Surviving the ’03 Dream Cruise

2003 Woodward Dream Cruise Index by TCC Team (8/18/2003)
Whether you want to call it the Blackout Cruise, the Downpour Cruise, or simply the ’03 Cruise, surviving the Ninth Annual Woodward event was something of a marathon.

People, repeat after me: “Always Drive on the Top Half of your Tank.” That not-so-old adage that I learned in the long stretches Out West applied in spades to Motor City motorists — and Dream Cruise tourists — last week following the Thursday Blackout.

I should have known better myself. When the power went off at 4:09 EDT, wife Karen was in Ontario heading to Vermont with a Windstar full of furniture for a daughter in the process of moving. Being a good automotive citizen, I was waiting at home until the cool of the evening to fill the nearly empty tank on the Focus, when evaporative emissions would be lower on a muggy, 95-degree day.

No juice, no gas pumps. It’s that easy. Seems like everyone was caught flat-footed. People trying to get home through traffic-signal-less intersections found themselves running dry. Cruisers in their muscle cars who would have fired up for the Thursday evening preamble to the Cruise were sidelined. Besides, with no streetlights, you couldn’t make out anything but headlamps glaring along Woodward.

Cruise in doubt

Twenty-four hours later, Friday afternoon, things were no better. Food was spoiling in refrigerators, freezers, and coolers, especially for the vendors along Woodward. No air conditioning on one of the hottest days of the year. No electric fans or, worse yet, electric stoves. Authorities were saying no hope of power until Monday and, in the meantime, don’t drink the water, don’t shower, don’t flush the toilets and — especially for adamant Cruisers, don’t wash the car. The truly desperate turned to raiding lawn mower fuel supplies. That’s what enabled me to reach an open gas station two counties away.

The immediate outlook for the ’03 Cruise was in doubt. Ford and GM cancelled their charity fund-raising events for Friday night. The cops closed any remaining cruising at 8 p.m., when the sun went down. People who had come from hundreds of miles away just to cruise their wheeled treasures were okay in their motel rooms, but couldn’t find much of anyplace to eat. Locals with gas in their tanks were heading far outstate in search of air-conditioned motels and restaurants with food.

By Saturday, the big Cruise day, however, things were looking up. Power began to return to outlying areas and by noon even to core communities along Woodward. However, it was too late for many would-be Cruisers and onlookers, who became discouraged and either headed home or stayed home. So attendance was way down compared to previous years. No one knows how much, because who can count a crowd spread along sixteen miles when there is no admission charge.

Then, around 3 p.m., as a final thumb in car-lovers’ eyes, a line of thunderstorms began moving through the area, West to East. Droptops undropped. Collector cars and their fans fled. Although the weather lifted an hour or so later, there was no question, the Ninth Annual was best forgotten.

Cruise nonetheless

Still, for those who stuck it out, there was the usual tremendous parade of primarily old-fashioned Detroit Iron, heavily larded with preserved/restored muscle cars and street rods.

Any one’s pick of the best and worst in the Cruise is highly selective, highly subjective and highly likely to start emotional debates short of fisticuffs.

So, let me tell you about my own likes and dislikes. My list of “best” has to start with the meticulously preserved ’59 Cadillac Sixty Special Fleetwood black sedan that was invited to park in my driveway while its owners were Cruise-watching a couple of blocks away. I like to have “my” collector cars in their original showroom best — as you’ll see when I get to my dislikes below.

Others in this unmolested category included a ’59 DeSoto with its gleaming gold anodized aluminum trim, a curious ’67 Amphibicar which drew on WWII Seep and Schwimmerwagen technology to double as a motorboat, and a ’39 Ford which had been in the same family for four generations.

Yet, perhaps the most ingenious sight in the Cruise was a VW Beetle whose sheetmetal had been replaced by an arrangement of wrought iron shaped just like the original body. The effect was a see-through phantom, in which you could see the driver and drivetrain within. Shades of Topper, for those of you who remember old movies.

Overall, I revere the wonderful pastel colors typical of Fifties cars. Give us back our Easter egg colors, Detroit.

Oddly, the “best thing” in the ’03 Cruise wasn’t on wheels. It was the set of T-shirts some quick-thinking entrepreneur punched out for sale by Saturday morning. They proclaimed, in black-on-white or white-on-black: “The Great Blackout of 2003/ No power, No problem/Woodward unplugged/Cruise On.”

When it comes to dislikes, I hate anything that strays from the true. Like raised white lettering tires on an otherwise pristine ’60 Chevy Impala sedan. Barf. Further in the wheels categories, those that are too small or too wide or reversed for an artificially wider stance. Narrow white walls from the Sixties on a much earlier Forties car.

In addition, I don’t know which is worse, the poorly executed replicars like Model As with wrong-sized wheels and headlights, or restorable-to-showroom Thirties and Forties cars which have been ruined by turning them into nose-sagging street rods. Yes, there are well-executed rods, which can be truly works of art with their imaginative paint jobs and graphics. But all to many of them simply make me wince and wonder why a good car was ruined by some guy with a cutting torch.

Perhaps the worst sin among well-meaning “classic-makers” is “over-accessorizing,” to adopt the expression I first heard from my Ford Dynasty co-author, Jim Wagner. Jim, who narrates at the Greenfield Village Motor Muster every year, joins me in being appalled at respectable coupes and sedans of the Forties and Fifties larded up with after-market accessories that their original owners NEVER would have mounted. The chief culprit, without question, is the Continental Kit, the sheet-metal-shrouded spare tire mounted on an over-sized and extended rear bumper. This abomination unbalances the car from both the esthetic and engineering point of view. Close to it are the steel sunshades over front windshields, not to mention fender skirts, cats’ eye rear lenses, cheap-looking bright-metal gravel shields, twin spots, the previously mentioned wrong white walls…I could go on and on.

Fellow car nuts, when you find one of these pristine restorable coupes, coaches, or sedans which may have belonged to your grandmothers, retired librarians or teachers, LEAVE THEM BE! Don’t turn them into vulgar, elderly street tarts with rouged cheeks, thick lipstick and sprayed-on clothes — the effect over-accessorizing has. If you want to ruin a vintage convertible that way, it’s your money, but at least the result will look natural, the way a “used” ragtop might have been personalized some years after its prime.

So I’m a purist. So sue me.

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