milling about buying $2 beers at the portable bars, you’d never think this was a Monday night. Parrot Key Caribbean Grill at Fort Myers Beach is hopping, with a parking lot full of antique cars and street rods and a combination disc jockey and Elvis-style singer on the patio spinning songs as classic as the cars.

The crowd parts as a show organizer guides the owner of a Corvette as he backs his car into a parking space. This is the free Caribbean Cruise-In Car Show that has taken place every first Monday from October to April or May for about a decade.

“It’s kind of unusual for a Monday night, which is why we picked it,” said R.J. Snider, the marketing director for Salty Sam’s Waterfront Adventures. “The whole property has a buzz about it with entertainment and specials going on in both restaurants, so it’s a fun and exciting atmosphere for a Monday night if you’re looking for something to do.”

Free for all

The show is distinctive in that it is not only free for guests to come and lookie-loo, but the show is also free for car owners to enter. The packet for car owners includes discounts to Salty Sam’s two restaurants as well as tickets to win prizes in the evening’s drawing, including two tickets for the Key West Express awarded at every show.

“A lot of the shows around here charge the owners a fee, so ours is one of the only free ones around,” Snider said. “We always get different cars that show up, and it’s not just old cars.

“We had a McLaren show up at the last one,” Snider said, “so it’s a wide range of cars and there’s always something new to see and new, interesting people to meet. It’s a lot of fun because they always sit next to their cars to answer questions.”

The show has five categories: muscle cars, classic (antique) cars, modern sports cars, street rods and open class. Salty Sam’s awards gift certificates to their restaurants as prizes for the first-place winner in each category and the best in show.

“Anyone can vote,” Snider said. “We have the voting stations at the bars, and guests can vote in more than one category.”

Street rods and modifications

Although some owners display their array of past trophies next to their cars, not every car owner seeks such glory. Some come simply for the opportunity to show off their handiwork.

“I don’t enter car shows for prizes,” said Phil Quinto, the owner of a 1932 Ford street rod with “Ft. Myers, Fla.” emblazoned in chrome across the grill. “I just go to cruise in.”

Quinto said he had been building customized cars since he was high school and had built racecars and drag strip cars. He said the ’32 Ford took a couple of years to build, and that he presently is working on a 1930 Ford.

“They seem to multiply once you have one,” Quinto said.” I’m sure a lot of these guys here have more than one,” he said, sweeping his hand toward the rows of parked cars.” It seems to happen.”

So long as they don’t cause safety or emissions issues, modifications made to cars are legal. Cosmetic changes don’t affect how a car runs.

“As long as you don’t change the exhaust systems it’s OK, but basically this is an older car so you can do almost anything to it and drive it in Florida,” said Ken Stocke, the owner of a 1971 Chevrolet Chevelle that has chrome engine parts accentuated by glowing lights.

“Basically that’s a factory engine,” he said. “It has been souped up a little bit, and all the cosmetics, of course, aren’t factory.”

The show gives an opportunity to see what owners have done to convert an old car to a street rod. Often it is possible to find an antique car of similar year and model to the converted car and compare the two. Snider said the oldest car ever to enter the show was a 1908 Ford, and it pulled in under its own power.

“It’s definitely something that changes every month, so if you like coming out, it is something to check out every month,” Snider said. “As season rolls around, February is our biggest show.”

Connect with this writer: @LauraTichySmith (Twitter)

If you go

What: Caribbean Cruise-In Car Show

When: 5-8 p.m. first Monday monthly during season

Where: Parrot Key Caribbean Grill at Salty Sam’s Marina, 2500 Main St., Fort Myers Beach

Driving tip: Salty Sam’s Marina is on San Carlos Island, which is north of the Matanzas Pass Bridge to Fort Myers Beach

Cost: Free for participants and spectators

Info: 436-7333 ext. 113; myparrotkey. com

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