This article is a departure from the normal Motorsport theme, but having just returned from Detroit’s 2017 Woodward Dream Cruise, I am taking some ‘car licence’ to have a rave about this remarkable event.
In 1995 I had to take a trip to Detroit for HSV and was booked into my favourite hotel, The Townsend, in Birmingham, which is approximately 20 kilometres from downtown Detroit. I was booked in from a Friday to Tuesday. On arrival from the airport I discovered a maze of pop-up infrastructure all around the hotel precinct and was soon told that I had arrived at the same time as the inaugural Woodward Dream Cruise.
Nearby there were superbly presented marquees jumping with people, bands and performing artists. As I was in the entry area, about to check in to the hotel, I noticed Edsel Ford talking to an Elvis impersonator as he was walking from the hotel across the road to enter the massive Ford Hospitality Marquee. Then I saw one of Ford’s special guests: Connie Stevens, who was also staying at the hotel, arriving in a red Thunderbird convertible with photographers everywhere.
Being a GM man I started to realise Ford had commandeered this particular precinct. I was starting to wonder where the GM exhibits and hospitality centre would be, but after checking in learned they were only a few blocks away.
I quickly realised I had been dropped into ‘car heaven’. A short distance from the hotel was Woodward Avenue and, strolling along there, I saw the most remarkable procession of cars and speciality vehicles and their owners cruising either side of the dual eight-lane carriageway. There were thousands of people sitting in their deck chairs, lining the plantations from every possible vantage point, clapping and applauding the proud owners cruising by in their prized possessions.
Next morning I discovered all the nearby streets (other than Woodward) were closed off and many hundreds of every conceivable model of Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Ford, Chevy, Studebaker, Lincoln, Cadillac and ‘you-name-it’ other makes, were clustered according to make and model, from reasonably current models to those 50 years old and everything in between – all exquisitely presented. Alongside each car the proud owners would polish the bodywork to perfection.
I was hooked.
Following my discovery of the world’s greatest car event, I have since hosted two HSV Dealer Trips to the Dream Cruise and had two other trips to coincide with the Cruise.
The other great thing about hosting the Dealer Trip here was that once we had immersed ourselves in the Cruise program on Friday evening and all day Saturday, on Sunday we boarded a coach to travel an hour north to The Michigan International Speedway where we watched the Michigan 500 NASCAR race.
As trips go for Dealers who represented the HSV’s Performance car brand and its HRT racing arm, nothing could be more appropriate than this massive therapeutic injection of American car history and NASCAR Stock Car racing.
Dream Cruise officials now have no hesitation in promoting this program as the biggest auto event in the world. It brings to Oakland County a million people and 40,000 cars from all parts of the world to participate and stretch out along Woodward Avenue’s 10-miles each way from the towns of Ferndale to Pontiac.
It is held annually on the third weekend of August and, unlike my first visit, it is now held on Saturday only. But in reality it’s a week-long festival, with all the lead-up and plenty of Cruise-related functions and owners driving from all parts of USA to join up for their annual reunion with their owner make and model counterparts.
There are amazing classic cars, custom builds, street rods and speciality cars, with the proud owners presenting their cars in original showroom condition. On only one of my five visits has the event been spoilt by rain.
The whole event epitomises the American DNA, with cars and Motown knowhow showcasing the historic dominance of American and Michigan Sports variant models and convertibles.
The Cruise recreates the days of the 50s and 60s when young people took their cars for a spin just for the sheer delight of showing off their pride and joy and the sheer enjoyment of driving. In Australia we called it ‘going for a pose ‘ and in America they call it ‘cruising’.
This year was my fifth Dream Cruise and very special for me, as I attended with my son, Jonny, to show him all the reasons why I had, over so many years, raved about how this was car mecca. You could see the incredible evolution of car design and wonder at how the engineers and manufacturing teams of the Big Three could produce such amazing works of car art.
You can see how so many married couples have obviously given their life to restoring to original condition their favourite brand. You can hear how much they enjoy talking about their cars and you quickly realise their passion meter is off the scale in terms of knowledge of their model and the car company behind their brand.
All of this is set in a mood of festivity, with 50s and 60s music coming from both the cars cruising and also in the static display areas. Also, increasingly over the years I have attended, you see so many of the Cruisers dressed in their 50s gear.
You also get to see firsthand the massive open displays of the major car companies and their commitment to the Dream Cruise, as you take in their massive infrastructure that presents models currently in the showroom and compare these to all the original classics.
My biggest surprise again this year and every other year I have attended, despite how each year it gets bigger and bigger, is the behaviour and conduct of all those cruising Woodward and the near one million people gathered on their camp chairs and walking around all the displays. Their ice chests are obviously full of soft drinks, as not once have I ever seen any hoon or alcohol-fuelled loutish conduct. Laying rubber and burn-outs are banned, which adds to absence of any hoon factor at this event.
On this past trip I caught up with Melbourne-based Ford tuner, Rob Herrod, who was staying at the same hotel. At 5pm on the Saturday, Jonny and I took up Rob’s invitation to join him in the car he had rented and cruise Woodward from Birmingham to Ferndale. This allowed us to also take in Ford’s performance car display area and Mustang Alley in Ferndale.
The three of us then returned to the hotel and had dinner on Saturday night and we all agreed there was no adequate way to describe to anyone back in Australia how good this event is. The proportion and presence it commands and how it is executed in a no fuss, no ‘nanny state’ manner means you simply have to experience it ‘live’ to appreciate how unique and remarkable the event is.
Most importantly for me is to realise how our car industry has to be the greatest and most exciting industry anyone can be fortunate enough to have a career in. It fills you with pride.
The other thought I always come away from this event with is how the car continues to be such a huge part of people’s lifestyles and personalities. Also, I keep asking myself, just how many car and car racing enthusiasts there are, not just in Motown or Greater America, but also around the world.
It would be fascinating to know how many people in our car world own a rarely-driven collectors’ car and what would be the overall number of these cars stored in secured garages and specialist museums. Then try to comprehend the endless hours these car enthusiasts spend making ‘love’ to the car – and also try to calculate the collective annual dollar value of this obsession.
During my 20 years running HSV I would often get asked, “Who buys your cars?” My answer would always be, “Guys who put their car before wine, women and song”, but having said that, I have also observed over my journey how the wives/partners get equally caught up with this compulsive yet healthy and wonderful addiction to the car.
A trip to the Dream Cruise would quickly dispel any fears that our dynamic industry is under any threat of volume shrinkage due to lack of customer passion or car sharing/pooling, Uber and all the other commentaries from anti-car theorists.