Like the concurrent automotive love-fest on California’s Monterey Penninsula, the annual Woodward Dream Cruise keeps expanding. While still nominally a one-day event, the Cruise has become a weeklong extravaganza flying under the southeast Michigan region’s Autopalooza banner. Originally limited to a short list of inner-ring Detroit suburbs (primarily Royal Oak and Ferndale), it also has stretched its reach north and south along Woodward Avenue.
This year, Woodward Week started with a ribbon-cutting, the official opening ceremony for the M1 Concourse in southern Pontiac (at the northern end of Woodward Avenue) in conjunction with a giant Cars and Coffee meet-up.
M1 is a car-condo complex of garage space incorporating a 1.5-mile road course (dubbed Champion Speedway in honor of its title sponsor), one of few urban-area settings where the car-obsessed can actually drive high-performance machinery.
Promoters have sold the first two phases, 130-units, and half the third phase of another 50 units is spoken for. Bookending the week, M1 hosted Roadkill Nights, shutting down a stretch of Woodward Avenue alongside the facility and turning it into a 1/8th mile dragstrip. That was the Friday night before the “official” Cruise on Saturday.
At the other, southern end of the 21.5-mile boulevard, Chevrolet gathered 250 Camaros to celebrate the marque’s 50th anniversary (the original ’67 model went on sale in fall 1966) with a parade the full length of Woodward, from GM headquarters on the Detroit River to a drive-in restaurant in Pontiac. It also put the first-ever Camaro in a glass box and displayed it in a park in Birmingham, about midway along the road.
With events like those to attract the hard-core car folk and Dream Cruise Saturday itself packed from end-to-end with car shows and club meets, the actual on-road action has evolved away from its origins as a evocation of the 1950s and ‘60s era cruising scene to a more widespread celebration of cars and roads in general.
While the Happy Days-era machines are still in evidence, the weeklong bumper-to-bumper traffic jam has more modern cars — including many that are just people’s daily commutermobiles packed with friends to take in the scene — than classics.
The road has always remained open to ordinary traffic, but only the most masochistic driver would try to use it as a means of getting from Point A to B on Dream Cruise Saturday. This year, though, the traffic seemed lighter than usual north of Birmingham, perhaps because the forecasters were calling for rain, which rolled in about 3 p.m.
Losing a few hours of cruising time isn’t as a big an issue anymore, though, now that the Cruise goes for days before and after the official event.
As the Detroit region seems to be more evolving more and more toward a sort of automotive theme park and tourist destination, cruising on Woodward Avenue itself becomes more a celebration of all cars and the sense of freedom the automobile instilled in Americans. Meanwhile, classic car enthusiasts find it a suitable occasion to gather in their various clans at parks, museums and parking lots, rather than simply waving at one another on the road.
Photos by Kevin A. Wilson