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Classic car owners are revving up to cruise a 16-mile stretch of Woodward Avenue through nine Metro Detroit communities before a crowd of more than 1 million people.

Saturday's 24th annual Woodward Dream Cruise is set to begin at 9 a.m. and end at 9 p.m. with an expected 40,000 classic and unique vehicles traveling from Ferndale to Pontiac. The world’s largest one-day automotive event attracts thousands of muscle cars, street rods, custom, collector and special interest vehicles — and hundreds of thousands of their fans.

"Young and old just enjoy every minute of this because it’s so nostalgic, it’s a feel-good moment," said Tony Michaels, executive director of the Dream Cruise for the past nine years. "It’s a safe event. It’s people coming together for all the right reasons."

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Michaels said the cruise "really celebrates the automobile" here in a region whose gas lines run deep in the evolution of all things that rev.

The cruise begins in Ferndale, goes up to Pontiac and loops back to Ferndale, where the event was born in the mid-'90s.

Michaels said some of the best places to view the cruise along Woodward are in Ferndale near Mustang Alley at 9 Mile, Birmingham between 13 Mile and 14 Mile roads, Berkley near the intersection of Woodward and 12 Mile and in Pontiac, where the cruise loops back.

A couple of key places for parking are in Ferndale at the intersection of 9 Mile and Livernois Avenue and in Birmingham at the intersection of Coolidge Highway and Normandy Road.

For a second year, Ford Motor Co. is the primary sponsor of the event. Jim Owens, Ford's performance marketing manager who handles the company's sponsorship, said the event is a celebration of American car culture.

"What you end up seeing, it’s about the car being a member of the family, not just being a piece of transportation, not just getting from point A to point B," Owens said. "They'll see family stories played out in the car in front of them."

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Those stories, he said, are the focus of Ford's annual Mustang Alley display, which will feature 1,000 Mustangs throughout the brand's 54 years. Ford is raffleing off a Mustang Bullitt edition in a "unique blue color," Owens said, with proceeds going to charity. Ford also is displaying its trucks at 13 Mile and several performance vehicles at nearby Duggan's Irish Pub.

New this year, Ford has a "driving skills for life" center at Westborn Market in Berkley. Drivers can take a spin in a skid pad car, which simulates the feeling of hitting a patch of ice.

"When you get the chance to ride in one of these vehicles," Owens said, "you learn from it and understand how to drive better and safer."

Parents can check out the company's SUVs and crossover vehicles by Pioneer Park in Royal Oak where a family zone will feature face painting, a bouncy house and other children-friendly activities. Ferndale on Saturday also will have a play zone at 9 Mile.

The Dream Cruise began in 1995 as a fundraiser for a soccer field in Ferndale. Founder Nelson House and volunteers were looking to recreate the 1950s and '60s vibe with the cruise featuring classic cars. Around 250,000 people participated in the first event — 10 times more than were expected.

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Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said his office is doing a "tremendous amount" of work in preparation for the million-plus people arriving for the cruise.

"It’s going to be visible to the public in terms of resources, equipment, personnel, our aviation unit, etc., will be very visible," Bouchard said. "But there’s a lot of things that we’ll be doing behind the scenes. Obviously given the nature of today’s world and the threat matrix, there’s things that we hope and pray never happen but you have to be prepared for."

In light of terror attacks around the world at large events, Bouchard said there will be "plans and resources engaged and in place but not necessarily public."

As in previous years, there will be a traffic control order in place, prohibiting any commercial vehicles, vehicles in excess of 10,000 pounds and any trailers from being on Woodward during the cruise.

He said the department also will enforce a zero-tolerance policy for unsafe driving, such as doing burnouts on Woodward and drinking while driving.

Michael O'Callaghan, executive vice president of the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the cruise brings more than $150 million in spending to Metro Detroit over the full week. It attracts visitors from all over the United States and from as far away as Australia, and they all spend money on hotels, transportation, food and more from local vendors.

"The event itself plays into our DNA as a community because this community is all about cars," O'Callaghan said. "It’s Detroit’s Mardi Gras."

That is how Larry Payne, the former owner of Duggan's Irish Pub at 31501 Woodward Ave. in Royal Oak, described the festivities, which make for the restaurant's busiest week of the year.

"Our capacity is 270, and every minute of the day, it’s jam-packed in here," Payne said. "Compared to a busy week in the summertime, it's five times more than that."

Payne said the employees grumble about it, but the pub brings in staff from Jameson's Irish Pub in Brighton to help. It also brings in security.

Some restaurants only take reservations during the weekend, while others close to avoid the masses. Duggan's is first-come, first-served starting Monday. The pub puts up a beverage-and-food tent on its north parking lot with live entertainment and reserves its south lot for parties on Friday and Saturday. Without a parking lot for customers, it hires a valet service to take care of it.

Since the cruise's inception, it has continued to grow and now includes various events hosted by communities along Woodward over the course of the weekend. Many communities involved host their own classic car shows and parades.

General Motors Co. employees and their personal cars will parade from the Tech Center in Warren to the automaker's Dream Cruise headquarters at Memorial Park Wednesday starting at 11:30 a.m. That parade kicks off the day-long Design On Woodward celebration from noon to 7 p.m. Wednesday. 

A Lights & Sirens Cruise takes place at 5:30 p.m. in Ferndale on Friday before the Dream Cruise.

Before cars hit the streets on Saturday, the Cruise In Shoes 5K Run/Walk takes place at 7:30 a.m. in Royal Oak, beginning on Yorba Linda Boulevard at Shrine High School.

malsup@detroitnews.com

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