In Detroit, it’s all about the cars, and every August it becomes an all-out celebration culminating with the Woodward Dream Cruise.
The cruise to end all cruises, this parade of steel runs the length of Woodward Avenue, stretching from 9 Mile — one mile from the northern Detroit border — to Pontiac, some 12 miles away. Drivers loop back down to cruise the route again and again until Sunday, when the cruise ends.
Weeks before the event starts, classic cars prowl up Woodward or pull into a local frozen custard stand. But by the third Saturday of every August since 1995, visitors feast their eyes on pure Detroit steel, grit, and muscle rolling along the boulevard as if everyone had stepped back in time.
The Woodward Dream Cruise started small, with a handful of people trying to raise money for a soccer field in neighboring Ferndale. Today it’s the world’s largest one-day automotive event, drawing crowds of more than 1.5 million people to enjoy more than 40,000 cars.
And it’s only fitting that the Dream Cruise take place on Woodward Avenue, America’s first road paved in concrete.
Woodward Avenue was the place to go on Friday and Saturday nights when cruising was really cruising. “If you had a car, that was where you went, what you did,” said Madison Heights resident John Messana, who himself drove a 1968 Chevy Super Sport 327 four-barrel in the August 2012 event. “We’d cruise in an out of the drive-ins checking out the other cars, other guys, and the girls. If you looked over at another car at a stop light, you’d rev the engine and the race was on, sometimes for the title of the loser’s car.”
Now in its 18th year, the Dream Cruise sees fewer vintage models hailing back to the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s as the muscle cars of the ’60s and ’70s come into their own. Owners obsessively preserve or restore these rolling relics and keep them safely covered and stored to unleash them just once a year. The original Ford Mustangs, Dodge Chargers, Chevy Camaros, Chevy Super Sports, and Oldsmobile 88s come out of hibernation with gleaming paint and growling engines.
Enthusiasts travel from all corners of the country to bring their prized vehicles to the American auto’s birthplace for this event. People line the street while sitting under canopies to watch the spectacle as Motown fills the air. Restaurants do business at a frantic pace as sliders are bought by the dozen.
Customizing shops also set up makeshift storefronts to sell street-legal wares. Vintage cars and trucks are parked along the route with their hoods up so passersby can stop and take a closer look at the gleaming engines. It’s equal parts parade, block party, and good, old-fashioned cruise.
It’s impossible not to be moved by these Detroit monsters, and there’s a little something for everyone. Cars of no particular pedigree are covered in crazy decorations, lights, and toys. Celebrity cars like the Starsky and Hutch model Charger complete with a flashing light and the General Lee parade as proudly as any finer example of vintage auto. New models also join in the fun as Woodward Avenue remains open to traffic throughout the three-day auto party.
Detroit residents either work for one of the big three or know someone who does. Either way, the local livelihood one way or another depends on the auto makers. This is a celebration of an industry that built a city and continues to move this country.
As the 2013 models role off the assembly lines, there’s no better time to take a look back and see what Detroit was, what it is, and what it can be.
Editor’s note: Mary Griffin is a former Bangor Daily News special sections writer who now lives in Michigan. She recently attended the Woodward Dream Cruise in Detroit.