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23 August 2017

The Woodward Dream Cruise Through the Eyes of a Rookie

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It’s the event that isn’t—the loosely connected jumble of car shows, parades, barbecue, and cruises known simply as the Dream Cruise because everyone knows where it is. It’s the anti-Pebble Beach Concours, with no dress code and no caviar. It’s on car nut bucket lists everywhere, and after a decade in the business, I finally got there.

The Woodward Dream Cruise, in its essence, is fairly self-explanatory. Everyone rolls their classic, their project, or even just their daily out and cruises up and down Woodward Boulevard in the Detroit metro area. Although Woodward runs from downtown Detroit to Pontiac, Michigan, the heaviest cruising happens between the towns of Ferndale and Birmingham, a roughly 8-mile stretch. If it was made in the upper Midwest in the last 75 years, it’s there, along with a smattering of really old stuff and foreign-made cars.

The actual cruising, though, is just one part of the weeklong event. The official cruise itself is on the third Saturday in August, but no one waits until then to start cruising. In fact, some of the best cruising happens earlier in the week in the evenings when traffic isn’t as heavy. Saturday morning, before everyone’s out, is also solid cruising and car spotting.

Car spotting at the Dream Cruise is a serious sport. The uninitiated tend to focus on the word cruise, but for many attendees, it’s a spectator sport. Everyone has a spot to watch from, and every Woodward-facing business has cordoned off its parking lot or front yard for its guests or paid reservation holders long before the cruise starts. I knew Woodward was a big deal, but I didn’t expect to see bleachers and pop-up tents set up days before the actual cruise.

Setting up early is crucial, though, because as I said, it’s not a one-day thing. From Roadkill Nights to car club gatherings and just getting out there yourself, there’s something happening every day of the week. The biggest events cluster around Friday and Saturday, with car shows up and down the entire length of Woodward and plenty more out in neighboring towns. It’s impossible to see every single one of them, so in our coverage we’ve tried to highlight some of the best. That way, you have an idea where you want to spend your time. There’s also an official app with details on all the events, but there’s no central plan or agenda to stick to. You make your own adventure.

The best thing you can do to prepare, though, is to bring your own car. Beg to borrow one from a friend in the upper Midwest if you have to. An hour behind the wheel of Frank Markus’ Sunbeam Alpine cruising was the best experience of the weekend, bar none. If you live close enough to drive or trailer your car, do it. I saw Texas license plates, so no excuses. If you can, make it a convertible because things will be happening all around you, and you’ll be sitting in traffic, so you have plenty of time to look.

The lack of classics actually cruising was the one disappointment for this newbie. On Saturday, the vast majority of the cool cars were parked on the side of Woodward or in car shows. I expected wall-to-wall classics out cruising, but it was mostly folks in new cars hoping to get an up close look at something cool out there. All the time I spent in stop-and-go traffic I was surrounded by new cars, which felt far more like a commute than a cruise. I know we all worry about our classics overheating in traffic on a hot summer’s day or the possibility of a fender bender, but if you’re on the fence about it, I encourage you to get out there and enjoy an actual cruise, not just another static car show in a parking lot.

Indeed, we didn’t do much driving Saturday. Instead, we parked and walked the main drag because that got us closer to all the cars on the sidelines. Regardless of whether decide you to cruise, bring some comfortable shoes and hit the bricks anyway, because there’s always going to be more cool stuff to see just walking down the street. I can’t help you with the parking, though.

All told, the Woodward Dream Cruise was a lot more walking and a lot less cruising than I’d envisioned. I hope it was an aberration, after all an unusual summer storm blew through midweek and messed things up a little. Whether you drive, though, the Dream Cruise should stay firmly on the bucket list for the absolute volume of incredible restorations, resto-mods, barn finds, daily drivers, hot rods, and wild customs you can’t find anywhere else.

The cherry is the free-form nature of the cruise. There’s a ribbon-cutting Friday night, but that’s the closest thing to organization for the event as a whole. In actuality, it’s a weeklong rolling barbecue and casual meetup, and there’s a wonderful freedom in that. No ceremonies or official business to take care of. No dress code or ticket line. Just cars and their fans hanging out together. It’s what every “show-n-shine” should be.

Read more of our Woodward Dream Cruise coverage:

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