For 22 years now, the Woodward Dream Cruise has been Carnival for muscle car enthusiasts, a massive gathering serving as a throwback to the golden age of cruising. People come to Detroit from around the world to witness over 40,000 cars strut their stuff down Woodward Avenue, though most show up just for the official day on August 20th. This is in poor form, however, as the true magic of Woodward begins as when the snow begins to melt.
As the flowers unfurl in April, workshop heroes get busy tuning carburetors. While the bleak brown-gray landscape begins to blossom into deep shades of green, dusty car covers are flung off of neon and pastel hot rods. Woodward’s ice cream and custard vendors open shop during the evening, attracting families, teens, and oldtimers like flies to honey.
Just a smattering of cars comes out this early in the spring. A few late-model Mustangs here, a handful of mid-80s Corvettes there. It’s sparse until the inclement weather stabilizes and temperatures settle around 65 degrees. Unsurprisingly, the most hardcore and loyal early-season cruisers are usually the youngest; look for congregations of WRXs, Evos, and S2000s before the vintage muscle cars show up. If it’s V-8 power you seek, this is when the newer stuff peacocks loud exhausts and even louder wheels around assorted parking lots.
By late May and early June, the ambient temperature remains above 70 degrees consistently. This is when the old guard is out and about, meandering up and down Woodward Ave in Impala convertibles, old MGs, and a sampler pack of 60s muscle. With the weather is warm and agreeable, owners need not worry about salt licking away at their period-correct chrome pieces.
Come July, cruising is in full swing. This is when flashes of the Dream Cruise begin to spike forth, with the amount of dedicated cruisers rising with the mercury. No official Dream Cruise merch vendors are out yet, there isn’t any official regulatory force in effect, and few have cracked open their lawn chairs. This wizened crowd prefers trunk lids and pickup beds for their thrones. Peak cruising hours begin around 7:30 or 8:00. Here is when you begin to see purpose-built street rods en masse with their chromed engine bays and mirror-bright paint jobs.
As the calendar moves into August, cruisers begin to thicken traffic substantially. The Dream Cruise is coming. Listen closely, and you’ll hear plans and gossip thrumming around the growing crowd. By now, if you want a fistful of custard, you’ll have to wait in line. Parking in front of these confectionery stands is primo real estate, and the lots are usually chock-full of exhausted parents and sticky, sugar-high kids.
A week before the Dream Cruise in late August, Woodward is as vibrant and alive as a 1950s drive-in diner. As the big day inches closer, the crazy stuff emerges. Keep your eyes peeled for decommissioned military trucks, high-speed sand rails, and homebrew rides. Battalions of gawping onlookers are pointing at passing cars from the comfort of folding chairs, while those behind the wheel begin to find it increasingly difficult to navigate the clogged road.
The Dream Cruise arrives with a bang that resonates through the entirety of metro Detroit. Like Monterey Car Week, there are too many supporting events to enjoy all the Cruise has to offer. Our favorite is the parade of new and old emergency vehicles from around the country, a convoy considered by some to be the official start of the whole event.
Even after the Dream Cruise ends, Detroit remains drunk on classics. Thick throngs of cruisers remain active throughout the week after. If you’re local, be sure to check back during the following weeks. Winter is coming, but we’ve still got roughly two solid months of fair weather before things turn sour.
Once winter comes, it collapses with the first flurry. Even if those early fluffly flakes don’t stick, the party’s over. Go home, put your battery on a tender, and make plans for next year. We’ll see you there.