The Woodward Avenue Dream Cruise Is The World’s Largest Automotive Event For A Reason
Photography by Bary R. Seldon
The great thing about being an automotive enthusiast in the modern day is that there are so many events that revolve around the hobby; we may miss the past (whether we were around for it or not), but at least we have plenty of ways of honoring it. And especially so during the summer months, when the ideas of snow and salt and rust are pushed to the backs of our minds. August for instance brings positively huge celebrations to the United States in the form of Monterey Car Week in California, and this event, the Woodward Avenue Dream Cruise in Detroit, Michigan. Both are considered pilgrimages of sorts for the respective crowds, and both deliver a unique experience; in Monterey you’re treated to the best assemblage of vintage road and racing cars on the planet, and in Detroit the spirit of American motoring and camaraderie envelops you with unmatched enthusiasm for the enduring appeal of simple cruising. Both events are special then, and the only bad news in this regard is that they happened to fall on the same date this year. I chose to attend the 23rd Annual Woodward Avenue Dream Cruise.
The idea of “cruising” dates back to the mid-1800s, when young carriage drivers and their horses would race up and down the newly planked roads, but the time period that most people reminisce about when it comes to American cruising is that of the 1950s; the beginning of a the golden age of hot-rodding. Locals would race up and down the wide, multi-lane roads showing off to each other and bystanders what they’d created in their garages. It wasn’t uncommon to see this occurring across the American landscape, nor was it rare to look out the window and see the street lined with drive-ins, car dealers, and after-market parts suppliers, which were all popular hangouts for hot-rodders of the time. You’ve seen the posters; neon-lit diners packing Gassers and gleaming pastel and chrome cruisers in their parking lots on a summer evening.
By the 1960s, in addition to the on-track exploits that would see Trans Am cars being acid-dipped in pursuit of attaining a competitive edge on the track, American automotive companies also began unofficially competing with each other on the infamous Woodward Avenue, trying to outdo the other by creating the fastest muscle cars. People of course clumped around their vehicles of choice, fueling the turf (asphalt?) war between the big American brands. Then, in the 1970s following the oil crisis, people began to move away from racing and cruising the roads like they had in the recent past. The decline in horsepower and shifting attitudes by the general public coupled with the onslaught of emission regulations and an economic recession did not bode well for these kinds of activities. As I was reminded this year though, this American automotive pastime survived.
Before getting into that though, we should visit the 1990s and a place called Ferndale, Michigan, where one resident had an idea to raise money for a soccer field for his daughter. On August 19th, 1995, the Woodward Avenue Dream Cruise was born. Originally only 30,000 people were expected to attend—no tiny amount on its own—but instead more than 200,000 showed up. Clearly there was some pent-up demand for an event like this. Since then, the Dream Cruise has continually grown in popularity and has become an internationally-anticipated event amongst car lovers as well as those simply interested in discovering pieces of American culture. The Cruise now covers an 18-mile-long stretch from the city of Ferndale to Pontiac. With more than 1.5 million people in attendance this year driving and admiring muscle cars, hot rods, customs, rat rods, hyper cars, race cars, and anything else with a motor and the paperwork or gumption to drive on public roads. It is by far the largest automotive event in the world. Technically it happens for just one day, but locals will begin lining the Avenue weeks beforehand in anticipation of the grand event that brings together everything from Mustangs to 356s to Kei trucks.
On the day of, it is an ocean of cars and people. Various automotive clubs rent parking lots to show off what its members have brought to the party, people are grilling food seemingly everywhere, and many are kindly offering free refreshments to passersby to combat the fatigue of walking around all day in the August heat. It’s a day to drive, a day to sit and watch, a day to catch up with old friends and make new ones, but no matter how you spend it, you can’t avoid being surrounded by an unbridled enthusiasm for the automobile, in all its forms.