Story and photos by Steve Legel
Woodward Dream Cruise is the one traffic jam Detroit never misses. In 2003, the event was highlighted by the electric power outage for northeastern United States; Detroit still held Woodward Dream Cruise. In 2011, mini tornado shear winds tore down displays; Detroit still held Dream Cruise. For 2012, all conditions were perfect for a week’s worth of automotive celebration! And celebrate we did!
Woodward Dream Cruise, touted as the world’s largest car show, highlights the 16 mile long run through Detroit’s northern suburbs. An estimated 40,000 specialty cars and nearly 1½ million spectators have lined the curbs of America’s first paved road, every third Saturday in August, for 20 years.
Automotive aficionados come from around the world to witness and participate in the spectacle. Hotel rooms reserve a year in advance, restaurants don’t give out reservations, vendors buy weeklong passes, and lawn chair sales skyrocket.
Local residents and many businesses lament the cruise and the traffic and congestion it brings. For others it is a cause célèbre, and if your business is T shirts, pizza slices, or bottled water, the week makes your business for the whole year.
While officially a one day event, the party gets rollin’ (and I do mean rollin’) for the whole week before. Locals line the boulevard in lawn chairs just to watch the cars go by. Night after night the traffic builds leading up to the Friday night kick off parades and the all day long bumper to bumper parade of chrome and iron on the Saturday event.
Police and other law enforcement are strict about open alcohol containers and tire-screeching burnouts. To date (almost 20 years), there have been no reports of serious problems, considering the congestion and how many people attend the event. Local television broadcasts nightly reports and in-depth background coverage on the communities, the event and the cars. Neither chaos nor mayhem is evident; but an orderly procession of automotive history and interest passes along the highway.
The cars are the stars. Woodward (as locals refer to it) can be experienced any of three ways. Lawn chairs dot the curbside along Woodward. Die-hards stake out their place early in the week, some setting up canopies, others parking campers for a week long stay. I like to walk the Avenue, giving opportunity to see both the cars cruising and those cars parked along the route. Third, there is Cruisin’. The traffic moves at a snail’s pace. Entrance and exit are regulated. Classic and specialty cars are assigned the curbside two lanes for spectator viewing while daily drivers and regular traffic are assigned the furthest lanes. After a while it really doesn’t matter, as Woodward becomes jammed either way.
Recent critics fault the number of daily drivers clogging the pavement. A realistic view might be that Dream Cruise is a celebration of all things automotive, and the freedom that the Automobile gives us here in America. It is a place to see and be seen.
Graying of the classic car hobby is ever more evident here on Woodward, but a balance of young enthusiasts sharing the passion in new Challengers, Mustangs, Camaros and GTOs gives credence to the idea that the hobby is alive and well. License plates from around the country can be seen. True to Woodward’s roots, most of the plates are historic or year-of-manufacture plates, and locals dominate the scene as garages empty out.
The mixed smell of carnuba wax and unburnt hydrocarbon fill the nostrils of those watching from curbside. The rumble for open exhaust rings in your ears.
Mopar enthusiasts came out in record numbers this year. Many local vintage Mopar clubs hosted events, and lone wolf out-of-towners found their way into the mix. Dodge sponsors a major showcase at the epicenter of the cruise, 13 Mile and Woodward, with vintage and current products, activities, and its Mopar performance group.
The Michigan based LX club and its online forum members hosted a pre-cruise Bar-B-Que at the Walter P Chrysler Museum. Tricked out Chargers, Magnums, 300s, and Challengers from all over the country attended.
Nearly 50 Challengers came and went during the 2012 Woodward Dream Cruise.
Two of us locals, Bill Pitt and I, hosted a Dodge Challenger get together. We secured a wonderful location at 13½ Mile and Woodward, with a large grassy parking and viewing area. We ran a couple of group laps, but the heavy traffic prevented pulling off our envisioned “Challenges en masse” parade. Next year we’ll block traffic so all 30 to 50 cars can get out and run together.
What an impact Challengers make on the scene! No delicate pastels in this group, but high-impact muscle-tending colors reminiscent of the 1970s filled our lot. A cavalcade of all production years hit the street, with 2008 Hemi Orange, Tidewater Blue, Blackberry, Brilliant White, Green with Envy, Detonator Yellow, and classic B 5 Blue among the colors of the nearly 50 attendees from 12 states. The afternoon was a scholar’s dream as the multiple variations of production changes across the model year runs could be documented and serious tire kicking could be done!
Many of the owners of the new Challengers, not content with Chrysler’s factory power in the 6.1, 392 (6.4) or 5.7 liter engines, have added modifications and horsepower to their rides.
Traditional drive-ins that once marked the turn-around points for original cruising of days gone by are long gone, but visitors to Detroit’s Woodward Dream Cruise continue to enjoy stops at Vinsetta Garage and Westmores. Vinsetta Garage was long the place for locals to take their classics for maintenance and care. Westmores is a tire and alignment shop that boasts a vintage Chrysler perched on its sign with rotating front tires and a slogan that reads, “Wobbly wheels made straight.”
Woodward Dream Cruise continues on, not so much an event to be documented, but rather and experience to be savored — to enjoy the idle passing of time, sharing authoritative commentary on the merits and demerits on the infinite variety of cars cruising the boulevard, America’s Number One highway.
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