Interest in Woodward Dream Cruise driven by nostalgia, history, love of cars

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Royal Oak — Some are trying to recapture their youth. Some love anything with four wheels. Some are celebrating the birthplace of the automobile. Some are just looking for a good time.

They will come, a million strong, Saturday to the rolling, rollicking feast of nostalgia called the Woodward Dream Cruise.

Spectators at the corner of 12 Mile and Woodward get a close-up view of this classic Oldsmobile.


It’s known by other names: a raucous road party, the ultimate car show, Automotive Woodstock, the biggest one-day auto event in the world.

It’s also a homecoming because Metro Detroit, after all, put America behind the steering wheel.

“We were the center of the auto industry,” said Jon Cox of Franklin. “We were the beginning.”

Cox got an early start this week as he drove along Woodward in his green 1957 Chevy Bel Air. Others joined in Friday night for pre-Cruise activities along or adjoining Woodward, including the Lights & Sirens Cruise of vintage emergency vehicles in Ferndale and the 23rd Annual Classic Car Parade in Berkley.

The Cruise, which is celebrating its 24th year, covers a 16-mile ribbon of asphalt from Ferndale to Pontiac.

It has spawned a spate of imitators but there is only one Woodward Dream Cruise, say residents. Only one event draws 40,000 vintage cars and people from around the world to ogle them.

The reasons they come are as myriad as the cars: love, pride, nostalgia, fun.

How much does Metro Detroit love the Dream Cruise? Let us count the ways.


Some people who venture to the Cruise Saturday aren’t just attending a car event. They’re revisiting their youth.

For one day, it’s the 1950s and ‘60s and they’re teens again, cruising up and down Woodward. Their cars are classics today but back then they were brand new.

One of those teens was Ralph Haney of Clawson, who would later help start the Dream Cruise in 1995.

“It’s always the good old times. People never say the bad old times,” he said.

He had visited Woodward earlier in the week, showing off his 1969 Plymouth Road Runner. His every-day car is a 1932 Ford Coupe.

But Haney, 70, worries the teen cruisers are dying off and their loss could hurt the Dream Cruise. He hopes the vintage car hobbyists will pick up the slack.

Adriano Tonin, 12, of LaSalle, Ontario, wipes the rain from a 1957 Pontiac Laurentian police vehicle that is owned by LaSalle's police department before the start of the 18th annual Ferndale Lights and Sirens Parade.


Polish and pride

Preserving a vintage car isn’t easy, say their owners. It takes a lot of work, a lot of money and a lot of commitment.

One reason they attend the Dream Cruise is to show off the results of all that effort. Another reason is they’re surrounded by people just like them.

It’s a great excuse to talk about cars, and talk and talk and talk.

“I love the people. They’re my favorite part,” said Stan Patterson of Rochester Hills.

In this subculture, a first car is like a first love. The difference, of course, is first loves can’t be restored to what they looked like 60 years ago.

Patterson’s first ride was an old Chevy Camaro he bought in the 1970s. The car is long gone but he restored a 1968 Camaro he continues to drive today.

The motoring city

When it comes to the Dream Cruise, nostalgia isn’t just personal but professional.

Local residents, especially those who worked for the Big Three, are proud of their role in automotive industry history.

They don’t call it the Motor City for nothing.

“We did it better than anyone,” said Dale Schneider, a retired Ford factory worker.

Schneider’s Ford Thunderbird was built in 1957, which was during the heyday of the American automobile, a time when all roads led to Detroit.

The cars produced by local plants weren’t the cookie-cutter models of today but ones that screamed with personality.

They boasted scoops, spoilers, tail fins, exposed engines, oversized grilles and suicide doors.

A social scene

Duane Sabella of New Baltimore, right, talks with fellow Hudson owner  John Albert of Cortland, Ohio, while Albert sits in Sabella's 1950 Hudson Super Six. Sabella's most recent project was redoing the car's interior.


Amid all the nostalgia and history and car talk are people having fun. One doesn’t have to be a gearhead to enjoy the Dream Cruise.

Sandy Confer doesn’t own a vintage car but that hasn’t stopped her from attending most years. She just loves the camaraderie.

“It’s just fun. So many people are enjoying themselves,” she said.

Confer, who grew up in Royal Oak, seems to stumble upon long-lost childhood friends every year, she said.

Some of those friends are car nuts. Others are regular folk. It’s easy to tell the difference, she said.

The car enthusiasts are the ones drawing all the attention, with the crowd focused on their wondrous machines from yesteryear.

(313) 223-4186

Twitter: @francisXdonnell