Hundreds of classic cars rumbled and roared — and in one case burst into flames — in downtown Santa Rosa Saturday during the 12th annual Peggy Sue's All-American Cruise.

Thousands packed downtown restaurants, bars and sidewalks to behold the annual homage to the American hot rod, cheering loudly when drivers revved their souped-up engines or hit the customized hydraulics systems to send their rides bouncing wildly.

"That's the car I learned to drive on!" yelled Dave Torres of Gualala as he snapped photos of a bright red '56 Buick rolling down Fourth Street.

The event reminded Torres of his youth growing up in Los Angeles and cruising up and down Magnolia Avenue with drivers showing off their stylish rides.

"It wasn't a parade. We were just doing it for fun," Torres said.

Bud Syme recalled being smitten by the 1963 split-window Corvette Stingray Coupe he first spotted in the Pellini Chevrolet showroom in the fall of 1962. It took him 46 years, but the 68-year-old retired CHP officer finally got one of his own a few years ago.

"This is a car that I've wanted since I was 16 years old," Syme said has he stood proudly beside the rare red machine outside the Russian River brew pub.

Chevrolet made the split-window version of the Stingray for only one year because some drivers complained about rear visibility. The design change made the car an instant classic and pushed the value of well-restored vehicles over $100,000, Syme said.

One car in the cruise is going to need some major restoration after it caught fire on B Street around 5:30 p.m. Rory Allen of Windsor was behind the wheel of the blue and white '56 Chevy when smoke started pouring out of the engine compartment.

"I thought it was going to explode," Allen said.

He popped the hood and with a fire extinguisher desperately tried to keep the flames from spreading.

But it was no use. Fire engulfed the classic car, which Allen had been helping the owner restore. The stench of burning tires spread through the downtown until Santa Rosa firefighters arrived to douse the flames.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or at On Twitter @citybeater.