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2002 Woodward Dream Cruise (8/16/2002)
Whether or not you’ve seen it before, prepare for a thorough mind-boggling at the Aug. 17 Woodward Dream Cruise. Some 30,000 nostalgic vehicles and a couple million people converge along a 16-mile stretch of Woodward Ave. between Detroit suburb Ferndale and the city of Pontiac, most of them seemingly jammed between Nine Mile and 15 Mile Roads.
In only its eighth year, the WDC has evolved into a gearhead happening like no other on this planet. It unofficially begins on the Monday before official Cruise Saturday, with people and cars driving and flying in from all over the country, and some other countries. Local officials and Cruise organizers say it brings $55 million to the local economy. Some Woodward Ave. businesses enjoy their highest single-day revenue of the year. Others, not enjoying the crushing congestion of people and cars, simply close up and take the day off.
For most, WDC is best viewed from the side of the road. Unlike most, this car show parades proudly past its viewers, instead of the other way around. Unless you’re lucky enough to be invited by a host with Woodward parking, shuttling in from a remote lot is the best move. Get there early with a folding chair, portable food and a full cooler, find some roadside turf not already taken, and enjoy the slow flow of vehicular nostalgia.
Unless you really need to, or want to display your special car, and are prepared to spend the better part of an hour moving one very long mile, don’t actually drive on Woodward – at least between Eight and 15 Mile (Maple Rd.) If you do, make sure your car’s cooling system is well charged and tested, since you’ll spend most of your time idling at rest. Cruise-car boil-overs are common on a hot August WDC day. And stick to the inside lanes if not driving a nostalgia mobile; the two outside lanes are reserved for “classics” only.
Woodward organizers define “classic” as “any car (or vehicle) that creates a feeling of nostalgia, stimulates a memory, or fulfills a fantasy” -- which greatly annoys the Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) folks, since only a precious few, mostly premium, cars built between 1924 and 1948 qualify as classics, or “Full Classics,” by their definition. We’re talking spectacular 1930s Auburns and Cords, V16 Cadillacs, Packards, supercharged Clark Gable Duesenbergs and the like, not your restored or carefully preserved Mustang or Chevy.
Pay attention and you will see a few stunning Full Classics on the Boulevard among the muscle cars and rods, but the best place to view them on WDC Saturday is in downtown Birmingham, just west of Woodward and south of Maple, where CCCA members gather and park to enjoy each others’ cars and company. While you’re there, check out the 50 fabulous Corvettes brought by members of the National Corvette Restorers Society (NCRS) just north of the “Triangle” where Woodward and Old Woodward converge.
These and many other clubs make a social event of Woodward, park their pampered beauties in reserved areas along and just off the strip, share food and tall tales and walk around to visit friends and enjoy the rolling display. We’ve joined the throng and cruised a bit in past years -- fun to show off one’s special wheels -- but at 0-2 mph, Woodward gets tough on the clutch foot and cooling system after a while. Our ’67 Vette will be with the NCRS group.
Hot tip: Cruise north from Maple around Pontiac and back. The crowd and congestion clear out enough to enjoy most of it at near-normal speeds. But stay safe, careful and prudent. You don’t want to ruin everyone’s day by running into pedestrians or other peoples’ “classics,” and every cop in southeastern Michigan is out there watching.
Marketing the Cruise
Like us, the U.S. makers love to show off their best nostalgic stuff. Chevrolet plans a “massive” display at the Birmingham Triangle, some special GM classics and concepts will be at the Athens Coney Island, just south of 14 Mile, and Pontiac-GMC will host a display of heritage vehicles, powertrains, restoration parts and “a few surprises” at Memorial Park, Woodward and 13 Mile.
Ford takes over much of Birmingham west of Old Woodward, including Shain Park, City Hall Plaza, the Community House, the Townsend Hotel Ballroom and a Ford pavilion. There’s a Ford-hosted charity preview Friday night, Aug. 16 ($175; 248-644-5832). A “Kids Revvin’ with Ford” event kicks off Saturday from 8-11 a.m., followed by “Revvin’ with Ford” Noon to 9:00 p.m., free and open to the public. A new Ford display, “The Mustang Drive-In,” debuts on Woodward between 11 and 12 Mile Roads, while a “Cruisin’ with Lincoln” display will be at Cranbrook Academy between Lone Pine and Long Lake (18 Mile), both open to the public.
DaimlerChrysler hosts an affordable charity event Friday evening at the W. P. Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills (21 and over; $40 in advance; 1-800-422-7596) while a historic vehicle display (all DC marques including Mercedes), is open all day Saturday at 13 and Woodward.
What will you see at Woodward’s rolling car show? Anything and everything, and some things you’ve never imagined. Detroit iron is dominant, of course, mostly the muscular kind from the ‘60s and ‘70s, since that’s what a lot of car guys and gals appreciate, keep, care for and love to exercise on summer days and nights. There will be a lot of less muscular but more diverse post-WWII favorites from the late ‘40s to the fabulous finned ‘50s. I’ll admit to being especially fond of ‘50s cars as automotive art forms – simple and modest in the early years, over-chromed and wildly finned by decade’s end.
With the city of Pontiac just up the road, you’ll see a lot of Pontiac GTOs. The ’64 GTO started the happy, tire-smoking trend of heavy-weight engines in lighter-weight cars, but the ’66 GTO is prettiest to my eye. You’ll also see hundreds of Chevy SSs, Olds 442s, Buick GSs, Ford Mustang Shelbys and Bosses, Mercury Marauders and Cougar XR-7s, Dodge Chargers and Challengers, Plymouth Hemi ‘Cudas and many more.
You’ll see a handful of early-century vintage vehicles driven by brave, hardy souls and gifted mechanics, and a few lovingly restored gems from the ‘20s, ‘30s and pre-war ‘40s. You’ll see an eclectic selection of “orphan” cars whose manufacturers haven’t survived: Hudsons, Kaisers, Frazers, Nashes, Studebakers and more. You’ll see British sports cars, a lot of poseur Porsches and Italian exotica: Alfa Romeos, Ferraris, Maseratis and Lamborghinis. And you’ll see a lot of trucks, both wild and mild, from all eras.
Finally, you’ll savor thousands upon thousands of wild and cool custom cars and street rods. The customs (based mostly on ‘50s models) range from lowered, skirted, continental-kitted tail draggers to cartoonish ultra-performance caricatures with steam-roller tires and superchargers big as doghouses over their hoods. The rods (based mostly on ‘20s and ‘30s machines) extend from bare chassis with bucket seats and chromed engines to artfully crafted and painted rolling sculptures that will palpitate your heart.
Car nut or not, you may be hot, tired, sunburned and hassled by day’s end, but you will not be bored at WDC.