Woodward Dream Cruise 2018: Cars as party favors

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People watch from lawn chairs -- or from corporate-sponsored viewing stands -- as the Woodward Dream Cruise rolls by | Steve Purdy photos

For those of us whose misspent youth includes aimless cruising on a Saturday night, the Woodward Dream Cruise seems a bit incongruous. In our day, crowds of people did not line the streets to watch us show off. We had no sponsors and hospitality tents, parking lots full of tailgaters or venders selling T-shirts. What we had were youngsters in hot cars gathering socially, indulging lusts and reveling in the exuberance of youth. 

The Woodward Dream Cruise was born in 1995 from an effort to fund a local ball field by a few people in Ferndale, north of Detroit at Woodward and 9-Mile Road. With modest expectations they were shocked when a quarter million people took part that first year. Within a few years the Woodward Dream Cruise had become the largest one-day car event in the world. 

It seems that a pent-up lust for cool cars and cruising still existed within those 50s, 60s and 70s youngsters who were now in their golden years.

The whole event has expanded into a week-long wallow in automobile culture and until this year, I had chosen to attend at less congested times early in the week when every evening, particularly from Ferndale to Birmingham, Woodward becomes a parade of special cars, and other things vehicular, with plenty of spectators and events along the roadside. 

This year I decided to experience the official Dream Cruise on Saturday night. It was the same, only more so.

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Ford hosted a media center with viewing towers and a large public display of Mustang history, featuring the first Mustang ever built, the 10 millionth Mustang, the original mule from the Bullitt movie and a screen showing that epic Steve McQueen film. 

Ford was among the companies sponsoring viewing areas for clients and VIP guests

From a front-row seat on the Ford patio I watched stop-and-go traffic northbound on Woodward near 12-Mile Road with cool cars mixed in with white-bread traffic. These civilians, including gawkers, constitute around 80 percent of traffic with the rest being an eclectic mix of special vehicles. Probably half of the special cars were modern muscle cars like Corvettes, Mustangs, mixed Dodge Hemis and the like. Beyond those were classic hot rods, rat rods, pickups, miniature cars, motorcycles . . .  you name it.

Some of my favorites were: the red ’66 Mustang from the LeMay Museum driven in The Drive Home cross country winter rally; a fire-breathing old rusty truck with flamethrower mounted in the rear; an orange ’55 Cadillac ambulance; a pretty, cream-color ’48 Ford resto rod; Top-Hat John Jendza’s legendary ’49 Cadillac notoriously original Woodward cruiser and racer of the ‘50s; a 4-door ’62 Valiant survivor with “For Sale” sign in the window; and a white ’65 Fury convertible with three lovely young ladies sitting on the boot.

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The Dream Cruise is nothing like cruising in the old days, though many of the cruisers and a few of the cars were around back then. 

One big difference is that now, the local cops shut it all down at an arbitrary time of the evening. Like the past, though, the cops can have only a fleeting influence as the partying carries on.

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Steve Purdy has been writing about and photographing cars, both old and new, for over 30 years. His words and images have appeared in more than a dozen publications and his photos have been featured in a variety of galleries. He has been involved in radio, film and TV projects as well including the creation of his own radio show about automobiles and motorsports that is currently part of the Web-based Michigan Business Network. His first love is classic and collector cars which, he says, represent the best in automobile aesthetics.

1 COMMENT

  1. Great job covering my all-time favorite one-day car show. It’s not just the cars that make this so much fun, it’s a million car lovers all excited to be in the same spot that I am occupying!

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