There’s been a constant battle, out in California, between those who want to celebrate our automotive heritage and those who’d like to banish it. Environmental activists have repeatedly moved to bar cars older than a certain age, ostensibly to remove the biggest polluters from the highway. There’s a bit of truth to the campaign. A subcompact 1980 Chevette, with a non-working catalytic converter and a misfiring spark plug, can dump more pollution into the air during its daily commute than a big Bentley coupe would emit on a cross-country round-trip.
The problem is that such legislation could also ban true classics, those hot rods, muscle cars and vintage pre-War collectibles that are as much a part of California’s heritage as surfers and Valley girls. Luckily, a well-organized response by politically savvy gearheads has kept lawmakers from overreacting.
But are we Michiganders about the face a similar, perhaps well-intended but equally bone-headed, anti-car campaign taking aim at the premier U.S. classic car event? Joellen Gilchrist is a motivated environmental activist, and host of one of the Step It Up events taking place across the U.S. this weekend. But in a Detroit Free Press article, she pans the annual Woodward Dream Cruise.
For those few readers not familiar with the event, it’s a tribute to the days when GTOs, Mustangs and Barracudas ruled Detroit’s main drag, Woodward Ave., endlessly cruising, “American Graffiti”-style on hot Summer nights. It’s typical to see at least 60,000 classic cars turn out for this late-August event, some participants shipping their cars over from places as far away as Australia. A million or more fans line the curbs of Woodward just to watch.
The event is fun, declares Gilchrist, but she contends, “It’s time for it to be over.”
Okay, let’s face it, with all those mostly pre-emissions system) cars rolling down Woodward Ave., the air can get a little foul. Some years back, another classic car event was scheduled for the Detroit-Windsor Freedom Festival, a joint U.S./Canadian Independence Day celebration. As a judge, I got to ride in a ‘30s Packard convertible – through the tunnel connecting the two cities, under the Detroit River. By the time we reached the other side, my lungs were as black as a lifelong chain smoker’s. So I get the concerns. But banning the dream cruise? Might as well bar the Kentucky Derby because of the solid pollutants it creates.
Now, I admit I’d prefer not to see all my neighbors commuting in ‘60s-vintage sedans. But it’s absurd to think about banning the Dream Cruise, a one-day slice of Americana that’s got a distinct leg up on many other celebrations of our nation’s past – active audience participation, if you will. Luckily, it appears Gilchrist isn’t gaining quite the support she might have in eco-crazed California. Those who want clean air on that one August Saturday just might consider driving their Priuses – or riding their bicycles – up to pristine Northern Michigan.
PLANNING A PROTEST: Dream Cruise in crosshairs --Detroit Free Press