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On the 2017 Woodward Dream Cruise

Smoky burnouts with civility

Todd Lassawriter Steven Phamphotographer

FERNDALE, Michigan - The Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance transformed from a classic car show full of trailer queens into America's fifth international auto show some 12 or 15 years ago.

Among others, we saw the Vision Mercedes-Maybach 6 Cabriolet, 2019 BMW Z4, and Acura ARX-05 DPi at Pebble this year, plus Volkswagen's announcement about the 2022 production I.D. Buzz electric microbus and a McLaren MSO 720S in fuschia.

New and different cars attend the Woodward Dream Cruise every year, though most tend to be at least 40 years old already. But steeped in tradition (read, "oldies") as the Dream Cruise is, it is moving along.

This year, there were more bicyclists riding along the parade route of the southern Cruise, roughly 9 Mile Road to Big Beaver (17 Mile), especially Friday and Saturday evenings.

They stand out in the evening because like many of the bicyclists who participate in Detroit's Slow Roll on Monday nights, they're wearing the LED bike lights around their wheels and around the frames, making the mostly young bikers stand out in this heavy traffic.

Many astute Dream Cruisers have long parked their cars Saturday in favor of biking up and down Woodward, including my Motor Trend colleague Frank Markus, but the fact that more and more observers are biking instead of driving might start to mitigate the problem of regular traffic—new SUVs and minivans—clogging up the classic cruisers to the detriment of their cars' radiators.

Other recent trends:

The Changing Role of the Detroit Three

General Motors withdrew its sponsorship of the Dream Cruise this year, which is not a good thing. But its Chevrolet division still maintained a display of muscle cars in a lot next to a Jeep dealership, on the northeast corner of 13 Mile and Woodward.

Fiat Chrysler lost its big parking lot on the southwest corner of 13 and Woodward, but only because Beaumont Hospital next door is redeveloping the lot. Fiat Chrysler has bounced back with Roadkill Nights, held in Pontiac, Michigan the week earlier, at the site of the northern Cruise, though unfortunately this year's event was overshadowed by the tragedy and politics of the events in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Ford has amped up its presence with a Friday and Saturday Cars & Coffee event at the new Kruse & Muir restaurant on Woodward near Catalpa, and wins the billboard award with its "Dream Crews" pickup truck ad. Chevy was once the source of the most clever Dream Cruise ads, but had no billboards this year.

Park Your Car, Leave the Cruising to the Trucks

Though I didn't quite follow this smart money, because my wife and I didn't get enough actual cruising up and down Woodward this year, best thing to do Saturday is get an early start (about 9 a.m. ), find a parking spot for your classic somewhere between 12 Mile and Maple Road, and roam the various collections of cars—or sit in front of your car and answer questions all day while the engine stays cool. You might want to find a spot a few weeks ahead of the Cruise, probably for some cash. It's still cheaper than attending the Pebble Beach Concours.

It would be easy to start an argument of whether all the jacked-up 4x4 half-ton and heavy-duty pickups and Jeep Wranglers are legitimate cruisers or simply tourista like the suburban families in SUVs and minivans. To me, Woodward Avenue is not the natural habitat of these trucks, but I'm not going to say that to their faces while driving an Austin-Healey Bugeye Sprite.

Speaking of Bugeye Sprites …

Metro Detroit is inarguably American car-centric, and the majority of genuine cruisers still are '60s and '70s muscle cars. But Detroit long ago shed its Asian-car resentment, and European postwar classics and sports cars have always had their place here. I'd guess that half the crowd was familiar with what I was driving, often having a personal anecdote ("I had one of those," or "I had to constantly help push the one my best friend had in college") while the other half had no clue. These might have been the out-of-towners, since Metro Detroiters generally tend to know a lot about cars. Many thought my British Sprite was a Fiat.

Civility is Better than Ever

Various local constabularies are getting along better with the cruisers. It wasn't that long ago you'd risk a ticket—or worse—if you gave in to the crowds watching along the side of Woodward urging a smoky burnout. Saturday evening in the southbound lanes of tony Birmingham, just north of Maple Road, you could find a staging section for just such activities. The more burnt rubber wafting into the air, the bigger the cheers from the crowds.

My wife noticed more police on foot speaking with civilians in a polite, helpful manner (one of the downsides of the past century's automobile revolution is that too few cops bother to get out of their patrol cars until too late). There seemed to be fewer traffic stops Saturday and on the days leading to Dream Cruise. After 9 p.m. Saturday, various police departments "sweep" Woodward in order to end the Cruise, though this year, they didn't close off the Avenue where it crosses over and under I-696 in order to force many of us to find circuitous routes back home.

Meanwhile, the attendees of the Woodward Dream Cruise continue to get more diverse—enthusiasm knows no such lines. Political groups always have their place on Woodward. A group of President Trump's supporters had a motor home display in one parking lot, no more than two blocks north of a Democrat running for the nomination for his party in the next Michigan gubernatorial race, handing out bottles of water. I saw no one getting upset about either.

Unlike previous years, I saw no Confederate flags, yet plenty of American flags on the backs of pickup trucks and Jeeps. Before you get all up in arms over this observation, keep in mind we're a good 275 miles northwest of the Maxon-Dixon line. It's not part of the Great Lakes' heritage.

There's Always Next Year

Next year's Woodward Dream Cruise will be August 18, the 58th birthday of our Austin-Healey Bugeye Sprite, according to the British Heritage Trust. The Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance will be on August 26, the fourth weekend this one year only, moving to make room for a golf tournament.

For this one year, you can attend both automotive extravaganzas. Be warned, though, if you're a Concours habitué and you make it to Woodward next year, you may never go back to the Monterey Peninsula for the third weekend of August.