On this day, Woodward is for the cruisers

Detroit News staff

It's Michigan, it's muscle, it's motorheads and mom vans — and it's ours.

We have the Woodward Dream Cruise because we have the cars, the engineers who designed them and the workers who put them together. We have the memories. And as Craig Whitehead of St. Louis, Missouri, pointed out from curbside, we also have Woodward.

"Your road is huge," said Whitehead, 51, who runs a car show back home called Cars & Coffee. "Four lanes each way, with that big, flat median? St. Louis doesn't have this."

No one does, not with 40,000 or so stirring vehicles and an expected 1.5 million spectators on an 80-plus-degree Saturday. So come hell or high water — literally — Penny Davis was taking it all in.

"For a frickin' car nut, you're crazy not to be here," said Davis, 59. She flew in Thursday from Ithaca, New York, responded to a barrage of messages from her husband, and discovered that a rain squall had left four inches of water on the first floor of their house.

Her husband is on crutches with a broken leg. She was standing in the shade with a cell phone, shooting videos.

"I asked him if I should come home, and he said no. I was hoping he'd say that," she said. "I should feel guilty, but I don't."

The Dream Cruise is maybe the one place where you can see five low-riders in succession in the right lane — older SUV, Chevy pickup, brown sedan, Dodge Ram, something long and multiple shades of green — and not be certain the owners know each other.

It's a place populated by Edsels and evangelists, at least six Chevy Corvairs and one British Ford Corsair, and a squadron of three-wheeled Polaris Slingshots.

Designed like the Batmobile with a single wheel behind the open cockpit, the Minnesota-manufactured pocket rockets are powered by a Chevy Malibu four-banger — a lot of oomph for something so small.

Leroy Breazeal of Chesterfield Township and his friends brought a variety of them to Woodward Avenue.

His is modified with wicked orange trim, hot wheels, and lights everywhere: roof, interior, even underneath.

"You should see this baby at night," he said.

Also customized, if not quite so smoldering off the line, was Chuck Lewis' purple 1953 Mercury Monterey, whose mother wouldn't recognize it anymore.

Lewis, 62, drove it up from Toledo, Ohio. He said it has a ’57 Chevrolet bumper, a ’57 Buick grille, a ’58 Chrysler back end and taillights, a ’57 Oldsmobile roof and a modern driveline and motor.

"It's not just one car," he said, just as the Dream Cruise is not just a few classics on parade.

"I love it. The cars, the people," Lewis said. "You see the odd stuff, the nice stuff.

"I hope it never stops."

Darren Bender wipes down his 2016 Ford Mustang GT at Memorial Park in Royal Oak for the Woodward Dream Cruise as he takes his spot in the Yellow Mustang Registry gathering on Saturday.

Muscle cars were out in force in Ferndale. As some of the cruisers made their way up the Avenue in traffic, spectators ogled Ford Motor Co.’s lineup on display on Nine Mile and lined up to grab free T-shirts.

Mustangs from every era already lined Mustang Alley, the mile-long stretch of Nine Mile Ford devotes to its storied pony car. The automaker expected nearly 1,000 cars there this weekend.

Mike Hatch, 71, of Oxford has been Dream Cruisin’ for all 25 years. 

He’s an American muscle guy and loves the Chevrolet Corvette. 

This year, he’s showing off his black 1963 split-window Corvette Stingray on Old Woodward Avenue in Birmingham. It’s one of only 10,000 made. Chevy stopped making them after a year because the split back window blocked the driver’s vision, which made these Corvettes an instant collector’s item, Hatch said. He found his in 2002 in Arizona and had to have it. 

“I was in high school when this car came out,” he said. “I said one day if I work hard, I’ll be able to afford this car.” 

He loves the new Corvette, which is also on display in Birmingham where Old Woodward and Woodward meet at the “triangle.”   

“It’s going to be such a hot seller,” he said. 

For the price of under $60,000 “that is so much car. What I can’t wait to see is as years go on what they will have.” 

A line of 1955, 1956 and 1957 Chevrolet classics begin to line up at Memorial Park in Royal Oak for the Woodward Dream Cruise on Saturday.

In Royal Oak, the Donut Cutter makes some of the best donuts on Woodward. But there's no breakfast on Dream Cruise Saturday.

The Cutter shuts down and rents out its space to auto supply giant Thyssen Krupp, which owns famed brands like Bilstein shocks. Thyssen entertains clients and families all day with food, hot cars, and toy RC riders.

Today's Cutter special? A high-calorie, Bilstein-sponsored, Challenger Widebody race car. Yum.

Nearby was John Kalusniak's 1940 Ford pickup, which is bone stock — except for an auto tranny he installed.

"Shifting the ol' manual box had become impossible," he smiles. The wood-bed commercial truck has the performance upgraded, flat-head V8 engine making a whopping 95 hp. The standard horsepower? 85.

Today's performance Ford Raptor pickup engine makes 450 hp.

John Kalusniak's 1940 Ford pickup is bone stock — except for an auto tranny he installed.

Terry Moreland, 55, drove his 1971 Bronco up from Akron, Ohio, on Friday night and slept in the camper fixed to the back of his truck. 

“I wanted to get here early,” he said. He and his dog, Lexi, found some shade next to the Bronco in Memrial Park on Woodward. Moreland was among dozens of Bronco owners parked in Royal Oak. 

He typically drives in the Dreams Cruise but thought it’d be nice to park with the Bronco Club for a few hours Saturday. The slew of Broncos attracted a swarm of car fans Saturday. Moreland said his truck was up for sale for the right price. 

“This thing's been around,” he said. He bought it 12 years ago from someone in California. “They’re so hot. Everyone wants these Broncos."

Meanwhile, there was a little beach car on Old Woodward Avenue in Birmingham.

The tomato red 1959 Fiat Jolly with no sides, a flappy roof and the original wicker seats was built for beach town riding, but Randy Forester, 63, of Birmingham still rides it around town and takes it up north. 

He bought the car at an estate sale in 1995. 

“We went to look for oriental rugs, and we got this,” he said. 

In the end, he says, he was much better off with the car than the rugs. 

He’s been at the Dream Cruise for 23 of its 25-year history. 

“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “I love telling the story to people that are curious about my car.” 

Randy Forester's tomato red 1959 Fiat Jolly was built for beach town riding.

Staff writers Ian Thibodeau, Henry Payne, Kalea Hall, Neal Rubin and Evan Carter contributed.