Car nut has been to every Woodward Dream Cruise except first

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Instead of describing all the years John Jendza attended the Woodward Dream Cruise, it would be easier to tell you about the times he didn’t.

That would be once, the first year of the event.

He had already made plans to go camping with his son in the Great Smoky Mountains.

John Jendza poses with his 1951 Cadillac convertible at the Roseville Car Show in 2017.

Jendza, 73, of Harrison Township doesn’t have any regrets. He’s not the type. He’s having too much fun in life.

“I’ve gotten to meet a lot of people, touch a lot of things,” he said.

Since the camping excursion, Jendza has been to 23 straight Dream Cruises. Don’t even think about scheduling something with him in the middle of August. Unless the confab is about cars and located on Woodward Avenue, you don’t have a chance of getting him.

He doesn’t even wait for the beginning of the shindig. He was already out on Woodward Friday, Saturday and Sunday, one week before the event.

Everyone knows him and not just because of his omnipresence. It’s the jaunty thing on his head. Everyone calls him Top Hat John.

“He’s a character. Nobody knows more about cars,” said Lynda Simon, another Cruise regular from Bloomfield Hills.

When it comes to autos, Top Hat John is a collector, appraiser, historian. He has a room full of memorabilia.

He has crossed the country emceeing car shows.

Besides walking the walk, he is riding the ride. He has owned 14 Corvettes.

He now owns a yellow 1951 Cadillac convertible and a coral 2003 Thunderbird. He’s not sure which he’ll bring for the 25th Woodward Dream Cruise on Saturday. It depends on the weather. Rain would keep the Caddy in the garage.

After 23 years, he has his routine down pat. He cruises up and down Woodward on Saturday morning and spends the rest of the day at one of his regular Royal Oak haunts. His two favorites are the Ford dealership on Webster and hanging with the Michigan Hot Rod Association in Memorial Park.

“It’s pretty darn good. I’m just happy to be there,” he said.

During the first few years Top Hat attended the Cruise, he emceed events for General Motors and helped them with exhibits, bringing in 21 vintage Chevrolets. It was work that didn’t feel much like work.

After that, he just kept coming and coming and coming. He can’t imagine doing anything else. What else is there?

When he ventured out to Woodward last week, he stopped at a place in Birmingham for some custard. He parked his 1951 Cadillac next to someone’s Lincoln Continental convertible from the 1940s because that’s the way Metro Detroit rolls around Cruise time.

He ate his sweet sauce, walked around a bit and was returning to his Caddy when the owner of the Lincoln happened to be returning to his car.

The Lincoln fella immediately recognized Top Hat, telling him that his father thought the world of him.

Jendza was humbled — and elated.

“They even knew my car,” he marveled. “It’s so neat to be recognized.”

That was just the beginning, said friends. Top Hat is going to be recognized a whole lot more on Saturday.