Clint and Joan Zadorsky of Royal Oak watch the cars go by from the bed of Clint's truck on Woodward, along the route of next Saturday's Dream Cruise. (Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News)
Andrew Justus restored his first classic car before he was old enough to drive.
In 2004, while he was in high school, he and his dad restored a 1964 Ford Fairlane 500. He’s been fixing up cars since he was a toddler.
“As a little kid, it’s doubtful how helpful the stuff (I did) was, but I was always there,” he said.
Now 24, Justus is studying to be a lawyer, but he hasn’t given up his love of restoring old cars and showing them off at the annual Woodward Dream Cruise. Next Saturday’s cruise turns 20 this year, and Justus will be there with more than 1 million other auto aficionados.
“Usually when you go to car shows, it’s just one make of car or one era, but the Dream Cruise, you see all sorts of stuff,” he said. “You’ll see modern-day people in a minivan, which probably shouldn’t be there, but also cars that are pushing 100 years old that you’ll never see on the road but then.”
But as the world’s largest single-day auto event starts its third decade, some wonder if the classic-car culture that fuels the cruise could begin to wane. Studies show younger Americans are less interested in cars and waiting longer to get their licenses.
Baby boomers, some of whom recall cruising Woodward in the glory days of drive-ins and diners in the ’50s and ’60s, are trying to pass their passion to their kids and grandkids.
“You have the younger generation that’s not as much into the muscle cars from the ’60s,” said Laura Alfafara, a Shelby Township resident who loves classic Mustangs. “They’re into the newer cars.”
Alfafara and her husband, Ron, who is the president of the Mustang Club of Greater Mount Clemens, are making sure their grandson Bret Reinhold grows up surrounded by the classics they love so much.
On Sunday, they sat with him at the Gratiot Cruise in Clinton Township.
“Look at that car!” the 4-year-old would shout when something caught his eye. He says he likes them “just because they look so cool.”
Laura Alfafara says classic-car culture, and events like the Dream Cruise, may change but won’t disappear.
“I don’t think it’s dying,” she said. “I think it’s evolving.”
Nationwide TV plan
Tony Michaels, executive director of the Woodward Dream Cruise, says the Oakland County extravaganza is more secure than it has been in years.
“Over the years, there may have been some turbulence, but as we sit today it’s really synergistic between the nine cities,” said Michaels, who is also the CEO of the Parade Company that puts on Detroit’s Thanksgiving Day parade. “There is great understanding of what this means economically.”
Hotels, restaurants and shops along the Woodward corridor will see an influx of visitors both on Saturday and the days leading up to the cruise.
Michaels says the cruise is more financially stable, producing more money for the cities involved, and has secured Chevrolet as a presenting sponsor for the next three years.
In addition, for the first time, the Scripps media company will take the live broadcast throughout the day with WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) and turn it into a one-hour syndicated special for viewing across the country. It will air throughout the three weeks after the cruise.
“It’s truly going to put the Detroit region on a stage,” Michaels said. “We’ve got something magical.”
The Dream Cruise, which regularly attracts more than 40,000 classic cars, hot rods and other participants, has come a long way from its origins as a small fundraiser for a local soccer field.
In the mid-1990s, Ferndale resident Nelson House had the idea of bringing back the summer nights of his youth in the ’50s and ’60s. He and other organizers expected maybe 30,000 spectators to watch their classic car parade in 1995; instead, more than 250,000 people lined Woodward.
The next year, a formal board of directors was formed. Since then, the nine communities along Woodward — Ferndale, Pleasant Ridge, Royal Oak, Huntington Woods, Berkley, Birmingham, Bloomfield Township, Bloomfield Hills and Pontiac — have all gotten involved, extending the length of the cruise for 16 miles and its influence around the world.
A family affair
Mike Bayer’s family includes three generations of Dream Cruisers.
Next Saturday, he and his wife, Janice, will take out one of their five classic cars: Fords from 1930, 1931 and 1934, a 1958 Thunderbird and a 1967 Corvette convertible. They lend the other cars out for the day to their daughters and are sure to bring along their grandchildren Kaitlin, 19, Alex, 14, and Nolan, 6.
Although they love it now, Bayer, 72, says he knows his grandchildren might not continue the family’s classic car tradition.
“They don’t relate to the ’30s cars,” the Washington Township resident said. “The reason I’m into them is because these are the cars that were in my neighborhood when I grew up.”
But he’s happy to have them along for now.
“If they like the cars, it doesn’t matter to me as long as they are enjoying it,” he said.
A love of cars is a family tradition for the men in the Maddigan family. Bob Maddigan passed it along to his son Joe, and now the two are sharing it with Joe’s son Jack, 5.
“He loves cars,” said the proud grandfather, who lives in Clinton Township. “Even when he was younger, he could spot and tell you if it’s a Corvette or a Camaro.”
The three enjoyed the Gratiot Cruise last weekend and plan to go to the Dream Cruise with Maddigan’s 1973 Corvette convertible. He plans to leave the car to family when he dies, continuing the tradition of classic cars.
“It’s not dead,” he said. “The love of a car, I don’t think that will ever go away.”