Even a drenching thunderstorm couldn’t dampen the spirits of the cruisers and gawkers who turned out for this year’s Woodward Dream Cruise.
By various estimates, at least a million people lined the main north-south route through Metro Detroit to gaze on as more than 40,000 muscle cars, hot rods and other classic automobiles came together for the nation’s largest automotive event.
Started almost as a lark by a suburban Detroit car club, in 1995, organizers initially expected a few thousand fans to turn out. The idea was to show cars as they were designed to be seen, moving, rather than at the typical static car show. The initial event turned out to draw more than 250,000, and attendance has only grown to enormous proportions.
The Woodward Dream Cruise nearly collapsed, though, as the economy tanked and two of Detroit’s Big Three plunged into bankruptcy, in 2009. The Motor City’s Big Three largely abandoned their big-dollar sponsorships, leading a number of communities along the nearly 20-mile route to cancel their official participation.
If anything, the industry collapse may have strengthened the Dream Cruise, forcing it to turn back to its grass roots origin. While the fancy corporate displays certainly drew attention, the real pull was the cars that turned out for the annual show.
Indeed, folks like Bill Shapiro question whether there should be any corporate support at all. “The only thing I want to see are the muscle cars,” said the salesman who drove in from western Michigan. “I don’t care what the car companies are trying to sell me.”
While the official Woodward Dream Cruise was scheduled for this Saturday, the event unofficially began a week earlier. By the thousands, Detroit-area collectors could be found cruising the 8-lane Woodward Ave. after dinner, increasingly large crowds turning out each night, setting up lawn chairs to watch and wave.
Over the years, cruisers and Cruise fans have had to endure a number of hardships to enjoy their passion. A nationwide blackout, a decade ago, left the Motor City without lights – or fuel pumps. At one point, former Governor Jennifer Granholm considered using the National Guard to stations tankers full of gas along the Dream Cruise route to keep it moving.
Local police have not only ramped up their presence but cracked down on those who violate even the most traffic laws. Chirp the tires and you might find yourself in for a ticket. But come Saturday, that was virtually impossible, anyway, all eight lanes of Woodward, in both directions, running bumper-to-bumper and creeping along at a snail’s pace.
Then the storm hit. A late afternoon thunderstorm blew up quickly, drenching anybody who couldn’t find shelter, winds kicking up blankets and lawn chairs. The storm lasted only about 15 minutes but made a mess of things, many folks choosing to call it quits for the day.
The original Woodward Dream Cruise focused on classic muscle cars – a good mix considering that the wide boulevard was a favorite place not only for young, restless drivers, back in the 1960s and ‘70s, but for corporate types, like John DeLorean. The one-time General Motors executive was one of many senior executives who would show up, late at night, with the latest Detroit prototype to go head-to-head with the competition.
The era of the cruiser came to a close in the mid-1970s – victim not only of rising fuel prices but an increased police presence as the suburbs grew and no longer tolerated the late-night drag racing.
But despite the cops, the Woodward Dream Cruise gives aging Boomers – as well as younger performance fans – a chance to relive that golden era of raw muscle. Sixteen years after its unlikely introduction, the Dream Cruise shows no signs of fading away whatever the weather.