Ian Thibodeau and Neal Rubin and Nora Naughton and Breana Noble The Detroit News
Published 9:09 p.m. UTC Aug 18, 2018
The air was thick from exhaust fumes. The chrome sparkling from the gloriously sunny Saturday. The rubber sticking to the hot asphalt of Metro Detroit’s most iconic cruising route.
On this particular day, a stretch of 16 miles of Woodward Avenue has been the place to be and be seen from Ferndale to Pontiac as car nuts, classic car owners and the weird swirled together to paint the Avenue in retro flair.
The 24th annual Woodward Dream Cruise appeared to have again drawn hundreds of thousands to the world’s largest classic car bash.
Read more: Interest in Woodward Dream Cruise driven by nostalgia, history, love of cars
And more: Cruising can be more nightmare than dream
The guide: What to know about the 2018 Woodward Dream Cruise
John Grace of Sterling Heights said he’s been to every Dream Cruise. He and his friends sent up tents in an alley between two office buildings on Woodward in Ferndale for their annual party. They also sat watching over their pristine Chevelles.
Grace had the top back on his candy orange 1969 Chevelle, which he’d perfectly polished.
“I just like cars,” said Grace, peering over his car out to Woodward, where vehicles thundered by in the afternoon sun. “You drive around all summer, and you don’t see any of them. Then all the sudden it’s like ‘where’d all these come from?’”
The cruise begins in Ferndale, goes up to Pontiac and loops back to Ferndale, where the event was born.
The Dream Cruise began in 1995 as a fundraiser for a soccer field in Ferndale. Founder Nelson House and volunteers were looking to recreate the 1950s and ’60s vibe with the cruise featuring classic cars. Around 250,000 people participated in the first event — 10 times more than were expected.
While Woodward in Ferndale kept the cruise at a leisurely pace, northbound M-1 was gridlocked starting around 11 Mile in Royal Oak much of the day. Anyone driving stick surely had a sore left foot after a half-hour of pressing on the clutch.
Past Birmingham in Bloomfield Hills, Woodward traffic was barely moving south starting around Cranbrook Road. Drivers revved their engines and wiggled through traffic in hopes of being the first in line at a red light, just in case the road opened up enough to gain some speed.
Across from an Audi dealership in Birmingham, real estate investment company ValStone Partners was throwing a curbside party — in a building it just sold.
“They offered, and we snapped it up,” said host and partner Jerry Timmis of Birmingham.
There were bleachers outside and tables indoors, in an artfully walled off portion of the Birmingham Place building’s garage. The menu was classic tailgate: hot dogs, Polish sausage, sliders, chicken and ribs.
The company sends invitations, but after eight years, “people just show up.”
Behind him, a long, low ’61 Cadillac convertible eased past, with the passengers in the back seat waving.
“It’s Detroit’s Mardi Gras,” Timmis said.
In Pontiac, cruise fans in camping chairs cheered, whistled and clapped as cars revved their engines and screeched down Woodward.
The noises were why Sarah Elliott of Pontiac had to bring out the big amp this year to the party her husband’s engineering firm hosted. A smaller stereo was not loud enough to play her ’60s music with a playlist paying homage to the late Aretha Franklin.
“It’s like being back in time,” said Elliott of the cruise as she sat next to her grandson. “I remember on Friday nights, we would cruise up and down Woodward until 12, 1, 2 a.m. The big thing was to meet up at the White Castle at 8 Mile. We’d just drive. There was no trouble.”
Retirees from the United Autoworkers Local 5960 gathered for the fifth year in a row in Pontiac to show off their classics. Members as far as Florida came with their families to set up tents and enjoy the vehicles pass by on Woodward.
“I’ve loved cars since I was 16,” said Jon Marshall, 80, of Ocala, Florida, who has come north for the cruise for 20 years. “We’d buy them and put new engines in them. It’s like the old days.”
Marshall’s brother, Rodney, also a member of the union, showed off his candy red ’38 Chevrolet sedan he built.
“It’s fun, looking at all the cars,” the Pontiac resident said. “I built this from the ground up. It’s an accomplishment.”
Earlier on Nine Mile east of Woodward, the stillness was interrupted by the purr of Mustang engines as owners took their places along Mustang Alley, a roughly mile-long stretch where Ford lines up nearly 1,000 ponies for the Dream Cruise.
Shouts of “car coming through,” came every few minutes as pedestrians step aside to let another car find its place.
Cruisers and their lawn-chaired groupies filled Woodward from Ferndale to Royal Oak. It seemed anyone in a convertible had the top down on a sunny day.
Brett Austin of Allen Park saw a newer white Bentley rolling slowly in the right lane, and he couldn’t help himself. He trotted over, stuck his head in the open passenger window, and said, “Hey, just looking.”
The driver just nodded, said Austin. “He didn’t say a word. He knows he’s got a cool car.”
At the corner of Old Woodward and Hazel in Birmingham, between an Olds Cutlass 442 and a two-tone Chevy Bel Air, two fresh-faced Mormon missionaries chatted with a white-bearded evangelical Christian with a shirt pocket full of pamphlets and a baseball cap that said “FEAR GOD.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints — the Mormons — were giving out free cups of Hawaiian shave ice. The snow-cone-like treat was generally better received than the you’re-all-doomed exhortations of the Christian preachers to the north.
Mormon missionary Garrett Charles, 19, of Arvada, Colorado, had been trapped for 15 minutes by one of the Evangelicals, the older man with the baseball cap.
“We just went over there to tell them to come get some shave ice,” Charles said. “He wanted to tell us we’re wrong.”
Some of the most pristine cars at the Dream Cruise landed at Performance Park, an un-judged classic car show at Memorial Park in Royal Oak. The show takes place in the heart of the cruise and attracts more than 700 hot rod and muscle car owners from all over the country — and even Canada — every year.
The event required preregistration, but the guidelines were loose. In addition to classics, there was a Chrysler Crossfire club and a Camaro club with all the newest models on display.
“We have a great turnout to reminisce with this year,” said event organizer Greg Rassel of Royal Oak Public Works. “These are the people who keep our history alive.”
The Dream Cruise runs through 9 p.m. with an expected 40,000 classic and unique vehicles traveling from along M-1.
The world’s largest one-day automotive event attracts thousands of muscle cars, street rods, custom, collector and special interest vehicles — and hundreds of thousands of their fans.
On blocked-off Old Woodward in Birmingham, Chevrolet set up a bean bag toss game in the bed of a hulking black Silverado Z71 off-road pickup.
Larry Sims, 60, put three of four bags in the hole, and the last one stopped on the edge. He’d driven up from Lexington, Kentucky, in his ‘55 Bel Air; back home, he explained, “We play a lot of horseshoes.”
His prize, as outlined by brand ambassador Shannon Parker of Bloomfield Hills, was “smiles and high-fives.”
Tony Michaels, executive director of the Dream Cruise for the past nine years, said some of the best places to view the cruise along Woodward are in Ferndale near Mustang Alley at 9 Mile, Birmingham between 13 Mile and 14 Mile, Berkley near the intersection of Woodward and 12 Mile and in Pontiac.
“Young and old just enjoy every minute of this because it’s so nostalgic, it’s a feel-good moment,” he told The News ahead of the cruise.
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