Woodward's cruisers exhausted? Dream on
The world's largest classic car bash became the world's largest carwash Saturday when rain clouds spoiled what had otherwise been a pristine day of cruising.
The Motor City just threw on its windshield wipers and partied on well into the night. Dream Cruise Day is sacred around these parts.
Throughout much of the day, crowds cheered as exhaust fumes filled the air along with the sound of burning rubber. Earlier in the day, sunshine glistened off the chromed beauties, making sunglasses a must.
For a well-known stretch of 16 miles of Woodward Avenue on Saturday was the place to be and be seen from Ferndale to Pontiac as car nuts, classic car owners and the weird swirled together to paint the Avenue in retro flair.
"These are the people who keep our history alive,” said Greg Rassel of Royal Oak Public Works.
The 24th annual Woodward Dream Cruise once again drew hundreds of thousands — if not more — to the world's largest one-day carpalooza.
John Grace of Sterling Heights said he’s been to every Dream Cruise. He and his friends had set up tents in an alley between two office buildings on Woodward in Ferndale for their annual party. They also watched over their shiny Chevelles.
Grace had the top back on his candy-orange, 1969 stunner, which he’d perfectly polished.
“I just like cars,” said Grace, as he peered over his car out to Woodward, where vehicles thundered by. “You drive around all summer, and you don’t see any of them. Then all the sudden it’s like ‘where’d all these come from?’”
The answer? The Motor City opened up its garages and swiped the keys before Dad noticed.
It's been a time-honored tradition that 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. Now 23 years later, it feels like 10 times that.
During one moment Saturday, rap and hip-hop music blasted so loudly, Charles Smith's white 1970 Buick Electra with "very costly" gold hubcaps shook visibly.
"It's sentimental," said the 40-year-old resident of Luna Pier, pointing to a matching black vehicle. He'd bought his Electra three years ago because his dad had one. "Family and friends, it's what the Dream Cruise is about. You can't ask for anything more."
It was Smith's second time at the cruise, and he said it wouldn't be his last.
Beanthony Vansean, 32, of Detroit felt the same way. Saturday was his first Dream Cruise.
"I love cars, so it was a good experience," he said. He had a 1972 Buick LeSabre at home with some mechanical problems, but he hoped to take it on Woodward in 2019. "I'll definitely be here next year, and the year after that, and probably the year after that."
Juanita Munoz, 42, of Detroit had huddled with her mother, husband and grandchildren underneath a bus stop shelter during Saturday's rains. They ran over from St. Joseph's Episcopal Church in Royal Oak, her family's place for the cruise for the past decade, to stay dry.
"My dad worked at General Motors, and he loved cars," Munoz said. "He taught that to me, and that's stayed with me. It's like I'm connecting with him again. I love seeing cars he owned: a Ford Mustang, (Chevrolet) Caprice, (Chevrolet) Monte Carlo. It's like he's here in spirit."
Down the road, Matthew Caron, 30, of Iona, Ontario, and his family closed up their van to reveal the words "The Mystery Machine" painted on its side. Coran had donned a "Scooby Doo" T-shirt and stood beside a cast of characters dressed as Daphne and the talking dog from the animated show.
Caron's mother had purchased the vehicle, white at the time, for $300 in 2006. Caron paints cars as a hobby, and a friend convinced him to turn it into the iconic '70s splashy van in 2012.
"They loved it," Caron said of the cheering spectators watching the van cruise Woodward earlier.
Cruising is fun, he said, even when the family earlier in the day had to clean up 7 liters of oil after his mother's vehicle hit a speed bump and the oil pan fell off onto Woodward.
"It's all about the thrill and good friends and family," Caron said.
Bob and Jane Podzikowski of Oak Park did not own a classic car, just a 2013 Honda CR-V, but they loved watching the Woodward Dream Cruise.
"I love seeing everybody coming together," said Jane Podzikowski, 65.
The couple came to the same spot at West Lincoln Avenue like every year. The sidewalks had been so full of people, it made biking to their spot difficult. There had been more vehicles sitting on display than they had ever seen before.
"There's a community feel," said Bob Podzikowski, 69. "It's a 16-mile party, the perfect almost-end-of-summer event."
It had reminded him of his days in the '60s and '70s cruising Woodward after work.
"My buddy had a 1970 (Plymouth) Barracuda," he said. "Back then, it was just his car. Now it's like: 'Whoa!'"
About 20 riders of Can-Am Spyders, three-wheeled motorcycles, got cozy under a 10-by-10-foot tent Saturday afternoon when it was raining in Royal Oak, but the weather did not stop them from hitting the drag again later in the evening.
"They had their phones out and were taking pictures," Vanessa Willis, 34, of Eastpointe said of the crowds. She's cruised down Woodward in all sorts of vehicles. Usually, she and her husband bring the kids, but the cruise had made for a fun date night for them and their Spyder-riding friends. "It's always more fun when more people are involved."
While Woodward in Ferndale had kept the cruise at a leisurely pace, northbound M-1 was gridlocked around 11 Mile in Royal Oak much of the day. Anyone driving stick surely had a sore left foot after a half-hour of pressing on the clutch.
Past Birmingham in Bloomfield Hills, traffic barely moved south starting around Cranbrook. Drivers revved their engines and wiggled through traffic in hopes of being the first in line at a red light, just in case the road opened up enough to gain some speed.
Across from an Audi dealership in Birmingham, real estate investment company ValStone Partners was throwing a curbside party — in a building it just sold.
“They offered, and we snapped it up,” said host and partner Jerry Timmis of Birmingham.
There were bleachers outside and tables indoors in an artfully walled off portion of the Birmingham Place building’s garage. The menu was classic tailgate: hot dogs, Polish sausage, sliders, chicken and ribs.
The company sent invitations, but after eight years, “people just show up.”
Behind Timmis, a long, low '61 Cadillac convertible eased past, with the passengers in the back seat waving.
“It’s Detroit’s Mardi Gras,” Timmis said.
During a scary moment Saturday, a crowd outside the Wellness Plan medical center in Pontiac got a bit of a surprise when a cruiser lost control of a vehicle doing a burnout and ran into some tents, said Laurie Horan, 51, of Roseville, as she pointed to the oil stain in the street where it happened. Thankfully, no one was hurt.
"There's been a lot of crazy stunts," said Horan, as another vehicle revved its engine and exhaust made a cloud around the car. "We've had a lot of fun."
This time, though, an Oakland County sheriff's vehicle sat just beyond the tent. The deputy pulled forward and beckoned the vehicle to stop in front of him.
"You are so screwed," a man said from down the street.
The crowd cheered, though, when the vehicle was able to go on its way down the black-skid-marked avenue.
Kenny Ford, 75, of Utica missed the earlier excitement but was thankful for a safe weekend.
"It's been beautiful," he said. "We've seen cars that I haven't seen in years."
Most notable were the Studebakers and the '57 Chevies as well as the Dodge Chargers and Darts. The General Motors Co. retiree brought his red '71 Chevrolet Nova, which he had restored to practically new.
Other cruise fans in camping chairs cheered, whistled and clapped as cars revved their engines and screeched down Woodward.
The noises were why Sarah Elliott of Pontiac had to bring out the big amp this year to the party her husband's engineering firm hosted. A smaller stereo was not loud enough to play her '60s music with a playlist paying homage to the late Aretha Franklin.
"It's like being back in time," said Elliott of the cruise as she sat next to her grandson. "I remember on Friday nights, we would cruise up and down Woodward until 12, 1, 2 a.m. The big thing was to meet up at the White Castle at 8 Mile. We'd just drive. There was no trouble."
Retirees from the United Autoworkers Local 5960 gathered for the fifth year in a row in Pontiac to show off their classics. Members as far as Florida came with their families to set up tents and enjoy the vehicles pass by on Woodward.
"I've loved cars since I was 16," said Jon Marshall, 80, of Ocala, Florida, who had come north for the cruise for the past 20 years. "We'd buy them and put new engines in them. It's like the old days."
Marshall's brother, Rodney, also a member of the union, showed off his candy red '38 Chevrolet sedan he built.
"It's fun, looking at all the cars," the Pontiac resident said. "I built this from the ground up. It's an accomplishment."
Earlier on Nine Mile east of Woodward in Ferndale, the stillness was interrupted by the purr of Mustang engines as owners took their places along Mustang Alley, a roughly mile-long stretch where Ford lines up nearly 1,000 ponies for the Dream Cruise.
Shouts of “car coming through,” came every few minutes as pedestrians stepped aside to let another car find its place.
Cruisers and their lawn-chaired groupies filled Woodward from Ferndale to Royal Oak and beyond. It seemed anyone in a convertible had the top down on a sunny day early Saturday.
Brett Austin of Allen Park saw a newer white Bentley rolling slowly in the right lane, and he couldn’t help himself. He trotted over, stuck his head in the open passenger window, and said, “Hey, just looking.”
The driver just nodded, said Austin. “He didn’t say a word. He knows he’s got a cool car.”
At the corner of Old Woodward and Hazel in Birmingham, between an Olds Cutlass 442 and a two-tone Chevy Bel Air, two fresh-faced Mormon missionaries chatted with a white-bearded evangelical Christian with a shirt pocket full of pamphlets and a baseball cap that said "FEAR GOD."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints — the Mormons — were giving out free cups of Hawaiian shave ice. The snow-cone-like treat was generally better received than the you’re-all-doomed exhortations of the Christian preachers to the north.
Mormon missionary Garrett Charles, 19, of Arvada, Colorado, had been trapped for 15 minutes by one of the Evangelicals, the older man with the baseball cap.
“We just went over there to tell them to come get some shave ice,” Charles said. “He wanted to tell us we’re wrong.”
Some of the most drool-worthy cars at the Dream Cruise landed at Performance Park, an un-judged classic car show at Memorial Park in Royal Oak. The show took place in the heart of the cruise and attracts more than 700 hot rod and muscle car owners from all over the country — and even Canada — every year.
The event required preregistration, but the guidelines were loose. In addition to classics, there was a Chrysler Crossfire club and a Camaro club with all the newest models on display.
On blocked-off Old Woodward in Birmingham, Chevrolet set up a bean bag toss game in the bed of a hulking black Silverado Z71 off-road pickup.
Larry Sims, 60, put three of four bags in the hole, and the last one stopped on the edge. He’d driven up from Lexington, Kentucky, in his ‘55 Bel Air; back home, he explained, “We play a lot of horseshoes.”
His prize, as outlined by brand ambassador Shannon Parker of Bloomfield Hills, was “smiles and high-fives.”
Cruisers and spectators came from all over the country, including Kentucky, Montana and Texas, said Nicole Casinelli, 33, of St. Clair Shores who worked a merchandise tent in Royal Oak.
"It seems like there's more people every year," Casinelli said.
Many who come from out of state, she said, work for the Detroit Three and heard they had to see the Dream Cruise.
"Of course they're going to buy a T-shirt," said Charlie Peltz, 34, of Grosse Pointe Farms who worked beside Casinelli in the E.A. Graphics booth.