Classic cars turn heads as ‘Cruise for Peace’ rolls through San Diego

It can be hard to capture the public’s attention — unless you’re driving a dreamy indigo blue Dodge sedan built in 1928, or a sleek, frost green Chevy Impala from 1969, or a curvaceous, cape coral Chevy Master that rolled off the line in 1937.

All three vehicles turned a lot of heads on Saturday as part of Cruise for Peace, a calvacade of roughly 150 classic cars that rolled through the streets of San Diego, passing through Oak Park, Paradise Hills, National City and Mid-City.

The drivers, their families and police escorts traveled nearly 5 miles to deliver a common message: We need to curb the violence that afflicts many of the city’s neighborhoods.

The event was jointly sponsored by Remnant Church in Oak Park, San Diego police, car clubs such as Diego Style and Solida, and by Cornelius Bowser, a pastor and anti-gun violence activist who helped found Community Assistance Support Team.

The cruise grew out of Season of Peace, a campaign that was put together by the city, police and civic and faith leaders late last year due to a notable rise in homicides in the first half of 2020 and high-profile shootings in Grant Hill and Chicano Park in October.

“There’s been an uptick in violence and we’re getting together for peace,” said Monica Montgomery Steppe, a San Diego City Council member who represents District 4.

Saturday’s cruise began in the parking lot of the Remnant Church, where Pastor Jesus Sandoval,looked on, pleased with sight of club cars and low riders forming into neat rows off 54th Street.

Jose Guadarrama, left, whose father just passed await from COVID-19, is comforted by Isaac Llamas

Jose Guadarrama, left, whose father just passed await from COVID-19, is comforted by Isaac Llamas during a moment of prayer prior to the Cruise for Peace Saturday.

(Nancee E. Lewis/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“Today I’m hoping to spread hope, faith and love that brings together low riders, faith-based leaders and community organizers,” Sandoval said. “We need to use every platform we possibly can to get everyone to focus on peace.”

It’s not an easy thing to pull off during a pandemic.

“That’s why we figured a cruise would be good. Everyone could stay in their cars,” Sandoval said. “It’s a way to stay safe.”

Before they left, everyone mingled in the parking lot and traded stories and tips about cars that had been lovingly restored and pampered. It was a mellow scene under powder blue skies, with Christian music filling the air.

“My car has power steering, power windows, power seats, a chrome undercarriage and a 440 engine,” said Daniel Sanchez of San Diego, admiring his 1928 Dodge. “Nothing’s original except for the body.”

He looked at the crowd and added, “There hasn’t been much going on because of COVID. So it’s nice to get out and say hi to your friends.”

A short distance away, Paul Zepeda of San Diego stood by his frost green Chevy Impala.

“I came out because I want to help the community,” Zepeda said. “It’s an awful thing when someone gets shot or stabbed or incarcerated. We can promote peace with these car clubs. Young people will see this and think, ‘If they can do that, we can.’ It’s not impossible.”

In a different row, Fili Tavarez of San Diego was thinking the same thing as he lingered near his baby blue Impala, which was one of Chevrolet’s best selling vehicles in 1963.

“We’re driving with the police department to promote unity between police and the low rider community,” Tavarez said. “I want to get away from the notion that low riders are trouble makers. We are family men, professionals. And we all want peace.”

Saturday’s gathering represented a bittersweet moment for Jose Guadarramaof San Diego, who stood next to a tan 1998 Lincoln Town Car. It was owned by his father, Carlos Lopez, who died of COVID-19 two days earlier.

“He was really passionate about cars,” Guadarrama said, moments before the cruise began. “He would have wanted to be here.”