'03 Dream Cruise Short Circuited Page 2

August 18, 2003

Displayed there for public gawking was an eclectic collection of GM show cars and concepts, past and present, including all three jet-propelled Firebird “Dream Cars” from the Harley Earl era, a slammed and customized Pontiac Aztek (which actually looked pretty good) and the Chevy SSR Signature Series #1, which bears the autographs of GM chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner, GM North America chairman Bob Lutz and president Gary Cowger and soon-to-retire Design vice president Wayne Cherry.

The identical SSR #2, donated to the SAE Foundation, raised $137,850 in a May 5 auction on eBay, and the other 23 hand-built and highly collectible Signature Series SSRs are touring races, art fairs, and rock concerts and will go to a variety of auctions later this year.

2003 Woodward Dream Cruise

2003 Woodward Dream Cruise

Enlarge Photo
Just then, GM chief exec Rick Wagoner, grinning broadly, drove up in another spit-shined Ultra Violet SSR. Turned out it was his very own, the first regular production unit, which had been spiffed and delivered just the day before. It bore a Signature-Series-style plaque, signed by his three sons, saying “Happy 50th Birthday.”

Wagoner had fallen for the SSR the first time he saw it as a foam model in 1999, had announced that GM would build it long before the designers and engineers knew how to viably do that and had driven the purple/blue concept in WDC ’00. He cruised a yellow production-intent SSR in ’01 and a red pre-production unit in ’02. Now, with production ramping up at the Lansing, MI, Craft Centre, he was proudly cruising his own SSR.

While driving the yellow one at WDC ’01, he says, a spectator had yelled: “Nice car, but you’ll never build it!” This year, he laughs, the only taunt he heard was, “When can I get mine?”

A nice couple from Connecticut, taking in WDC for their first time, asked if that tall man with the SSR was Jon Moss. No, we said, that’s Rick Wagoner, GM’s top exec. “Oh,” they said. “We talked to Jon on the phone the other day. He said he was tall.”

Back to chaos, please

We walked past the park where WDC sponsor Eaton Corp. was entertaining hundreds of employees and customers and knew a group of musically talented fellow journos was playing inside. They had invited us to stop by and see them. But, alas, no Eaton credentials.

We crossed Woodward’s four southbound lanes and walked along the grassy median. A Royal Oak cop car approached from behind, honked and hollered at us: “No walking on the median!” Really, why? Crossing the other four lanes to the other side would seem more risky. “We need to keep the median open for us in case there’s an emergency...which there always seems to be,” another cop later explained. “We don’t need spectators in the way.” Okay.

Heading back north, we saw the sky over Birmingham turning dark. The predicted rain was about to arrive. We rushed back to our car, fired it up and, against my wife’s excellent advice, joined cruise traffic heading south. It was 3:00 p.m., the crowd had seemed to be down all day from the usual impenetrable throng, and traffic had actually appeared to be moving.

But it didn’t move much once we joined it. Then the rains came, encouraging those with convertible tops to put them up. Ours is not entirely watertight. We decided to call it a cruise and diverted to a side street...which was closed. We following a narrow alley and eventually rejoined Woodward just in time to turn west on 14 Mile Rd. and head for the freeway.

Once on the Interstate, we encountered one massive lightning strike and a curtain of rain so heavy it had folks pulling over for lack of visibility. Meanwhile, back on Woodward, the official radio station reported that the rain had stopped, the weather was lovely and the cruise was continuing. Also that they’d never seen rain in the eight years they’d covered the WDC.

Trying a different station, we heard reports that a severe storm, with 70-mph winds and the potential of one-inch hailstones, was fifteen minutes away from Royal Oak. We were hoping it didn’t blow away peoples’ tents and umbrellas and damage a lot of lovingly finished cars.

Apparently, luckily, it didn’t. Here’s hoping everything returns to carefully controlled chaos for 2004.

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