DETROIT – Unless you’ve attended a Woodward Dream Cruise during its 18 years of existence, it’s difficult to truly grasp the enormity of this annual tribute to the American car culture.
Organizers say it attracts more the a million onlookers from all corners of North America and abroad, plus about 50,000 vehicles of every imaginable shape, size, vintage and condition. Bbut largely it’s a continuous parade of muscle cars, classics, street rods, customs and indescribable "special interest" vehicles.
From the ridiculous to the sublime
This year, I witnessed a retired U.S. army tracked personnel carrier scooting along Woodward Ave. filled with boisterous young guys. Not far behind, there was an old fire truck, with the hose bed also jammed with revelers.
A ’62 Cadillac convertible, driven to Detroit from Texas for the weekend, had wavy body panels, a tired paint job and a top that looked like it had been enjoyed by mice, but the couple on board didn’t care. They were at the Woodward Dream Cruise and lovin’ every moment.
Countless ’55-’57 Chevys in all manner of condition joined the parade that spanned up to six lanes in both directions. Some of those classic Chevys had full-race engines, with massive blowers poking through the hood or multiple four-barrel carburetors stacked atop tunnel-ram intake manifolds.
Then there was the bone-stock, reasonably restored four-door ’56 sedan that motored along, complete with a Blueflame straight six and a noisy lifter or two.
Four women zipped along in a golf cart trimmed out like a miniature ’57 Chevy BelAir.
A Batmobile clone vied for attention with a Ghostbusters Cadillac ambulance. They were having a ball. Not far behind, "something" rumbled along – a four-wheel creation that seemed to have its roots as a motorcycle, but now boasted a well-massaged small-block Chevy engine, a pair of inline seats and a huge wing on the back.
A more refined red two-seater, looking like a street version of an Indy car, passed by with its 360 cubic-inch Chrysler V-8 churning in back.
Not only does the sheer number of cars at this event boggle the mind, the endless variety of vehicles has one’s head swiveling constantly.
On one side, there’s an immaculate 2012 Bentley coupe cruising the strip; on the other, a couple of giggling girls in a clean AMC Gremlin. The windows of their bright yellow ride are down and they’re soaking up the ambiance – fuel fumes and tire smoke – loving every moment. Some curbside onlooker urges them "to spin the tires." The girls can only smile in response.
The Bentley driver, meanwhile, is totally isolated in his luxurious, climate-controlled environment, oblivious to the mayhem around him. He does perk up a bit, however, when a blood-red Ferrari cabriolet darts across his lane. Somehow, they both seem quite out of place.
While exotics and fancy European sports cars do infiltrate the event, they don’t garner the same degree of attention or appreciation given to the hot American iron. At one point, some likely well-lubricated fellow shouted out, "Lexus go home." You get the idea the driver should have been in a Chevy.
Automakers out in force
The three major American manufacturers embrace the Dream Cruise, each staking out prime locations to create viewing stations and car displays that will draw in droves of spectators.
Chevrolet, which presented this year’s Dream Cruise, had an exhibit that was highlighted by a collection of Corvettes. The display, celebrating the 60th anniversary of "America’s sports car," included an example of every generation of the ’Vette, complete with a huge backdrop tracing the car’s development over the decades.
Not to be outdone, Ford lined up hundreds of Mustangs in Mustang Alley, also covering every model since the icon sporty coupe hit the streets in 1964. The collection was topped off by the 2013 lineup with a V-6 Coupe equipped with the Performance Package, a Track-Pack optioned 5.0-litre GT, the Boss 302 in both street and racing trim and the Shelby GT500 with its awesome 662-horsepower supercharged V-8.
Between these venues, Chrysler set up a huge exhibit at 13 Mile Road and Woodward that included many of its current models, several interactive displays, a wide range of racing vehicles, and about a dozen historic cars from the Walter P. Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills. The same parking lot also had a motorcycle jumping show.
Not all the action is on the street
Not all the vehicles are parading along Woodward – just as many neat machines are parked on the shoulder or congregated in lots, often reserved by clubs. It’s not unusual to see scores of a particular marquee assembled to share their love of the brand with all who pass by. Businesses and car dealerships open the boulevards in front of their stores for car displays – often filled with products completely unrelated to the models on sale.
A Woodward Mercedes-Benz dealer, for example, traditionally has a collection of cars out front – this year, there was a group of Deloreans on display, including one of the paintless, gull-winged bodies morphed to a monster truck chassis. It seemed wrong in so many ways, but certainly drew attention.
And that’s what makes the Dream Cruise so entertaining. You never know what you’ll see (or hear) next, from the time the cruising starts with early birds on Friday afternoon until the local police start shutting things down at 9 p.m. Saturday.
Millions of dollars in automotive hardware stream up and down this legendary route, the first American highway, in what has become an annual summer rite. It’s a celebration of America’s love affair with the automobile, an event not to be missed by any true gearhead.
Check out the Dream Cruise website (
www.woodwarddreamcruise.com) for more information and starting making plans to join the party in 2013.