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Summer on Woodward Avenue: The Pulse of Detroit’s Car Culture

A whole season of car spotting.

Every year, as winter makes its slow departure, Michigan stirs from its slumber. Leaves appear on trees, birds arrive en masse, flowers sprout from the warm earth, and Woodward Avenue bursts with enthusiasts cruising in their cars. While the annual Woodward Dream Cruise, held the third weekend in August, hogs most of the limelight, some of the best cruising actually happens throughout the rest of the summer.

Taking in the scene is simple: merge onto Woodward in the suburb of Royal Oak around 7:30 p.m. and cruise up a 2.6-mile stretch to Birmingham, ending at a classic hamburger joint, Hunter House. Then make a U-turn, or "Michigan left" to go back in the opposite direction. You're now a participant in what has to be the world's greatest rolling car show and car culture meme.

The interesting cars range from new muscle cars, hot rods, hopped-up turbocharged tuner specials, all the way up to the newest range-topping Lamborghini, Ferrari, or Aston Martin.

Want to see and hear the cars pass? Pull off and park on one of the many lots bordering Woodward. The cruising landscape is dotted with a random assortment of parked onlookers sitting in camping chairs, a popped trunk, the bed of a truck, or the roll-bars of a lifted Jeep. Local restaurants are magnets for bystanders as well, including the extremely popular ice cream and custard shops dotting the Royal Oak/Birmingham segment.

Take a closer look at the parked cars, and you will notice they're grouped in a very specific way. Stop by Woodward Camera in-between 14 Mile and Lincoln Street, and the Mopar crew will be out in full force with Challengers, Chargers, Jeeps, Rams, and all sorts of SRT products. Northbound, just past Normandy road, the Ford Focus and Fiesta crew camp out in a small lot.

Pasteiner's, a popular model car and automotive media shop in Royal Oak, finds its lot brimming with all manner of interesting cars, but the parallel spaces at the other end of that shopping mall are usually reserved for the import tuner crowd.

Until recently, the Camaro gang took residence in the Ducati and/or Audi dealer parking lots. In the days leading up to Dream Cruise, you might spot late-model Camaros driving in a pack down Woodward. That'd be Camaro chief engineer Al Oppenheiser and his team.

If high-end exotica is more your flavor, make a Michigan-left immediately after Hunter House, and take a right into downtown Birmingham, where products from Bugatti, Rolls-Royce, Porsche, Audi, and Lamborghini choke the restaurant-heavy roads.

A particularly popular stop-off is the Shell station between 13 Mile and Normandy Road, where both classic and newer muscle cars gas up and shoot the breeze. Sam, the property owner, is happy to have them park there and patronize his convenience shop. And since the Shell station is private property, police are unable to break up the crowd, barring a legal issue.

Indeed, the local constabularies have shut down many historically popular Woodward congregation areas.—the Kroger parking lot at 13 Mile, the claustrophobic Potbelly's parking lot, and the bygone "Birmingham Triangle", where enthusiasts would meet at the merging of Old Woodward Avenue and Woodward Avenue. It's a reminder that, as big as the car scene is here, Woodward is still just another road for many locals, and the hot cars are just a nuisance in their everyday routine.

For the discerning car nut, however, Woodward is anything but routine. From the beginning of Spring until the last dregs of warm weather in the fall, it's a richly diverse rolling car show. See you out there.