Dream Cruise: Rolling bazaar of classic car gems returns

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Metro Detroit will take a leisurely drive to the 1950s Saturday with a pit stop here and there for nostalgia and worship.

That’s right, it’s the return of the rolling bazaar of car culture known as the Woodward Dream Cruise.

A procession of 40,000 classic cars will meander along Woodward Avenue as they pay noisy tribute to the birthplace of the American automobile.

All those vehicles in their twin-turbo, gold-rimmed, chrome-plated, four-on-the-floor glory comprise the largest one-day auto event in the world.

These roosters of the roadway will be oohed and aahed at all day long along a 16-mile ribbon of asphalt from Ferndale to Pontiac.

“I love it, all of it,” said Vinnie Esposito of Rochester. “I love cars. so this is heaven.”

Unlike most car trips, the Dream Cruise is more about the pit stops than the destination.

Nostalgia? The old cars pack a lot of good memories, a time when life was better, or at least seemed to be.

Worship? How better to pay homage to American muscle than ogling these little cars with big engines, Mustangs and Corvettes and Camaros, oh my!

Some 2 million people will be lost in the reverie of tail fins, chrome bumpers, stainless steel molding, exposed engines, running boards, oversized grilles and suicide doors.

Butch Patrico, president of the Michigan Hot Rod Association, in his blue 1941 Mercury sedan coupe at Memorial Park in Royal Oak for the Woodward Dream Cruise on Friday, August 20, 2021.

The flotilla of chrome and steel sailing along Woodward will have more personality than their modern-day cousins. During the heyday of the Big Three, their cars were distinct from each other.

Some reflect the identity of their owners with stripes, flames, two-toned colors and assorted murala. These hot-stepping Hemis aren’t shy about introducing themselves.

Owners describe bonds with their vehicles that are so emotional they could be talking about a romance. Their fuel-injected fetishes run to all parts of the machines.

“Your first car is like your first girlfriend,” said Bob Sloan of Pleasant Ridge, whose first was a 1968 Dodge Charger.

He’s been buying Chargers ever since.

Drivers won’t be shy about showing off their rides today. That’s one of the points of the Dream Cruise.

The classics, whether traversing the roadway or parked along it, are there to be seen. If they don’t receive enough attention, expect a revving of engines or squealing of tires.

Whatever else you think about the customs, exotics, muscle cars and hot rods, they will not be ignored.

People watch the Light and Sirens parade on Woodward Avenue at the Ferndale Dream Cruise in Ferndale, Mich. on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021.

For Walt O’Brien of Royal Oak, clambering into his 1957 Chevy is like climbing into a time machine.

He’s 18 years old again. Wolfman Jack is on the radio. His life is an open highway.

It’s not just the cars that bring back the old days for O’Brien. Woodward Avenue was a prime spot for teens driving aimlessly in the 1960s.

“We had a weekend routine. Drive down Woodward, turn around, drive up Woodward,” said O’Brien.

Is O’Brien just trying to relive their youth? No. Yeah. Maybe. Who cares?

The old days may be gone but on the third Saturday in August in Metro Detroit, they are never forgotten.

On Friday, revelers were getting an early start on the festivities. Here are some snapshots of the wondrous machines from yesteryear and the people who love them.

Jim and Kay Oleniczak sported a 1932 Ford hot rod to the Berkley Cruisefest Friday and plan to spend their 50th wedding anniversary back at the Woodward Dream Cruise on Saturday.

A happy anniversary

What better way to spend your 50th anniversary than watching the cars go by at the Dream Cruise? 

That's exactly how Jim and Kay Oleniczak plan to spend their 50th wedding anniversary on Saturday.

The couple sported a 1932 Ford hot rod to the Berkley Cruisefest Friday evening. 

It's a car that Jim has wanted since he was in high school. Lathered in red paint, the car is adorned with Loony Tunes' own Elmer Fudd, with "Webel Wouser" written on the left side of the car. 

"My favorite thing is about the Dream Cruise is seeing all my friends, and seeing the cars," said Jim Oleniczak. "You see different things you don't normally see, and people from all over the world."

Parked at the park

One of many vendors at Memorial Park in Royal Oak was the Man Cave Store.

The entire park was transformed into a man cave for the Performance Park Classic Car Shows. Hundreds of classic cars covered an expanse of grass next to a baseball field.

Bob Barnhard of Franklin sought relief from the humidity from sitting in a folding chair under an oak tree. His blue 1966 Chevrolet Impala was on its own.

“It’ll be OK. It’s the rain I worry about,” he said.

Barnhard left his safe space long enough to visit the aforementioned Man Cave Store, where he bought a neon clock. The clock’s face bore a simple message: Hot Rod.

Michelle Wolfe of Dearborn Heights shouts "Rev it up" along Woodward Avenue for the Friday Dream Cruise in Royal Oak on August 20, 2021.

A visit from 'Old Franky'

Several streets in downtown Ferndale were closed for two dueling shows.

One side of Woodward featured classics and a live band for the Vintage Auto Show. The other side showed historic police and fire vehicles parked in front of the Ferndale Police Department for the Emergency Vehicles Show. The crowd seemed better behaved on that side of the street.

“It’s too hot to get into trouble,” said Anne Marino of Ferndale.

Among the emergency vehicles Marino spied was one all the way from Stonefort, Ill., its former fire engine No. One, nicknamed “Old Franky.”

But not all vehicles were welcomed to the festivities. Signs on both sides of Woodward warned: No skateboarding.

Joshua Bedford of Farmington enjoys a beautiful evening with his daughter JoAnna along Woodward Avenue for the Woodward Dream Cruise on Friday, August 20, 2021.

From older to newer

In Birmingham, Tom Bailey and his wife, Bonnie, have been coming to the Dream Cruise since its first year in 1995. But the Oxford residents can also remember riding along Woodward before it became a cruising spot.

"This is what we used to do in high school, this was our youth," said Tom, 72. "Woodward was the thing to do."

Now, the couple have a 2014 Corvette that they bring to the yearly event. Their club, the Oakland County Classic Chevy Club, set up tents alongside other local Corvette cars for the weekend.

They used to drive a 1964 vintage Corvette but sold it for a 2009 model with modern comforts before getting their current one. They plan to trade in their 2014 for an even newer model — a move they feel good about, given the state of the auto market.

"We'll finally make up what we lost on the other two," Bonnie said.

Also along Woodward was Bob Leimbach with his 1969 Jaguar XK-E. He's made the trek for 15 years from Vermilion, Ohio to spend the weekend among classic cars.

His wife also comes along, but she isn't typically found on Woodward. While Bob spends the week perusing the cars, his wife peruses the shops in the Somerset Collection in nearby Troy.

"We go cruising and the wife goes shopping," he said. "We're all happy."

'In my blood' 

Officially canceled last year because of COVID-19,  many of the people driving and drooling over Corvettes, Challenges and Cobras Friday on M-1 say they turned out last year anyway.

Take Jim Parsons and Mark Ward. Both 58, they've been fixing up cars together for 30 years, and on Friday afternoon, they were in their usual place along Woodward in Pontiac to watch people and and Detroit iron pass by on Woodward. 

Dan Parsons of Milford brought his 1955 Chevy Tradesman station wagon to the Pontiac Classic Car Show on Friday as Woodward Dream Cruise festivities got underway.

"We were in the same spot last year," said Ward, who lives in South Lyon. "Even though it was COVID, we still came down."

Along with them was Parsons' white 1955 Chevy Tradesman wagon, which the Milford resident restored after buying it in California. "I replaced the wheels, the glass, brakes, engine work, a little bit of everything," he said.

Both Ward and Parsons began their lifelong love of cars before they could legally drive, at age 15. 

"It's something in my blood," Parsons said. "I love cars." 

He's not alone, as evidenced by the owners and onlookers crowding Woodward Friday afternoon and evening. 

A pretty pink 'Bird 

Patricia Wiegand is hard to miss at the Cruise. 

Dressed in pink with her pink Fifi poodle doll and white Lamb Chop puppet riding next to her, the Macomb County resident pilots a gorgeous, hot pink, 1955 Ford Thunderbird convertible down Woodward Avenue each year. She and her husband, Marvin, have been coming here for 26 years, and had the classic two-seater displayed early Friday afternoon in Royal Oak's Memorial Park.

Marvin Wiegand and his wife, Patricia, have been coming to Woodward to cruise in their 1955 Ford Thunderbird for 26 years.

She’s a grandma many times over and calls her T-bird “Grandma’s Barbie Car.” She hopes her California granddaughter will travel cross country and join her at the Cruise one day. Her T-bird took a long route to get here, too. 

Her husband, Marvin, acquired the car in El Salvador, and — together with the pieces of a second Bird — made the car road-worthy by 1992. He’s also restored a 1941 Chevy, a ’67 Caprice, and Pat’s other classic cruiser: a red and black, 1965 Mercury Comet. 

Too wicked for Woodward

There are Dream Cruisers and there are Dream Dragsters. A 1,200-horsepower, nitrous-powered, 1966 Chevy Nova would be the latter. 

Owned by Mark Ehman of Monroe, the Super Nova is just too powerful for Woodward Avenue’s traffic jam this weekend. So Mark trailered it to Memorial Park, where it got steady eyeball traffic all day Friday next to his buddy Scott Poor’s ferocious, modified, 2019 Chevy Camaro SS (with only, ahem, 465 horses).  

A street legal dragster, the Nova better belonged at last weekend’s Roadkill Nights event in Pontiac, where 120 entries squared off to race on Woodard’s only street-legal drag day.  

Scott Poor, left, with his 2019 Camaro SS and Mark Ehman with his 1966 Super Nova drew lots of eyeballs Friday in Royal Oak's Memorial Park where it got steady eyeball traffic all day next to his buddy Scott Poor’s ferocious, modified, 2019 Chevy Camaro SS (only, ahem, 465 horses).

“Power window, power locks, beautiful interior, you could actually drive this car to the drag strip,” Ehman said of a car that originally put out 325 horsepower before it was overhauled with a blower, big slicks and parachute. 

The Chevy is well known to enthusiasts — its mug making the cover of Super Chevy magazine’s February 2003 issue. It recently won Best in Show at the Bakers of Milford. 

It's so fine, his '49

In Pontiac, Ray Shang Lee Decker, 77, of Ypsilanti and his wife, Dee, 81, of Detroit drove to Woodward in his 1949 Mercury to watch the classics roll by and avoid heavier traffic farther south. 

Ray Shang Lee Decker, 77, of Ypsilanti brought his 1949 Mercury to Woodward on Friday ahead of the Dream Cruise.

He bought the "lead sled" six years ago. The two-tone white and royal blue model is adorned with etchings of girls on the windows and a blue King Cobra logo on the driver's side door.

"We've been coming to the Dream Cruise every year except for last because of COVID," he said.

Hooman Bolandi (left) and Mike Rachwal hold their Woodward Dream Cruise t-shirts in Royal Oak on Friday, August 20, 2012.

'A bit of a holidayfeel-good thing'

Jessica Stuart and Landen Pausch, both 22, have attended the Dream Cruise each year of the four they have been dating. The pair said they both like cars, though Stuart quipped that he is more of a "car geek" than she is.

"It's a bit of a holiday for Michigan and Detroit specifically," said Pausch as he sat alongside Stuart in lawn chairs.

Pausch, who is from Farmington, said he is excited to check out the Chevrolet display in Birmingham and Mustang display in Ferndale. He also likes to watch the drivers interact with crowd members.

Stuart said she likes to meet other people every year.

"Everybody talks to each other and everybody is nice," Stuart said. "It's a feel-good thing."

Classic and muscle cars line the grounds of Memorial Park in Royal Oak on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, ahead of Saturday's Woodward Dream Cruise.

Failure to launch

Sometimes it’s a struggle to get classics to Woodward.  

Collector Kevin Adell of Birmingham fueled up his gorgeous, 1959 Ferrari Testa Rossa on the way to Woodward for a Thursday night of cruising. But when he turned the key, the 3.0-liter V-12 engine wouldn’t start. 

“I think it’s the alternator,” said Adell. “These old cars can be hard to keep running.” 

Pity. His Testa Rossa would have turned heads up and down Woodward. The Italian stallion recalls a 1957-1962 era when Ferrari dominated international racing. Adell’s model is restored, painted red, with quad pipes, and aluminum body. 

Stranded at the gas station, he had to tow the car home. Fortunately, Adell has one of Michigan’s most diverse collections, so he has other toys to bring to the Dream Cruise. Look for his bright silver Cobra 427 or 1967 Shelby Mustang GT350. 

Henry Payne, Alex Harring and Noelle Gray contributed. 

fdonnelly@detroitnews.com

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Twitter: @prima_donnelly