Woodward Dream Cruise Grows Larger – Longer

One-day event now lasts an entire week or more.

by on Aug.17, 2012

More than a million people are expected for this weekend's Woodward Dream Cruise.

All photos in this article courtesy Len Katz.

Neither storms, nor blackouts, nor economic downturns – never mind over-zealous law enforcement – has failed to dampen the spirit of the Woodward Dream Cruise, the annual gathering of muscle cars, hot rods and more than a few truly undefinable vehicles now recognized as the world’s largest single-day automotive event.

In fact, the Cruise has become more than just a formal one-day gathering.  For at least a week before the formal Saturday, August 18 event, thousands of cruisers could be found gathering along a 17-mile stretch of Woodward Avenue, Detroit’s main thoroughfare, by noon.  By evening, when traffic might normally lighten, it would drag to a stop – to the cheers and applause of those watching from the sidelines.

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The Woodward Dream Cruise began almost by accident when, in 1995, plumber Nelson House decided to stage a classic car show hoping to raise some money for a soccer field.  But rather than the usual, static display, House proposed the seemingly radical idea of having participants actually drive up and down the 8-lane Woodward Ave., just as many of them did when younger, back in the 1960s and 1970s.

As many as 60,000 classic cruisers are expected to parade down the 17-mile route.

The idea caught on far more quickly and broadly than House and the organizing committee he put together ever imagined.  That first year brought 250,000 people to either drive or sit along the Woodward curbside watching the Cruisers go by.

Word quickly spread and the annual August event began drawing folks from further and further across the country.  In fact, there have been participants who’ve come from as far away as Europe and New Zealand, some shipping their cars to the Motor City so they could actually drive, rather than simply watch.

The Guinness Book of World Records added the Woodward Dream Cruise a few years back, estimating attendance at 1.5 million, based on aerial photos of the sprawling gathering, with somewhere north of 50,000 cruise-worthy cars taking to the streets.  And that doesn’t include more modern vehicles driven by folks who’d rather watch while moving alongside the classic vehicles.

That includes some truly strange cars.

“This is car-gasm,” laughs Bob Motter, of Oak Park, Michigan, who is already out on the Wednesday night before the official Cruise in a ’67 Mustang complete with a pair of giant fuzzy dice he carries in a luggage rack on the back deck.

“We never expected this,” gapes Motter, one of the members of the original Dream Cruise steering committee, back in 1995.  “It was supposed to be a one-time fundraiser, but our plans went sidewise” In this case, in a positive direction,

A '67 Mustang complete with fuzzy dice.

The Cruise is a paean to the classic “hobby” of all so many American gearheads of the past.  As celebrated by the George Lucas film, American Graffiti, they’d take to the streets in their muscle cars and hot rods, endlessly cruising, burning rubber, trading stories and setting out to prove who had the hottest car on the strip.

It was common for the teens and 20-somethings to be joined by corporate types – including the legendary John DeLorean – who would appear every so often to test out the latest project, such as the sought-after Pontiac GTO.

Putting muscle into the Woodward Dream Cruise.

Cruising became a national phenomenon, but Detroit was the epicenter in an era when imports like Toyota and BMW barely appeared on the American auto sales charts.  That all would change when the twin oil shocks of the 1970s hit and gas prices soared, making it far too expensive to simply cruise in vehicles that might get as little as 6 to 8 mpg.

Making matters worse, suburban sprawl had transformed Woodward Ave. from a rural stretch largely dotted with diners and dives into a busy shopping strip and commuter route to the fast-growing Detroit suburbs.

15-year-old Reed Marsiglio and dad check out a hot rod.

Even now, the police presence can be fierce.  Law enforment in Royal Oak, one of the largest suburbs along the path of today’s event, can be overwhelming, police handing out citations to any cruiser they catch simply chirping tires and parking tickets to anyone meter maids can reach along the route.

That seems to be overlooked by participants as the price tag for an otherwise free event.

“It has changed.  In the early days, the cops were a lot more mellow,” says Ed Wagman, who is out for the day in his ’66 Pontiac Cataliina 2+2.  “And there were a lot fewer people.  It was easier to actually cruise,” he adds, noting on a Wednesday night he might not actually come out on Saturday.

The crowds have been lining up for more than a week.

George Schuss and a buddy, meanwhile, have come for the week.  The Chicago resident has long heard of the Woodward Dream Cruise and finally decided to see it himself.  “We’re getting old and not make it if we wait any longer,” he laments.

Schuss echoes a comment one frequently hears.  “It’s all old guys here.  I don’t see the youngsters.”

That mirrors a national trend, studies routinely showing a lack of interest in cars among Gen-Y.  But the Dream Cruise may be precisely what’s needed to get younger folks excited, insists Don Sudduth, of Ypsilanti, Michigan.  He’s got 15-year-old son Sam in tow and the youngster, who just got his learner’s permit, admits to being “excited” by what he sees.

"Chauncey" and a '67 Cougar XR7.

So does 15-year-old Reed Marsiglio, of St. Claire Shores, Michigan.  He is a classic gearhead who proudly proclaims, “I’ve been coming here since I was three.”  “Since you were two,” corrects father Mike.  The two even worked together on the ’86 Mustang they’re driving in the Cruise.

“This is a piece of history,” Mark Reed, of Lincoln Park, Michigan.

And it’s a place where he can personalize his own history.  He’s parked his ’67 Mercury Cougar XR7 – complete with stuffed Cougar doll — in the lot of a gas station.

An aging couple walks up to check the car out, blushing as they recall dating in an identical car back in college. The fact is, the Dream Cruise transforms Woodward Ave. into Memory Lane.

While it may not be as lavish or as well-organized as some automotive events, few resonate so well, and with so many people, as the annual Woodward Dream Cruise.


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One Response to “Woodward Dream Cruise Grows Larger – Longer”

  1. Ragtop Man says:

    More gray hair every year, and not just on my head. Paul, many thanks for the Pontiac porn shot of the wide track 66!


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