Sun sets on Dream Cruise as thousands return to Woodward
Birmingham — The Woodward Dream Cruise came roaring back Saturday, a rolling reminder that if you love cars, the third Saturday in August is your Super Bowl.
If you love the Super Bowl, conversely, don't bother bringing it up with Steven Ross.
"I'm a car guy," he said, standing alongside his Montana red 1960 Chevrolet Impala along Old Woodward, and he was in good company — an expected 1 million to 2 million spectators, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, as the Cruise came back from a pandemic-related cancellation last year.
“Let's put it this way," said Ross, 64, of Bloomfield Hills. "Some guys can talk sports. I don't know a thing about sports. You want to talk classic cars, I could talk all day.”
A few yards away, the world's coolest traffic jam proceeded as expected on a steamy day that topped out close to 90 degrees. A surprisingly rare Dream Cruise fender-bender and a stalled 1957 pickup each delayed traffic briefly, but if COVID-19 could only stop the Cruise in theory, a wreck involving two non-classics was just a speed bump.
Ross was among thousands of drivers and spectators who came out anyway in 2020 after the Woodward Dream Cruise committee scrubbed the event. Woodward is a public road, after all, so the only measurable impact was smaller crowds and no portable toilets.
Ross took advantage of the smaller turnout to switch cars and drive more, bringing out his 1969 Pontiac Firebird and 1931 Ford Rat Rod. With the Impala at the 26th Dream Cruise Saturday, he wore a T-shirt that said, "No, I'm not the original owner."
Joseph Waterman, 80, of Livonia also drove a '60 Impala — and he is the original owner.
Waterman's is white, with whitewall tires and 145,000 miles on the odometer. The red-and-white houndstooth interior is original.
As for his reddish-brown mop of hair, not so much. "Hair Club for Men," he said.
The Impala has always been a weekend car, he said, and it's sturdy enough that he drives it to Indiana every year for a car show, though the carburetor failed at last year's unofficial Dream Cruise and he needed to be towed home.
This year's turn for a tow fell to Ron Pannecouk of Algonac, whose pristine 1957 Ford F-100 pickup stalled between 11 Mile and Catalpa in Royal Oak.
“It just quit. I think it’s a fuel issue,” said Pannecouk, 81. Spectators quickly pushed the white-on-yellow truck off the road, and Bradley and Donovan Brennan of Troy Auto Care hauled it away on a flatbed.
"We come out once or twice each Cruise," Bradley said.
Pannecouk's AAA membership includes long-range towing, so he rode home with the Brennans. His long-term flame, Linda Bekes of Sterling Heights, caught a ride with a friend.
"We love it," she said of the F-100. Said Pannecouk, good-naturedly, “I don’t love it so much right now.”
Tow trucks aside, there was something for everyone along Woodward, even if it was just juice boxes. Two pre-kindergartners sat with their dad under a blue awning, alongside a deep blue Pontiac Bonneville convertible, happily sipping as they faced away from traffic.
Their dad turned them around in time to catch a silver Corvette convertible rolling by with a full-sized Bart Simpson riding shotgun.
A yellow Chevrolet Monza with chunks of upholstery missing and a swath of primer on the driver's door was parked facing traffic, as though the owner was giving it a goal to shoot for. A white suicide-door '64 Continental convertible that made you say "Wow!" eased past a souped-up red Geo Tracker than made you say, "Why?"
North of 12 Mile in Royal Oak, a few yards past an IHOP, a heavily tattooed man with no shirt stood at a grill between the sidewalk and the asphalt, turning brats with a pair of tongs. Spectators pulled kids in wagons or were yanked along by dogs straining against leashes.
The Cruise has always been multi-generational, and now people who never knew the American Graffiti days of popping into Woodward Avenue drive-ins were bringing their kids.
Edgar Houlguin, 40, and his 16-year-old son Andres of Novi arrived in Birmingham at 7 a.m. to get the perfect spot to set up lawn chairs and festive red umbrellas.
Houlguin was looking out for the “oldies” driving by — specifically Fords, his favorite. Andres, camera in hand, was hoping to spot an exotic Bugatti.
It was their first Cruise, and “it’s been great,” Houlguin said.
For Vivian Jugan, 67, and husband Gary Jugan, 69, of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, it was Cruise No. 2.
They picked a spot right at Woodward and East Brown Street so they could get extra-long views of vehicles stopped at the light. It’s especially enjoyable, they said, to see a grandpa driving an old car with his grandson in the passenger seat.
They were also keeping a weather eye on a steamy day for historic Ford Falcons and Chevy Novas, the cars they had when they were first married.
Angel and Klaus Raddatz of Milford were berthed in Mustang Alley with a two-door GT her dad brought home new in May 1965.
Joe Errante passed it down a few years before his death in 2019 — the year of the last official Cruise before Saturday.
"He gave it to my wife because she had such a love for the car, he knew she would take care of it," said Klaus Raddatz.
Errante paid $2,900 for the Mustang and ultimately retired it except for rallies and cruises. It’s kept under cover and out of rain and snow, helping to preserve the original paint, vinyl top and interior.
Klaus Raddatz said he has already taught their children to work on parts of the car. Some families’ heirlooms are loveseats; for others, it’s bucket seats.
Going with the flow
There was a rhythm to the 16-mile drive from Ferndale to Pontiac: hundreds of iconic Fords at Mustang Alley along 9 Mile, then a solid flow into Royal Oak, known for places to park and gaze along the avenue.
In Birmingham, there was eye candy everywhere: souped-up Bugs, a jacked-up Bronco, an old Model T, a classic Pontiac Le Mans, mid-engine Corvettes that looked like they are doing 150 mph standing still.
People and cars thinned north of Long Lake for the long, leafy stretch past Cranbrook School. In Square Lake, the lawn chairs reappeared and the traffic started to pick up again at M1 Concourse, the new northern terminus where the Woodward Dream Show debuted this year.
M1 described the Dream Show as "the best of the best," a heady claim even for an invitation-only display. While the Cruise is free and official T-shirts were a modest $20, Dream Show admission was $100 and included food, drink and relative quiet.
Dream Show cars, organizers said, are too valuable to risk taking onto the actual M-1, Woodward Avenue. Among the showstoppers was a 1950 Cadillac convertible owned by John Druar of New York. Druar, 81, was 10 years old when Cadillac introduced the iconic tail fins that help make his drop-top so distinctive.
Many merchants along the route close for the day. No one is going to brave Woodward to buy art supplies in Royal Oak.
Others adapt, selling their parking lots or reading the crowd.
The Royal Oak outpost of Chicken Shack does mostly carryout. Saturday, it erected two tents over eight long plastic tables with folding chairs.
At the Old Woodward Shop, selling cigars, beer, wine and soft drinks north of 11 Mile, owner Amar Kiryakoza said the Dream Cruise is his best day of the year.
"It's like Christmas," he said, with people stopping for snacks and beverages. "It's a mistake to close. You can't think like that."
As a bonus, he set up a small awning out front for his uncles to smoke cigars and enjoy a few beers. Across Woodward, southbound, he watched two yellow Mustangs zip past — and then another and another.
David Sarandis, 56, of Alton, Illinois, was also in the parade. He said that as the group gathered in the parking lot of its Troy motel Friday night, it honored the missing Canadians by drinking Labatt.
Further west at the park, 37 members of the Woodward Tri Five Cruisers had parked in long columns.
A Tri Five is a Chevrolet from three golden years, 1955-7, marked by the introduction of a V-8 engine. Retired GM engineer Steve Sherrick, 77, had arrived from Waterford at 4:45 a.m. to help direct the other members toward their spaces.
He was driving his red 1955 Bel Air sedan, having left four other Chevrolets at home. The '55 has been dealing with alternator issues, but Sherrick is no amateur. He had a second battery and jumper cables in the trunk.
Small city, small SUV
Pleasant Ridge, the smallest city on the Cruise route, hosted a small display of Ford Broncos that included one so so tiny it was more of a foal.
Jeff Trapp of South Lyon, who has never missed a Dream Cruise, was there with a '66 Bronco whose previous owner had lopped off its hard top and tailgate and turned it into a camper.
“This is one of the only ones in America,” he said, complete with a mini fridge, sink and cabinets.
Nearby, Scott Townsend of Indiana had something even more unusual: a powder blue 1976 Bronco and a matching mini-Bronco he built out of a golf cart.
Pleasant Ridge police chief Kevin Nowak was so impressed with the smaller version that he pulled over and took a test-sit.
“This is one of the coolest things I’ve even seen,” he said, and he passed his phone to Townsend for a commemorative photo — a fitting souvenir from the return of the biggest one-day auto event on wheels.
Henry Payne and Amelia Benavides-Colon contributed.