Memories drive today’s cruisers

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Royal Oak – Today is the day tens of thousands of people jump into time machines and are transported back to the 1950s and ’60s.

The time machines, of course, are their vintage cars.

What else is the Woodward Dream Cruise than a rolling bazaar of nostalgia, a return to the heyday of the American automobile, a time when all roads led to Detroit?

“You get to be a kid again,” Steve Lyons of Berkley said about his toy, a red 1967 Pontiac GTO. “It has a lot of good memories.”

The Cruise, which celebrates its 22nd year today, is the biggest single-day auto event in the world.

A million people are expected to spy 40,000 time machines as they’re parked or perusing along a 16-mile stretch of Woodward.

For one day, the world is four lanes wide.

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“I never miss it,” said Joan Sharbar of Macomb Township, who has come for 11 straight years. “The people are the best part. Just great people.”

The uninitiated may wonder what the hubbub is about. Let the fuel-injected faithful explain.

These customs, classics, exotics, muscle cars and hot rods positively scream with personality, their owners say.

They’re bedecked with scoops, spoilers, tail fins, exposed engines, oversized grills and suicide doors.

They’re souped-up and tricked-out as they roll in their twin-turboed, gold-rimmed, chrome-plated glory.

Still not convinced?

We’ll let Keith Wartel make the closing argument.

“They’re not cookie-cutter cars,” he said. “Each one has something different about them.”

Wartel, who owns a black 1993 Mustang GT convertible, hails from Cadillac, which wasn’t named after the car but just the French explorer who founded Detroit.

The Dream Cruise is supposed to be a one-day event but, once again, the party started early.

On Friday night, 100 emergency vehicles stretching back to the 1920s rode in the Light & Sirens Cruise in Ferndale. Escorted by Ferndale police, the vintage police cruisers, fire engines and even a paddy wagon rode along a 2-mile stretch of Woodward.

Four miles away, 400 vintage cars rode through downtown Berkley as part of its Classic Car Parade. Thousands of people lined 12 Mile to watch the procession, which was followed by live music and games.

Talk about Friday night lights.

“It’s nice for the city,” said Berkley resident Cathy Dickson. “It’s our version of the Dream Cruise.”

Earlier in the day, these roosters of the roadway were already traversing Woodward between Ferndale and Pontiac.

Police signs directed them to the two right lanes but these wondrous machines of yore couldn’t be contained to a mere two lanes.

The 16-mile river of asphalt was full of Corvettes, Mustangs, GTOs, Camaros, Barracudas, Firebirds and Thunderbirds.

Scott Hall of Saline was tooling around in his white 1952 Volvo when he stopped in Royal Oak to rest the engine.

“I couldn’t wait to get out. I’ve been here since Monday,” said Hall, who is staying with a friend.

Some drivers played to the crowd.

Rule One of the Dream Cruise: Be seen. Rule Two: If you can’t be seen, be heard.

Was there squealing of tires Friday? Oh, yeah. Revving of engines? You betcha.

Just consider it a noisy preamble to the main event today.

Here are some denizens of a temporary kingdom that pays homage to the birthplace of the American automobile:

First visit with Dad

Kurt Seymour has attended most of the Dream Cruises. Even a move to Alabama five years ago hasn’t stopped him.

After 15 appearances, he’s unofficially an old-timer.

This year he’s bringing a greenhorn, his 6-year-old son, David.

And how did David feel about taking a 870-mile ride to a car event?

“He’s excited. He loves cars more than I do,” Kurt said as David nodded his head excitedly.

Their first stop was to take a photo of the town sign for Troy. That’s because they live in Troy, Alabama.

GTO romance

Lyons is a car nut. His specific malady is GTO. The prognosis, said his wife, is terminal.

Why terminal? Because sometimes Laura Lyons feels like hitting him over the head with a frying pan.

Laura said she sometimes wonders if Steve likes his car more than her. She was kidding about the frying pan but just half-kidding about the rivalry thing.

“If I hear him on the phone (talking about the car), I wonder if he’s with another woman,” she said with a smile.

Despite the four-wheeled intruder in their marriage, they looked very much like a happy couple driving along Woodward in their GTO.

Drive through the past

Woodward and these cars from yesteryear may be the flora and fauna of gearheads’ memories.

Before moving to Cadillac, Wartel grew up in Royal Oak and remembered many a night driving along Woodward listening to rock ‘n’ roll.

Everything was young back then: the music, the drivers, the tradition of riding the roadway.

He still drives the same type of car he did back then, a Mustang.

“It was fun,” said Wartel. “I guess everything has to end.”

It may have ended on most days of the year, but on the third Saturday of August, Wartel and 40,000 other car owners get a reprieve.

(313) 223-4186

Twitter: @francisXdonnell