Woodward Dream Cruise 2014

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It’s the biggest annual event in Michigan. It’s the fourth largest one-day event in America. It’s the biggest car festival/cruise in the world. It’s the Woodward Dream Cruise with over 1.3 million spectators and over 40,000 classic cars, antique cars and hot rods. This year was the 20th anniversary of the event and not many people outside of Michigan know about it (other than classic car buffs, hot rod enthusiasts, drag racers, auto restorers and car people).

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I had to be in Detroit the Friday before and it was crowded with cars and spectators already – a week in advance! I returned on Wednesday, picked up my friend Steve from California at the airport and headed to the hotel taking a longer route on Woodward. Woodward was packed. Four lanes going north and four lanes going south and it was bumper-to-bumper classic car traffic at around 4 MPH. Engines rumbled, an occasional tire squealed loudly and sometimes it was hard to hear with all that Detroit muscle revving up.

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With my new automobile advertising wrap about my novel, Dream Machines, I was getting plenty of attention. My goal with this trip is to get enough publicity to sell over 2000 books through Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com so I can attract a literary agent, who will sell my book to a big publisher. If that happens, then movie producers will be interested and that is my true main goal: to make my novel, Dream Machines, into a movie. If made (hoping some big rich Detroit leaders read this) a side benefit would be improving the negative perceptions and opinions about Detroit into positive ones. At least, that’s my plan. Know of any people like that with $5 million they would like to invest in a movie? I didn’t think so.

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Wednesday night was the only chance we would have of stopping at Duggan’s Pub on Woodward for a Big Chief burger, the burger they once served at the Totem Pole. Speaking of the Totem Pole, I stopped by the lot on Woodward where the Totem Pole was. It had turned into a Burger King for years and then they closed. They leveled the building and there is nothing but a vacant, empty lot left of what was the greatest drive-in restaurant in the world (my own opinion).

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Thursday had Steve and I cruising Woodward as much as possible (to show off my moving billboard). I had a very bad problem though. On Tuesday, my good friend and best man at my wedding, Dan Hurley died of a heart attack. Dan went to many Dream Cruises with me and his absence was a sore spot. That night we went out to dinner with his son, Neil and his wife Monica. We went to Birmingham, where the sidewalks were filled with people trying to get seats at the many fine restaurants in the area. The streets were also starting to be filled up with classic cars.

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Friday put me in a better mood. We cruised a very busy Woodward, but my friend Steve wanted to hear about actor/comedian, Robin William’s home area, because it was in the news so much about his death a few days earlier. Better than explaining, I showed him. We toured the neighborhoods and small lakes of Bloomfield Hills and the exclusive Cranbrook Institute of something or other. Robin lived in an extremely affluent part of Detroit’s suburbs along with his neighbors Mitt Romney and Lee Iacocca. In the ‘50s and ‘60s the area attracted big executives from Ford, GM and Chrysler. They let their teens play with the new demo cars they drove home from the factory. Many of those kids and their parents, drag raced on Woodward in their new GTO’s, Mustangs, Dodge Hemi’s, Corvettes and all the other muscle cars. Robin and Mitt had to have cruised all the drive-ins too. That’s a cool thought. I believe there are still a lot of auto execs living there.

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Friday night was an absolute zoo. Cars were crammed onto Woodward going about 2 MPH bumper-to-bumper for miles. It took hours to go a mile. The tree lawns, parking places and just about everywhere the crowd sat on lawn chairs or walked between the mini cruise-ins that were jammed with cool cars. TV crews were flitting around getting interviews and radio station guys were out in the street talking to people in their cars asking for a rev up (for sound).

Motorcycle police at WDC 2014

The police were out in a larger force than I’ve ever seen. At the shopping center at 13 mile and Woodward, where Chrysler has set up a ‘Mopar’ exhibit, there was a line of police motorcycles like I have never seen, other than in a movie like, ‘Blues Brothers.’ There had to be at least 30-40 motorcycles from police stations all over the Detroit area. There were cop cars everywhere as well as plenty of cops on bicycles and horses. At the Mopar exhibit, there was a lot of local hype and publicity about Dodge’s new 700+ HP Charger, ‘Hellcat,’ but it wasn’t at the exhibit…yet. They said it would be there on Saturday, but unfortunately, we had a different schedule for cruise day.

Dodge's 'Silver Bullet' ripped up Woodward in the '60s with over 600 HP.

Plymouth’s ’67 Belvedere GTX   ‘Silver Bullet’ ripped up Woodward in the ’60s with over 600 HP.

Down the street from the Mopar exhibit, and across the street from Duggan’s Pub, was GMs Corvette exhibit and next to that was a park area that was transformed into a classic car carnival. It was packed with food concessions/trucks, classic cars, hot rods, t-shirt tents, the truck from my friend Dana’s magazine ‘www.cruiz’news.com,’ several bleacher seats faced Woodward and the enormous crowd either sat and watched, or milled around enjoying the intoxicating atmosphere of motor city metal.

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It was quite an experience, but the show ended at 9:40pm when the huge presence of police blocked off Woodward and everybody had to go home. I mean, tried to go home. The small neighborhood road that the police forced people to take became jammed and it took us forever to make our way back to the hotel.

Black '57 Chevy MSU

The Saturday morning of the Dream Cruise had a chill in the air. The temps had dipped into the 40s the night before, but there was a crowd on Woodward at 8am. We headed to Ferndale. At the corner of 9 Mile Road and Woodward, 9 Mile was blocked in either direction for blocks and blocks for Ford’s ‘Mustang Alley.’ Ford and many after-market suppliers like Saleen, Rousch, Shelby and many others showed their newest Mustang designs. A large parking lot was filled with only Mustang Cobras. Then there were blocks and blocks of Mustangs of all years and models owned by private owners. In all, we figured there had to be at least 1,000 mustangs. It was unbelievable and overwhelming for this ardent Mustang fan. My Mustang was stolen, but that’s in a previous blog.

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Ford's Mustang Alley  9 Mile at Woodward

Ford’s Mustang Alley
9 Mile at Woodward

We then headed to Birmingham to see GM’s offering to the Cruise. It took us a long time to go 6 miles, but lots of people saw my mobile billboard along the way. Tee shirts under a tent dotted the sides of Woodward for miles as well as a bunch of ‘radio towers’ so people would know a radio station was broadcasting from there. Crowds surrounded various cool cars parked everywhere and anyway they could. I could tell by the crowded boulevard that this was the biggest Dream Cruise ever. Along the way, there was a row of around ten DeLoreans like the one in the movie, ‘Back to the Future,’ all with their doors open and pointing skyward. What a blast!

Radio tower WDC 2014

In downtown Birmingham, Old Woodward Avenue was closed off and wow, they had quite a show of classic cars. Since this was Birmingham, with it’s affluence, there were a lot of classic foreign cars that cruised Woodward in the ‘60s, like MGs, Triumphs, Austin Healeys, Jaguars, Rolls Royces and even an old Bentley. There was a long row of Cobras, Thunderbirds and Corvettes. On the other side of the sidewalk, in parking lots full of parked cars, there were a number of exhibits for after-market companies that do a lot of business with GM.

Ken Lingenfelter and I at the Dream Cruise

Ken Lingenfelter and I at the Dream Cruise, I’m in the Hawaiian shirt.

An old friend of mine, Ken Lingenfelter, owns one of those companies, Lingenfelter Performance Engineering. They make GM cars like Corvettes and Camaros go faster and make race cars go faster too. They build race car engines and components like superchargers. Ken showed me a new product of his; trucks he named, ‘Reapers.’ He gives trucks a go-over, performance and custom looks wise, and calls them ‘Reapers.’ They are already in some GM showrooms in Texas. Ken also showed me his personal ‘everyday car,’ a gorgeous ’67 Corvette with over 600 HP. I want to go the grocery store with him.

Ken Lingenfelter's daily ride

At the end of the street where it meets Woodward, forms a triangle where Chevrolet, this years Dream Cruise sponsor, has a large exhibit of their coolest new cars and classic Chevys. There was also a TV station, WXYZ (ABC), which is a sponsor, doing live broadcasts as well as the oldies radio station, WOMC, with their funny radio hosts, Bobby and Stacy doing a live show. Add in all kinds of food trucks, huge crowds, live music stages and you’ve got a pretty wild scene with hundreds of thousands of classic car buffs oo-ing and ah-ing  every cool car that drives by.

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When we headed back out onto Woodward we heard my radio interview. The day before, I had done a radio interview with WWJ 950 am all news, and we heard it run several times in the day and once at night. We didn’t really get all that far on Woodward, because again it was wall-to-wall classic car traffic going at a snail’s pace. At 9 pm, we saw the lights on all the police cars go on like it did Friday night just before they closed Woodward down. I hurried (you really couldn’t hurry) as fast as I could to get off Woodward. I turned the corner at 13 Mile Road and just then the cops shut down Woodward. I thought, ‘9 pm?’ I guess they wanted to end the happiness earlier that usual. Back at the hotel, I heard people moaning about the long ride back in the traffic. I felt lucky, where can I buy a lottery ticket?

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The Big Chief Burger

The Big Chief Burger

On Sunday, we finally got our chance to eat a Big Chief at Duggan’s Pub. We sat at the bar and I saw a very hard working guy, Larry Payne, owner of Duggan’s. Larry said he heard my interview that morning on WWJ, so maybe I sounded better than I thought. I said goodbye to Steve when I dropped him off at the airport. This was his second Dream Cruise year and he said it was, ‘great.’ I headed back to Cleveland, with a big smile, great memories and it helped me get over the tragedy of my friend, who loved the Dream Cruise, passing on. I’m sure that now he’s in a real, ‘Dream Machine.’

More pictures –

'59 Edsel Wagon

White '56 T-Bird

A really big unknown car with Canada plates

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‘American Graffiti’ times a thousand

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.

Totem Pole Poster

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.

Ted's Drive-in out front

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.

Maverick's on Woodward

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.

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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.

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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.

Silver Bullet of Woodward

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.

Duggan's Pub on Woodward

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.