Rubin: The dream cars of the Dream Cruisers

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

Paul Meray loves his ’63 Ford Falcon convertible, as well he should.

Paul Meray of Warren shows the original V8, vegetable juice, as a joke, under the hood of his 1963 Ford Falcon.

It’s Venetian yellow, an optional pastel that year, with a black top and new black upholstery. The retired fire captain from Warren saw it on eBay four years ago, bought a $100 plane ticket to Oklahoma City, and drove his new old Ford home with nary a problem. Well, except for when the throttle return spring fell off, but a quick trip to an auto parts store had him back on the road the next morning.

“You don’t see many of ‘em,” he said, and passers-by on Woodward a few nights ago seemed to enjoy the car as much as Meray does. But still, in a perfect world? If money and availability were no object?

Fly away, Falcon.

Friends sit by the 1963 Ford Falcon owned by Paul Meray of Warren.

Envy is as much a part of the Woodward Dream Cruise as exhaust fumes. You watch 12 hours of astonishing automobiles roll by, and heck, it’s human nature to wish you were behind the wheel instead of behind a light pole. But it turns out that even the owners of ogled vehicles would typically like to see something else in the garage — and they can describe what’s missing with precise detail.

“A 1967 Corvette,” said Meray, 65. “Sidepipes, a 427, black with a red stinger hood.”

An average weeknight leading up to Saturday’s 23rd annual main event is the best car show most cities would ever see — probably the only spot in the world where a DeLorean follows 50 feet behind a DeSoto.

The cruise has become as much a coronation as a celebration, stretching for not only miles but weeks. And it was a simple task to ask dream car drivers to describe the cars of their dreams.

John Reed of Haddon Township, New Jersey, brought his wife along in 2007 when he first came to the Dream Cruise. “How many times do we have to drive up and down this road?” she asked.

John Reed of Haddon Township, New Jersey shows the fake ID and badge that he displays with his 2008 Mustang Bullitt, based on the movie "Bullitt."

Now he brings a friend, this year in a 2008 Bullitt edition Ford Mustang GT.

Reed, 63, has the almost-requisite cruise-car-owner white mustache, and the almost-requisite other cars at home: seven assorted Chevrolets spread throughout his garage and four others. But his dream car is parked someplace else.

“Marina blue ’67 Chevelle SS 396,” he said. “When I was 15, I saw it sitting in a car lot. I fell in love with the body style.”

Teenaged reverie is a common theme. “I’m just trying to relive my childhood,” said Jim Trosin of Waterford, only better and with more disposable income.

In 1999, Trosin paid $5,000 for the battered husk of a 1965 Pontiac GTO convertible. “The whole neighborhood thought I was nuts,” he said.

Five years later, doing everything himself except for the seats and top, he had a showpiece.

When Jim Trosin of Waterford paid $5,000 for the battered remnants of his 1965 Pontiac GTO, his neighbors thought he’d lost his mind.

Trosin, 66, has second-generation aptitude and an engineering degree from Lawrence Tech (and a white mustache). What he nearly had, until an unsolicited deal to sell the GTO fell through last month, was a stack of unexpected cash. He knew just where to put it:

“I like the new Corvettes.”

Leslie Briggs, a 46-year-old bartender from Livonia, was a double rarity — a woman piloting a cruise-worthy car along Woodward, and someone supremely, permanently satisfied with her vehicle, an all-original 1979 Pontiac Trans Am.

The friend who found it for her, 51-year-old Jeff Tomanek of Macomb Township, parked his 1980 Corvette next to the Trans Am. He has pledged the ‘Vette to his 13-year-old son, Jon, and pointed to the ideal replacement as a version of it motored north.

“A ’55 Chevy,” he said. “Blue and white, with the chrome, 427, 4:10 rear end and a four-speed.”

Leslie Briggs of Livonia owns her dream car, an all-original 1979 Pontiac Trans Am with a Smoky and the Bandit edition CB radio.

Detroiter Robert Billinger, 66, has his choice of three cars to bring to the cruise, but none of them will make the trip. “I’m going to New York tomorrow,” he said, almost apologetically.

His first car was a metal-flake-green ’63 Ford Galaxie. “Everybody had a classic back then,” he said. “We just didn’t know it.”

Now he’d like a 1969 Camaro, please, 454 engine, black with a white interior. His problem, alas, is as commonplace as his yearning: how to pay for it.

Meray, the former firefighter with the Falcon, has a plan. “Lottery tickets,” he said. “I buy them every week.”

The same day as the Dream Cruise, there’s a Powerball drawing worth $510 million. If you see him next year with the ’67 Corvette, you’ll know how it turned out.

Twitter: @nealrubin_dn