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Big Change in Store for Classic Woodward Dream Cruiser Garage

From service station to serving food?

by on Aug.17, 2011

Columnist Mike Davis sits in front of the Vinsetta Garage during better days. Photo by Len Katz.

There’s curious news for the Dream Cruise coming to Detroit’s Woodward Avenue this weekend.  An icon of the muscle car era will be going through a dramatic change.

Last December, the historic Vinsetta Garage unexpectedly shut its doors.  Perhaps nothing along the city’s main boulevard was more closely associated with the era of muscle cars – or the annual Woodward Dream Cruise that draws tens of thousands of classic cars and over a million spectators to line the long route.  So, many were worried that the retro-classic garage would be knocked down for yet another strip mall or chain restaurant.

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But according to a report in The Detroit Free Press, the 91-year-old facility will reopen next spring as a moderately upscale restaurant – but one likely maintaining the familiar Vinsetta Garage façade and logo.

The old building, with its long disconnected Shell Oil gasoline pumps, has been a familiar site to Woodward motorists, formal (as in Cruisers) and informal (mere commuters), for decades.

When I first moved to the Detroit area in the late 1950s, I had my high-mileage Plymouth repaired at the Vinsetta. Former owner Mike inspected used Mercurys for me until we found one acceptable after I went to work for Lincoln-Mercury in the Sixties. Three years ago, I took my new/old “classic” 1965 Mercury Comet convertible to Jack Marwil, Mike’s successor as Vinsetta proprietor, for maintenance and repairs.

The especially curious twist to the latest episode in Vinsetta Garage’s history is that one of the investors, perhaps the building’s owner, is K. C. Crain, publisher of Autoweek and scion of the Crain automotive publishing family (Automotive News), founded by his grandfather (Advertising Age) and headed by his father, Keith Crain.

I heard months ago that K.C., or KC as he posts himself, had bought the Vinsetta Garage as a place to store his own collection of vintage cars. But he failed to return my calls requesting confirmation. I can now understand why, that he didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag on his restaurant negotiations. However, I consider it bad practice for someone in the news business to stonewall media queries.

It will be interesting to see if the restaurant going in to Vinsetta Garage will retain the building’s name – as many expect — and have an automotive theme inside. Some years ago, there was a “Bodyshop” restaurant in Ferndale, three miles south of Vinsetta Garage on Woodward.  Diners would actually be seated in the shells of old cars.

My daughter Penny and son-in-law Eric used to own and operate a restaurant called Kope’s Garage in an upstate New York college town, with interior automotive décor featuring such things as posters (from my own collection) and discarded auto parts (mostly wheel covers) and a collection of license plates from across the continent and globe. They gave a free dessert to any customer who brought in a plate from a state or province they didn’t have. The Vinsetta Garage office used to be decorated with Michigan plates from every year from its founding in 1919 to the present.

I wonder if KC got the plates as part of the deal. If not, there’s an idea for the new restaurant proprietor on Woodward.

Meanwhile, Woodward DreamCruisers this coming weekend may find the going literally a bit rough. Several years ago, a new topping of asphalt was paved over the somewhat pockmarked surfaces of Woodward’s eight lanes between Eight Mile and Pontiac. Unfortunately, that paving has become pot-holed with bumpy hot-patch repairs that provide bouncy riding for traffic.

Times are tough for highway departments these days (Woodward is a Michigan State Highway), having to spread maintenance budgets even thinner than their pavements. The big bucks have to go for fixing deteriorating bridges, not mere cosmetic and riding comfort blemishes. This situation is exacerbated by the combination of reduced revenue from real estate taxes (values are down, you may have heard) and from per-gallon gasoline taxes because of both improved vehicle fuel economy and reduced miles driven on account of the economic situation.

In the meantime, we await the opening of a new restaurant along the Woodward corridor. Vinsetta Garage may no longer be a repair shop, but the building should make an interesting restaurant venue.


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2 Responses to “Big Change in Store for Classic Woodward Dream Cruiser Garage”

  1. [...] Fortunately, it appears the garage will not be razed to make way for another strip mall; rather, it will reopen, likely as a garage-themed restaurant, next [...]

  2. [...] Fortunately, it appears the garage will not be razed to make way for another strip mall; rather, it will reopen, likely as a garage-themed restaurant, next [...]