ROYAL OAK, Michigan – This is the automotive epicenter of the world, triangulated by General Motors headquarters to the south, Chrysler Group to the north, and Ford Motor Company to the west. This is Woodward Avenue between 9 Mile and 14 Mile Road, where a group of volunteers launched the Dream Cruise in August 1995 to raise money to build a soccer field in Ferndale, on the south end of the cruise loop.
Millions from around the world descend on metro Detroit to take in the celebration of cruising and racing culture at the Woodward Dream Cruise, now in its 20th year. Officially scheduled for the third Saturday in August, the Dream Cruise clashes with the Pebble Beach Concours held on the third Sunday of August. They don’t conflict only when August 1 falls on a Sunday.
So start planning for 2021, the next year when it will be worth your while to go to the Pebble Beach Concours (and better, the Monterey Historics at Laguna Seca). The Concours that year will be on August 15, while the Dream Cruise will be on August 21. Once you’ve been to both in the same August, you’ll never choose Pebble Beach over Woodward Avenue again. Here’s why:
1. This is our viewing lawn.We may dress funny, but we don’t wear white duck pants, blue blazers, and straw hats. We bring our own lawn chairs.
2. Those aren’t trailer queens they’re watching.Bill Wells parks his 340-horsepower, 327 1963 Chevrolet Corvette coupe along with two other C2 Corvettes on a patch of lawn in front of a popular local furniture store. He has put 80,000 miles on the car since acquiring it. “You won’t see the diversity anywhere you see here,” Wells, of Beverly Hills, Michigan, says of the Dream Cruise. People work hard to restore and keep their cars, then make the best of the state’s mild, comfortable summers. “You don’t find a lot of mean people here. They’re all pretty happy.”
3. There’s a place for tiny Euro cars, though perhaps not Woodward Avenue.We met Randy and Rochelle Forester at a local frozen custard shop a week before Dream Cruise Saturday. It was easy to spot Randy driving the couple’s 1959 Fiat 500 Jolly later on the Thursday of Dream Cruise week, though don’t expect to see him on Woodward on Saturday. He has a space reserved to park the Jolly in downtown Birmingham, Michigan, where Old Woodward splits off from Woodward Avenue. He’ll park the Fiat and talk to spectators, many of whom will certainly ask, “What the heck is that?”
“I normally don’t drive. It’s better if we sit and watch,” he says. A new Fiat 500 looks like a full-size sedan next to the Jolly, though Randy’s not intimidated by all the big American iron on the boulevard. He once raced a huge 18-wheeler on Woodward, his 17-hp, two-cylinder 500 Jolly easily beating the truck off the line. Forester purchased the car in 1995, just in time for the first Dream Cruise, from the estate of the first owner, a woman who had lived on a 10-acre spread in one of the tonier suburbs north of here. “She used it to check on her servants, and to tether guests from the main house, 400 feet to the swimming pool.” Nearly everything on the Jolly is original, including the wicker seats, though the drainable floorboards were replaced. The Jolly still has a working “Bermuda bell,” operated by a round pedal on the floor just below the brake pedal. It once warned the guests in the swimming pool that dinner is served.
4. The Stories, Part I.Joe Payne, of Pontiac, Michigan, spends much of the summer at the Shell Oil station on the east side of Woodward, between 13 and 14 Mile roads. He purchased his 1948 Oldsmobile 98 convertible 29 years ago, a decade ahead of the first Dream Cruise, but he customized it like it was 1955. The ’48 Olds’ straight-eight is original to the car, which has Frenched headlamps, shaved door handles, a new leather interior with power windows, and a metallic paint job. Payne has been a regular at Dream Cruise since 1995. “I like hanging out right here,” he says of the Shell station.
5. No hoity-toity auctions.Need a car for Dream Cruise? You can pick one up and drive the boulevard the same day. The 1978 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith II has an asking price of $19,500 and looks pretty clean. The 2008 Volkswagen EOS is just $10,500, though it lacks as much provenance.
6. Grizzled veterans of Dream Cruise park their cars wherever they want.Chuck McEvoy began cruising cars along Woodward in 1949. That’s provenance. His 1947 Mercury has a built Ford 302 engine, front Mustang II suspension, and rear parallel leaf springs. McEvoy has chopped the Merc 4½ inches and channeled it 5½ inches, subtracting the B-pillar while adding suicide doors. Woodward’s rich pageant of rolling sheetmetal covers the gamut from box-stock classics to mild customs to full-out lead sleds and hot rods, and Your Humble Servant usually gravitates to the stock models, but this car is way cool.
7. The Stories, Part II.Tony Maria’s father worked for Packard and then for Lincoln when it opened its new assembly plant in 1957. Tony first saw the 1961 Lincoln Continental in late 1960, when Tony was just 9 years old. He knew he had to have one. His father refused to get a Lincoln after retirement, buying a Mercury instead. When his father died, Tony used inheritance to buy this 1965 Lincoln Continental convertible, arguably the perfect Dream Cruise car -- a big, open four-door. It took Tony Maria until 1999 to get the car properly running for the event. Now, the Continental has a home, Fridays and Saturdays all summer long, at the Shell station. “My father never owned a Lincoln, but his money does,” Tony says.
8. The Stories, Part III.Denielle Armstrong stopped by the Shell station to top off her 1962 Chrysler 300 Sport’s tank of racing fuel with premium unleaded. Her parents bought the car new, the first model year of non-letter 300s (saving $3000), with a 413 cubic-inch V-8 and three-on-the-floor, and a sticker of $3840. They promptly took it racing; Denielle’s mother, Anne, cleaning up on area dragstrips with “The Beautiful Brute” while her father swapped in a variety of Mopar drivetrains, including Max Wedges. Restored to its original color, with a 440-cubic-inch V-8 and four-speed manual, the car keeps Denielle’s mother, who died last year, close to her.
Back in 1962, Anne Armstrong ran 11-second-flat quarters on the dragstrip, right up to Denielle’s birth. In the summer of 1962, Anne Armstrong beat the guys at a local dragstrip one Saturday, and got out of the Beautiful Brute to show that she was very pregnant.
“The guys were mad,” Denielle says. “They weren’t just beat by one woman, they were beat by two.” Denielle was born a few days later. Win on Saturday, give birth on Tuesday.