With the COVID pandemic beginning to wane, sponsors have decided it’s time to kick-start the Woodward Dream Cruise, the world’s largest annual classic car show.
The gathering routinely brings more than a million people out to watch as tens of thousands of classic muscle cars, hot rods, sports cars and other rare and unusual vehicles cruise the big boulevard that runs through Detroit’s northern suburbs. The event was put on hold last year for the first time in its quarter-century history due to the panedemic.
“Woodward is our hometown celebration, commemorating the best of what we do and what we assemble — right here in the Motor City,” said Rob Johnston, the marketing manager for Ford Performance.
Ford to spotlight Bronco
Ford took a lead role in reviving the Dream cruise, its Bronco named the “featured heritage vehicle” this year. The timing is far from coincidental, the automaker launching an all-new version of the off-roader, its first since the SUV was pulled from production in 1977.
The Woodward Dream Cruise is a true nostalgia fest, harkening back to the golden era of muscle cars, “when youth, music and Motor City steel roamed Woodward Avenue, America’s first highway,” the event’s website explains.
The cruise began in August 1995 when Nelson House, a plumber and car collector from the Detroit suburb of Ferndale, decided to organize a gathering of muscle cars, in part, to raise money for a local soccer field. But rather than stage the traditional, static gathering in a park or parking lot, he and friends decided to show off their prized vehicles by cruising them down Woodward Avenue, the wide boulevard that effectively slices Detroit into east and west halves.
A surprise hit
The location had significant meaning to performance fans as it was a place where many prototype muscle cars were tested out during the 1950s and 1960s, Detroit automakers looking for feedback from the young drivers expected to buy their latest products.
Organizers optimistically expected a turnout of perhaps a few hundred vehicles for the first Cruise, with an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 fans lining Woodward. Instead, thousands of muscle cars and hot rods joined the procession, with an estimated 250,000 watching from the sidelines.
The Dream Cruise rapidly grew, with up to 60,000 classic cars running the long route during most years, and anywhere from 1 million to 2 million fans coming out for a look. Participants reportedly came in from around the world, one telling TheDetroitBureau.com he shipped in his vehicle from Australia for the annual, one-day run.
A victim of COVID
The Dream Cruise defied storms and even a major regional power blackout that shut down the gas pumps needed to fill thirsty vehicles like the Pontiac GTOs and Ford Mustangs that spent the day cruising up the boulevard.
But it was effectively taken down by the COVID pandemic. Yet, while organizers canceled formal festivities with the nation in lockdown, thousands of owners still turned out to cruise on Woodward Avenue last August, with many fans still sitting along the roadside wearing masks.
Not everyone was upset by the turn of events, many fans glad to see a more populist approach to the gathering, with fewer of the corporate-sponsored displays that had become common in the years before the pandemic.
Ford is the first manufacturer to confirm a return as sponsor for the 2021 Woodward Dream Cruise on Saturday, Aug. 21, A linked event, a street racing event dubbed “Roadkill Nights,” will take over a stretch of pavement on the north end of Woodward Avenue for the whole weekend. It remains uncertain how many other automakers and other sponsors will be back. But, with the pandemic waning, social media posts suggest far more people will be back out this year, whether cruising or watching.