Motor City Car Crawl brings glitzy gala to Detroit's downtown

Amelia Benavides-Colón
The Detroit News

Detroit — Car fanatics rejoiced this weekend with a return of an auto event in the Motor City after more than two years without one.

Motor City Car Crawl, put on by the Detroit Auto Dealers Association and Downtown Detroit Partnership, filled six downtown parks with about 50 cars, food trucks and entertainment. The highlight of the weekend: the elegant charity gala headlined by Grammy award-winner Sheryl Crow at Campus Martius Saturday.

The outdoor car crawl and charity gala took place the same week that New York Auto Show officials out of COVID concerns canceled their indoor event just two weeks before its scheduled dates.

Keith Studzinski of Bloomfield Hills looks at the vehicles on display during the Motor City Car Crawl Charity Gala at Campus Martius Park.

But DADA officials are also still planning to put on their outdoor Motor Bella event in September at the M1 Concourse in Pontiac. 

Both the crawl and Motor Bella are taking place this year instead of a North American International Auto Show in Detroit, which, along with its charity preview that raised thousands for children's charities in Detroit, hasn't happened since January 2019. Both the 2020 and 2021 Detroit auto shows were canceled because of the pandemic.

Officials are planning to bring back the auto show in 2022. Decisions on another car crawl and Motor Bella are being discussed.  

A 2019 Saleen Mustang S302 is pictured during the Motor City Car Crawl Charity Gala at Campus Martius Park.

Tamara Flake, a vice president of Huntington Bank, said she's glad Huntington was able to be the primary sponsor for the event.

"It's exciting to be in the community as a presenting sponsor and just gathering again," she said. "I didn't think it was going to be this big, but I'm excited to see so many people."

Rochelle Darlene of Detroit and Erika Taliaferro of Flat Rock said they are used to attending the typical black-tie event held by the Detroit auto show each year.

"We're so glad to get out of the house and be around people," Darlene said. "We really like that they did this in the summer rather than in winter so we can all be outside and dressed up."

At Campus Martius, racing vehicles, including the Detroit Grand Prix Formula One and Michigan International Speedway pace cars, were on display.

Eric Larson, chief executive officer of the Downtown Detroit Partnership, expects that the Motor City Car Crawl will likely draw downtown's biggest crowds since before COVID. Among the largest events before this was the Grand Prix on Belle Isle over Memorial Day weekend.

"Over the four days, this will surpass that and will have tremendous positive impact," said Larson in a previous interview with The News.

And part of that positive impact will be on local businesses and restaurants, as Campus Martius was beautifully decorated with a variety of food trucks. 

Sheryl Crow performs during the Motor City Car Crawl Charity Gala at Campus Martius Park in Detroit.

The highlight of the gala, Crow, a nine-time Grammy award winner, encapsulated the audience with her performance.

"I'm more of a muscle car girl myself," said Crow in between songs. "I've got a 1965 Mustang convertible and a 1951 Chevy."

The ticketed event was the only portion of the Motor City Car Crawl that costs to attend.

Tickets cost $250 and proceeds will be donated to nine Detroit children's charities including: the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan, Boys Hope Girls Hope Detroit, Children's Center, The Children's Foundation, Detroit PAL, Judson Center, March of Dimes Metro Detroit, University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Detroit Auto Dealers Association Charitable Foundation Fund.

Fans embrace while Sheryl Crow performs during the Motor City Car Crawl Charity Gala at Campus Martius Park in Detroit.

While ticket sales are still being counted, upward of 1,700 people were in attendance Saturday night, and DADA has high hopes they can make the event an annual saga. 

"After two and a half years of not having this gala ... this raises millions of dollars for children who need it," said Sandy Pierce, a senior executive vice president of Huntington.

Staff Writers Kalea Hall and Maureen Feighan contributed.