In the 1950s and ‘60s in Detroit, Michigan, Woodward Avenue was considered ‘the biggest illegal drag strip in the world.’ In the northern suburbs, above Nine Mile Road, on Friday and Saturday night, Woodward was like ‘American Graffiti’ times a thousand.
Four lanes north and four lanes south with a large grassy median, Woodward is like a grand boulevard. The large median has created what many call, the ‘Michigan left turn.’ The intersection of Woodward at the Mile Roads and the half-mile roads are so large with big volumes of traffic, if you want to turn left on Woodward, you have to turn right and quickly there is a U-turn turnaround to get on Woodward going in the opposite direction.
During the ‘50s and ‘60s, this 15 mile stretch of Woodward had dozens of drive-in restaurants and regular restaurants that served unique food. But on Friday and Saturday night, that’s when the magic began. This was Detroit, and Motor City people love their cars. All the big three auto manufacturers executives lived in the suburbs of Ferndale, Royal Oak, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Berkley, Huntington Woods and several other quaint villages. They all had the hottest and newest cars as exec demos and they, their sons and daughters, and just about everybody drag raced on Woodward. Everybody.
The cops couldn’t keep up with all the drag races. Tens of thousands of people cruised Woodward and cruised all the drive-ins as well. There were two large drive-ins at either end of this 15 mile stretch, The Totem Pole and Ted’s Drive-in. In between were many drive-ins, some featuring roller-skating waitresses and they all had their special burger with their own special sauce.
The most famous burger was the Totem Pole’s Big Chief. The sauce is incredible and like biting into history. The Big Chief can still be had now at Duggan’s Pub on Woodward, between 13 Mile Road and Normandy (13 ½ Mile Road). Duggan’s also has Ted’s 5 x 5 cheeseburger and a number of other ‘signature dishes’ from the old drive-ins, like the ‘Suzie Q fried fish.’ Larry Payne Sr. had the forethought to buy the recipes and serve them at Duggan’s.
The favorite sport that guys loved was, ‘chasing skirt,’ and a nice car would act like a ‘babe magnet.’ Nice cars included old cars that were fixed up to be hot rods and the people who worked on these cars were called, ‘gear-heads.’ There were plenty of new hot rods too. Not just Corvettes, but Mustangs, GTOs, and so many that I’d have to have a whole blog to identify all of them, and still wouldn’t get all of them. However, there was one hot car that made them all look slow; The Silver Bullet. 1967 Plymouth Belvedere GTX, affectionately known on Woodward as, The Silver Bullet.
The Silver Bullet was the baddest street machine on Woodward and won more than it’s fair share of glory between the lights. More can be found out about the Silver Bullet in this excellent article on Carcraft.com at: http://www.carcraft.com/featuredvehicles/906_1967_plymouth_belvedere_gtx/
Whether men and women want to admit it or not, they judge one another based upon the class and power of the car they drive. That’s been a part of America’s love affair with the auto since Henry Ford started mass-producing them at a cost that most people could afford. Costs have sky rocketed for cars, but people still love them, and they love Detroit muscle cars especially.
The annual Woodward Dream Cruise in August is getting closer. Soon over 1.3 million spectators will descend on Woodward and it will be time to cruise or just watch all the ‘Dream Machines’ cruise by. I can hardly wait.