2003 Woodward Dream Cruise

August 15, 2003

Forget Los Angeles and American Graffiti. In those balmy years bookmarked by the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the real action was on Detroit’s Woodward Avenue. And not just for those teens who could scrape together enough money for a set of wheels. Late at night, you’d often find some of the biggest names in the auto industry, like John DeLorean, prowling Woodward, testing their latest products and challenging the competition.

2003 w

2003 w

But that was long ago, before anti-war protests became the passionate pastime of American youth and a pair of oil shocks made it too expensive to keep cruising those gas-gulping muscle cars. Sensible sedans took over, fuel-efficient, if slow, along with Soccer Mom minivans and sport-utility vehicles. Until one August afternoon in 1995.

It began as a small gathering of aging enthusiasts, a way to bring back to life those warm summer nights when Detroit iron provided the pulse of the American dream. As those aging children of the ’50s pulled the tarps off their long-idled GTOs, Mustang GTs, and Road Runners, Woodward Avenue transformed for an afternoon into Memory Lane. The event quite literally stopped traffic, as it will again on Saturday when the ninth Woodward Dream Cruise rolls back into town.

2003 Woodward Dream Cruise

2003 Woodward Dream Cruise

Make that crawls, bumper-to-bumper, along the northern half of Woodward Ave., the eight-lane boulevard that runs nearly 26 miles, from Detroit’s riverfront to downtown Pontiac. By various estimates, as many as two million people could turn out to watch the parade of muscle cars, hot rods, classic cars, and an assortment of vehicles too odd to classify. Perhaps 60,000 or more of these cruisers, along with plenty of more modern machines simply along for the ride.

What started as a one-day event has been expanding annually, and so, while the formal Woodward Dream Cruise is scheduled for August 16th this year, you could find plenty of cruisers looping long stretches of Woodward the weekend before — to the appreciative waves, cheers and applause of bystanders who were already filling grandstands, lounging in the back of parked pickups or simply sitting on lawn chairs.

TheCarConnection.com has been out all week and here’s a look at what we’ve found — and a preview of more to come this weekend.

2003 Woodward Dream Cruise

2003 Woodward Dream Cruise

The Corvette Pickup

You’ll be likely to see the first few Chevrolet SSRs cruising Woodward this weekend, a perfect opportunity for the automaker to spotlight its new “halo car,” which Chevy is billing “the Corvette pickup. Well, George Prentice didn’t feel like waiting when he got hold of a ’54 Corvette a few years back. “Think of this as a forerunner of the SSR,” says the resident of St. Claire Shores, Michigan, as he tools down Woodward. Prentice’s approach was simple: lifte the trunk lid off the early Vette, then custom-design a pickup-style bed that simply slipped inside.

2003 Woodward Dream Cruise

2003 Woodward Dream Cruise

Little Red Truck

Jim Barkey’s ’78 Dodge is a bit more conventional, but not by much. Equipped with a tire-spinning 360-cubic-inch V-8, his Li’l Red Truck was one of just 2100 built that year. “I just like it. It’s definitely different,” he beams, cruising down Woodward with his wife. Back in the day, you’d likely not see many trucks on Woodward — unless they were making deliveries to one of the hamburger stands that served as home base for so many cruisers. But expect to find plenty of them in this year’s Dream Cruise vying for attention along with more conventional hot rods and muscle cars.

2003 Woodward Dream Cruise

2003 Woodward Dream Cruise

Vinsetta Garage

At the height of the cruising phenomenon, you’d spend the night racing along Woodward, taking time out to stop at any of the more than two dozen burger stands lining the length of the boulevard, each with its own micro-culture. But Ted’s is gone, along with the Suzie Q, and so is the Totem Pole, its Big Chief Burger but a tasty memory. Like most suburban arteries, Woodward has been taken over by fast food chains and strip malls. But if you look hard, you’ll find a few vestiges of the original cruising era, like Royal Oak’s classical-designed Vinsetta Garage and, a few miles south, Wetmore’s — which has the distinction of being the first and only garage designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

2003 Woodward Dream Cruise

2003 Woodward Dream Cruise

It’s All in the Details

“God is in the details,” or so said that legendary automotive enthusiast, Albert Einstein. And you just need to spend a little while cruising Woodward Ave. to see what he meant. It’s the perfect set of wheels on an old Chevelle SS, the gleaming pony on a ’64-1/2 Mustang’s grille, a perfect eagle paint job on the hood of a Trans Am and a pair of fuzzy dice on, well, just about everything cruising Woodward Ave. over the weekend, it seems. Getting it right doesn’t come cheap, of course. You’ll find many a Dream Cruiser willing to tell stories of plunking down thousands more on accessories than they paid for their cars in the first place.

2003 Woodward Dream Cruise

2003 Woodward Dream Cruise

It Doesn’t Get Much Better…

Ron Owens has been sitting at the corner of 12 Mile Road and Woodward every night for nearly a week. “This is the only time you get to actually see them drive by,” he explains, as a wave of muscle cars light up their tires when the light goes green. “It’s a parking lot on Saturday.” Indeed, you’d be forgiven if you confused Dream Cruise Saturday with rush hour in Los Angeles. Of course, Owens admits he’ll be back over the weekend, as well. “You get to see all variations of cars, from the classics to muscle cars,” he says, beaming broadly from the driver’s seat of his own rather unusual collectible — a 25-year-old Harley-Davidson golf cart.

2003 Woodward Dream Cruise

2003 Woodward Dream Cruise

Big Investment

John Micallef’s another one who has been racing out to Woodward Ave. after work the last few days. “Been out here cruising all week,” he notes, because on Saturday, it’s so crowded, “You can’t cruise anymore.” There’s nothing Micallef likes more than the praise he gets for his 1980 Chevy Monte Carlo, lovingly restored and detailed. He bought the car seven years ago for $4500, and so far, he’s put another $3500 in on everything from the engine to the metal flake paint job. “And I’m still adding more,” he proudly boasts.

Nothing Particular

2003 Woodward Dream Cruise

2003 Woodward Dream Cruise

Butch and Gloria Pederez are quick to advise you they’ve made every single Dream Cruise since the first started out as little more than a muscle car show in the Detroit suburb of “fashionable” Ferndale. They’ll be cruising a bit over the weekend, but are just as likely to sit back and watch from the parking lot of the auto parts store in Royal Oak. “I like all the old cars. I’m not particular,” says Butch.

2003 Woodward Dream Cruise

2003 Woodward Dream Cruise

As for Dick Barron, he was standing along the shoulder of Woodward on Wednesday evening, doing a good impression of an automotive encyclopedia. “Look at that ’57 Olds,” he called out to anyone close enough to hear, tallying up all the details that made the car so distinctive. His own ’68 Chevy C-10 pickup was featured in last year’s official Dream Cruise calendar, Barron reveals with pride, though he sheepishly admits it wasn’t included in the ’03 edition. Barron started cruising Woodward as a teen in a ’53 Ford coupe. “It was just hanging out with the boys,” he recalls with a dreamy look spreading across his face. “You wonder where all these people horded all these cars all these years. I just can’t believe they’re still around.”

2003 Woodward Dream Cruise

2003 Woodward Dream Cruise

…And She Breaks Just Like A Little Girl

“It’s always something, you know?” sighs Bob Brown, who drove down from Oxford, Michigan, in his ’32 Ford three-window coupe only to see a display of warning lights start flashing. So he pulled into the local parts store to make a quick repair. But that’s really part of the pleasure, for Brown customized the candy red hot rod with the 383 Chevy small block all by himself. “It’s a lot of fun. When it runs,” he says. “It’s worse than a woman, you know,” Brown adds, eyeing his wife impatiently tapping her foot to let him know it’s time to stop tinkering under the hood. He also started cruising Woodward as a teen with a newly-minted driver’s license. “I was here every night,” he says. “Thanks to me, you guys have this.”

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