Rev up your engines, classic car lovers — one of the metro Detroit area’s hallmark summertime events, the Woodward Dream Cruise, shifts into gear Saturday, Aug. 20 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Crowned as the world’s largest one-day automotive event, the Woodward Dream Cruise draws 1.5 million people and more than 40,000 muscle cars, street rods, custom, collector and special interest vehicles each year from as far away as New Zealand, Australia, Japan and the former Soviet Union. North American cruisers from California, Georgia, Canada and all areas in between caravan to metro Detroit to participate in what has become an annual summer ritual along the roadway that featured the first one-mile stretch of concrete driving surface in the nation.
“It’s one of the biggest examples of Motor City steel, with souped-up cars to the classics from the 1930s to the 1950s,” said Ed Sienkiewicz, a Wolverine Lake resident and Corvette restorationist. “You couldn’t ask for a better showcase of vehicles from the early days to present time at one place, at one time.”
Now in its 17th year, the Woodward Dream Cruise event has become a lucrative tradition celebrating the region’s automotive heritage. The Woodward Dream Cruise pumps more than $56 million each year into the metro Detroit economy and is more significant than any other major event in Michigan, recurring or otherwise, according to a 2007 market research report cited on the event’s website.
“I know many people spend money to prepare their cars for the event — my engine alone cost me $10,000,” said Brian Fry, co-president the North Oakland Bowties, a local classic car club. “A lot of money is spent locally to relocate to the event, including eating on the edge of Woodward, as well as at auto parts stores, sporting goods stores (for canopies and lawn chairs), and grocery stores.”
The Dream Cruise is run by WDC, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization managed by a volunteer board of directors and officers who represent and coordinate the efforts of the hootenany’s eight host communities, from Ferndale to Pontiac.
The 16-mile auto parade continues to attract memorable participants each year, like the Splish Splash custom auto that gets the crowd’s engine roaring.
Spectators line up along the Woodward strip and will be looking out for their favorite rides on four wheels. Whether they are vintage, classic, or muscle cars, the event has them all in colors ranging from mint green to cherry red.
“I’ve had people from Japan, China, Ohio, Pennsylvania and California come up and talk to me over the years,” said Sienkiewicz. “We’re all car crazy and have a mutual respect for cars. It’s an amazing experience.”
Sienkiewicz takes pride in his restored 1958 classic white hard-top Corvette that he drove in the very first Dream Cruise. It took him over a decade to restore the sleek and flawless vehicle.
“It was a basketcase when I got it,” he said. “I picked away at it for 13 years. My son and I did it entirely ourselves, from the painting to the mechanical and body work to the interior and the engine. ”
The car enthusiast that he is, Sienkiewicz then purchased a 1967 red Sting Ray Corvette and began the restoration process all over again.
“The body and interior was good, but I worked over the mechanical,” he said.
Sienkiewicz’s philosophy when it comes to cars is that people should buy the one they’ve always dreamed of — and never settle for less.
“Buy the car you want in whatever condition you can afford and start from there,” he said. “I like the classics and put my cars together as close as I could to the factory (models) of that year. I don’t have a ton of chrome under the hood — that stuff is nice, but destroys the mystique of the classic.”
He has driven both of his Corvettes in the Dream Cruise over the years, and can still recall his first experience.
“I was driving my 1958 Corvette, and looking up and down Woodward awe-struck that there were that many classics in the Detroit metro area,” he said.
For example, he cites the old 1930s coupes that have been restored with newer engines and sparkling finishes.
“It’s amazing to see some of the paint jobs that shine, glisten, and are so creative — they’re absolutely beautiful,” he said.
Wolverine Lake resident John Magee was itching to buy a classic, as well. He recently cobbled together money to buy a 1976 MGB two-seater convertible in mint condition with a rebuilt engine and brand new leather seats.
“I was the guy looking for a cool toy, and this roadster is as sporty as can be,” Magee said. “People waive to me as I ride past and give me the thumbs-up. One guy snapped a picture.”
Sienkiewicz said that when people stop by to admire his cars, the story swapping begins.
“They go through the memory book and pass around stories,” he said. “I personally chronologize my life according to what car I had — so do many people.”
Like so many other events, the Woodward Dream Cruise started out small. What initially started as a fund-raiser in 1995 for a soccer field in Ferndale has since ballooned into its current form. Nelson House, the event’s website points out, wanted to “reincarnate the nostalgic heydays of the 1950s and 1960s, when youth, music, and Motor City steel roamed Woodward Avenue, America’s first highway.”
And the first event confounded its organizers by drawing in 250,000 participants — nearly 10 times the number expected, according to the event’s website, which also says the event transports people back to “an era perhaps most famously (remember) by Hollywood in ‘American Graffiti’ and ‘Happy Days.’”
The custom-painted flames and over-sized tires on hot rods, muscle cars, convertibles, and hard tops were a common sight along the Woodward corridor, where old rock ‘n’ roll punctuated the air over the din of a large, big-block V-8 engine.
At one point in time, the Big Three automakers tested their prototypes along Woodward Avenue, a stretch of roadway running from Detroit to Pontiac. There, the nameplates for Pontiac’s GTO, Chrysler’s Hemi cars, and the Ford Mustang were forged.
As a mechanic for Cauley Performance Automotive in West Bloomfield Township, Herb Nichols has been known for his ability over 35 years to fix classic cars experiencing performance problems.
“Right now we’ve got a 1961 Corvette with drivability issues, along with a 1975 and a 1973,” Nichols said. “I get them ready so they can drive them in the Dream Cruise. We get mostly Corvettes, but I’ve worked on anything from 1957 Chevy Bel Airs to Mustang variants.”
Nichols, who owns a 1994 Corvette, said he views the Dream Cruise as a symbol of the Motor City’s heritage.
“We grew up with these cars and that’s what the Dream Cruise is all about,” he said.
Many of the Corvettes in the Dream Cruise are driven by members of the National Corvette Restoration Society, located in West Bloomfield, according to Nichols. Judges give points to each restored car based on a specific criteria.
“They class them on how they they measure up to those from the factory specs and there’s a whole list of things they look for,” he said. “It’s all in the details.”
For an all-points car, Nichols said a vehicle could be valued at $200,000 or more.
“I remember a 1970 Sting Ray with a big-block engine that was auctioned for $300,000,” he said.
The North Oakland Bowties, a 155-member contingency of car collectors and car enthusiasts, hosts a couple cruise nights during Dream Cruise week.
On Friday, Aug. 19, the group will set up camp on a lot three streets south of the Phoenix Center lot in Pontiac. There, the organization will put on a car show featuring entertainment, including a DJ, and door and raffle prizes. Each participant pays a $35 fee to the city of Pontiac.
“It’s a big event for members on a nice shaded lot where we set up tents along the curb and enjoy the parade of cars all weekend long,” Fry said.
The group represents about 100 cars and hosts 500 people on average.
“It’s been a big part of my life. Most of my friends I hang around with on a daily basis are members of the club,” Fry said.
Fry bought a collector’s dream 31 years ago, a 1972 “Heavy” Chevelle, that he routinely drives in the Dream Cruise.
“It’s a rare car — a street machine with aluminum wheels, a 540-cubic-inch motor and a Merlin hard core engine,” he said.
The classic car is painted in ascot blue and matches his wife’s 1971 Chevelle Super Sport convertible.
“I built this one for my wife — I call them my ‘he-velle’ and ‘she-velle,’ both blue with black striping,” he said.
Today individual communities and organizations hold their own festivities during the Dream Cruise, which remains a free event due to the support from a range of corporate sponsors.
In addition, nearly 100 area charities benefit from the sale of official Dream Cruise merchandise and refreshments each year.
Public parking in the city of Pontiac is available in the downtown Phoenix Plaza Parking Structure. Several other city parking lots will be available throughout the downtown area.
General event parking at 36700 Woodward costs $5.
Bloomfield Township is hosting a classic car show complete with entertainment and refreshments on Saturday, Aug. 20 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Mercedes Benz dealership on Woodward Avenue south of Big Beaver. The event is free of charge to the public.
Tunes from the 1960s, food, bleacher seating, and portable toilets are available on site. There will be official Woodward Dream Cruise merchandise for sale along with a live broadcast of 97.1, “The Ticket,” from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Car club members are permitted to park at the Comerica bank branch located at 39400 Woodward Avenue. The township is also sponsoring parking alternatives for car clubs and spectators. Visit www.bloomfieldtwp.org for more information.
Birmingham will be hosting other cruise events and venues within walking distance of Birmingham’s five parking decks, where the first two hours of parking are free.
Live entertainment is performed throughout the day and food vendors will be on hand selling a variety of items.