A gearhead's dream... Cruising the big boulevard in America's Motor City

For a gearhead like me, August was a month to remember. It started with a ride in the Magnolia Kiddies Seafair parade in fellow Magnolian Frank Alberti's 1917 King automobile, one of a very few left.

Then the next day, young Matt Taylor, also of Magnolia, gave me a ride in his 1947 Ford Super Deluxe 2-door sedan. Now he's off to Purdue University, where he's a sophomore.

Just a day later, my friend Bryan Boyett, owner of the Ballard Time Shop, pulled up in front of the house in his brilliant, bright red convertible 1964 Dodge Polara 500, and we spent the rest of a sunny evening cruising the streets of Ballard.

All of these rides, however, were just a hint of what was to come the next week. I flew to Detroit for the 10th anniversary of the Woodward Dream Cruise, the largest, single-day automotive event in the world. Depending on whose crowd estimates you believe - various police agencies, either of the two Detroit daily newspapers, or multiple radio and TV stations - the attendance was between 1.8 and 2 million, with over 30,000 muscle cars, street rods, customs, collector and special interest automobiles participating.

Where else can you see a 1929 Duesenberg, 1970 Hemi 'Cuda, 1930 Ford Model A roadster, 1953 Oldsmobile Fiesta convertible, 1937 Cord 810, 1958 Corvette fuelie and a 1970 Superbird Plymouth - all out on the big boulevard, cruising along with no particular place to go? Only one place in the world: on Detroit's legendary Woodward Avenue during the mind-boggling annual Woodward Dream Cruise.

Because Detroit is located directly across the river from Canada, its main avenues are somewhat laid out like the spokes of half a wagon wheel. One of those spokes is Woodward, and it runs out through the northern suburbs.

Back during the 1950s and 1960s, Woodward picked up the national reputation as the place to cruise in the Motor City. Woodward is a wide boulevard with four lanes of traffic going each way and separated by a wide grass median. When it gets out to the suburbs, there are drive-in restaurants every little bit and the cruisers just went from drive-in to drive-in.

The cruising got to be so heavy, and the impromptu street races that developed at the many stoplights so blatant, that the police had the action shut down. But everybody remembered what cruising Woodward had once been.

Then, 10 years ago, in an effort to both find some added business for the communities that Woodward travels through, as well as to restore some of the nostalgia still felt about Woodward and Detroit's role in the automotive industry, the Dream Cruise was born. Research has shown that at one time, one in eight jobs in the United States was in some way connected to the automobile industry, whether it be in steel, plastics, rubber, production or marketing.

Today the Cruise route runs 16 miles through eight participating suburban cities and generates over $50 million in added business. More than 100 charities benefit each year from the Dream Cruise. That means, if you make the whole loop from 8 Mile Road on out to the city of Pontiac and back, you've just driven 32 miles surrounded by fellow cruisers.

This year the Travel Channel filmed the Dream Cruise for two days from four locations along Woodward. Both of the Detroit daily newspapers ran Dream Cruise feature articles every day starting a week before the Cruise. One TV channel devoted three hours of prime time to a show about the Cruise.

If you cruise, though, you'll only see the few cars that surround you. The way to see the cars is from a chair at the curb in a good viewing area. When I arrived at 6:30 in the morning to watch this year's Cruise, there were already people seated in chairs - ranged four and five deep behind the curb - and cars had already begun cruising. I shot seven rolls of film before it got too crowded.

You see every type of interesting automobile imaginable: fenderless hot rods, antiques, Ferraris, muscle car after muscle car, as well as stock-restored, pre-WWII, fat-fendered rides. I must have seen five 2005 Mustangs when it was still months before they went on sale. You don't even look at Corvettes and Vipers because you know another one will soon come by. This year's belly-button car was a Cobra clone - "belly-button" because everybody has one.

Over one-third of Cruise visitors come from outside the Detroit Metro tri-county area. In the week before the Cruise you see numerous cars on trailers arriving in town. They're all street legal; the owners just don't want to put the added mileage on their collector vehicles.

"Where you from?"

"Columbus, Ohio. How 'bout you?"


"Every gearhead should experience the Dream Cruise at least once."

While static auto shows are enjoyable, one of the wonderful things about the Cruise is that during the event you get to see the cars actually run and hear their engines rumble and roar.

The three major Detroit manufacturers all have large display areas stakes out along Woodward, where they exhibit concept automobiles and employee's special-interest cars. Daimler/Chrysler takes over almost a whole shopping center's parking lot at 13 Mile Road and Woodward, while Ford almost takes over the commercial streets of Birmingham. The many companies who are suppliers to the auto manufacturers also have show areas and hospitality tents set up along the Cruise route.

While there was no official count on the number of police officers working the Cruise, estimates are that this year's Cruise had some 700 to 750 officers on duty, including state, county and local cops. It was impossible to walk 100 yards in any direction without seeing at least one cop, if not several.

I also noticed that every time an officer wrote a ticket, he was accompanied by at least three other officers, just to make sure the always present crowd surrounding any such scene is kept at bay while the ticket writer was doing his job.

The police were not dressed in riot gear and were very courteous, business-like and restrained, and they generally overlooked a little chirping of tires or the rumbling of illegal exhaust systems. The police reported no major accidents, disturbances, casualties or other problems during the day-long Dream Cruise.

There were, of course, a few minor fender-benders and boil-overs, but that's routine with Woodward traffic on a normal day. The unbelievably huge crowd was peaceful, orderly and definitely in a happy mood. As I told my brother, at only about 10 a.m.: "I've already got 'grin-face,' my cheeks are beginning to hurt from smiling so much and the day's not nearly over yet.

While it won't begin to draw 2 million spectators, McGraw Street in the heart of Magnolia Village on Sept. 18 will be the site of this year's Magnolia Auto Show, taking place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you have any interest in beautiful collector, antique and special-interest automobiles, be sure to stop by - you know I'll be there.

When he's not revving his engine in Motor City, Gary McDaniel's regular cruising strip is Magnolia. He can be reached at qanews@nwlink.com.[[In-content Ad]]