Dream Cruise spans more than Woodward Ave., it’s a week-long carfest

Nominally a one-day Saturday event, the Woodward Dream Cruise has, grown forward into a full week of car-related activity along what is officially a 16-mile route from Ferndale to Pontiac.

Photos by Kevin A. Wilson

Nominally a one-day Saturday event, the Woodward Dream Cruise has, over the 20 years it has run annually, grown forward into a full week of car-related activity along what is officially a 16-mile route from Ferndale (a suburb immediately north of Detroit proper) to Pontiac. It also has spilled over into surrounding areas and numerous unofficial events timed to take advantage of the crowds that turn out.

That would be more than 1 million people on August 16, according to the Oakland County sheriff’s office, gathered to view “classic” cars driving the historic boulevard.

It’s really a free-form party, a gathering of all the car clans. Estimates of “participant” vehicles range from 30,000 to 60,000, a figure that varies largely dependent on which cars one identifies as cruisers and which are just “traffic” on what remains a major artery (albeit one many local commuters grumpily avoid during the week).

Is that Bullitt Mustang a cruiser or just another local headed home from the office? Your call.

There’s no “official” entry list. Everybody just brings whatever they want, whenever they want, for as long as they want.

When it started as a fundraiser to build a soccer field in Ferndale, Dream Cruise sought to draw on nostalgia for the ‘50s and ‘60s era when kids — and car company engineers — drove muscle cars and street rods in search of impromptu races and hormonal satisfaction.

Succeeding beyond expectations, it drew 250,000 that first year, 10 times the organizer’s expectations, inspiring more cities to join for subsequent repetitions.

The center of the action migrated a little north, as those who remembered the old days re-created the run from drive-ins in Royal Oak (the Totem Pole and the Wigwam) to the south side of Pontiac (Ted’s).

Twenty years is a long run, though, and there are participants in today’s Dream Cruise who weren’t born for the first one, let alone have memories of the ‘50s. So today there’s a growing eclectic flavor that goes far beyond poodle skirts and sock-hop tunes.

Got a rat rod? Sure. Exotic sports car? Bring it. Modern pony cars mingle with donks and low-riders; antiques with supercars; electrics rub elbows with diesel pickups rolling coal; beauties that belong on magazine covers park next to abused heaps only one mechanical failure away from the scrap yard.

While there are independent car shows and club gatherings along the full length of the route, from Mustang Alley in Ferndale to the Oakland Press-sponsored show in Pontiac, in the official accounting there are no entry fees, no judges, no trophies, but everyone wins.

This year the proprietors of M1 Concourse hosted a by-invitation “Kickoff” party and car show on August 10. The site is little more than 80-odd acres of old pavement with weeds growing out of it today, but if they pull it off, M1 Concourse will be car-centric development including condos, garages, retail and dining facilities and a test track, all built on the grounds of a demolished GM factory in Pontiac acquired after GM’s bankruptcy.

It’s right on Woodward and that’s the point: it would be the jewel in the crown of the Cruise’s economic boost to the region.

People come from all over, a boon for lodging and dining businesses — no one blinks anymore when a cruiser turns out to have come from Texas or Arizona, Europe or Australia. However, the big numbers depend on people who live within a day’s drive, though, so the recent recession had some fearing the magic had gone out of the event.

The 2014 Dream Cruise marked a return to form, with increased participation not only by individuals but by the many auto-related corporations that employ the cruise for marketing and hospitality functions.

The M1 Concourse party notwithstanding, early in the week things got off to a slow start due to torrential rains that flooded highways and basements right in the heart of the action. The floods made it hard to get around, and kept a lot of locals busy cleaning up.

But things started to hum along Woodward on Wednesday, just in time for Dodge to make a splash by introducing a modern muscle car, the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. The company also put a pack of journalists in its Challenger Hellcats to flood the boulevard with loud colors and louder exhaust notes. Ford and Nissan also made their presence known, and title-sponsor Chevrolet put three trucks on the road to help anyone who had trouble with a car, regardless of make, model or era.

So the week built to a nice crescendo. Nearly perfect weather on Saturday helped — there have been years when rain held back the crowds, and others when the oppressive heat and humidity challenged tourists and aged vehicles alike. But 2014 delivered a beautiful summer day with just a trace of drizzle when the sun was already getting low in the west.

Editor’s note: With so many cars on Woodward Ave. for so many days, we can’t fit it all in a single Eye Candy gallery, so we’ll have a second installment tomorrow.

Kevin A. Wilson
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