The Woodward Dream Cruise, a celebration of the automobile, is so ingrained into American culture that it feels like the annual event has been around since the first Model T rolled off the line in 1908. In fact, the cruise is only about 20 years old. The event attracts more than 40,000 muscle cars, hot rods and vintage automobiles that cruise down a 16-mile stretch of Woodward Avenue in suburban Detroit, while more than a million spectators kick back, relax and watch the cruise from curbside. As car enthusiasts prepare to gather for this festival August 20, let’s take a closer look at an event that defines Americana.
An Instant Success
Many people assume the cruise was launched to uplift the automobile, especially given the Detroit-area setting. In fact, the Woodward Dream Cruise was formed as a one-off gathering to raise money for a soccer field in Ferndale, Michigan. A retired plumber named Nelson House conceived of the idea of a cruise in Ferndale, but Jean Camberlain, who became president of the Cruise, thought that the cruise could be a much bigger event involving multiple cities. Indeed, towns along Woodward Avenue beyond Ferndale agreed to coordinate a bigger cruise to help the town build the field. The organizers figured maybe 25,000 people would show up, but instead 250,000 car enthusiasts flocked to the inaugural cruise.
The choice of Woodward Avenue was crucial – it’s not only a wide boulevard that makes it easy for cars to cruise and for spectators to watch, but for decades Woodward Avenue has been a popular location for car owners to indulge in the time-honored summer tradition of cruising and showing off their prized automobiles. And with Detroit being the auto capital of the world, Woodward Avenue is to cars what the Sunset Strip is to movies.
An Outdoor Spectacle
You can enjoy the beauty of vintage automobiles and muscle cars in many American towns, ranging from suburban auto shows to museums. But the Woodward Dream Cruise is like a living theater, a parade of Americana. From the comfort of a blanket or lawn chair, you might see a 1971 GTO Dodge muscle car drive down Woodward Avenue one moment, and a 1949 Studebaker the next. This video courtesy of National Parts Depot gives you a sense of the experience:
The cruise attracts a wide variety of spectators and participants. For car lovers – the type who form lifelong bonds over their passion for Corvettes, Mustangs and GTOs – going to the cruise is like making a sojourn. The cruise also attracts those who appreciate the beauty of a well-designed car and people who simply enjoy the spectacle of a major event.
The Event Is Evolving
Technically the cruise is a one-day event, but it is has evolved in many ways. Many car owners linger for days, extending the cruise unofficially and participating in related events hosted by towns along the route. For instance, the day before the cruise, the city of Berkley hosts a number of spin-off events, such as a street dance. This year, on August 18, Ferndale presents Get Reel Movie Night featuring Cars. On the day of the cruise, Royal Oak hosts Cruise in Shoes, a 5K run/walk. Also, for the first time, the 2016 cruise will include drag racing. On August 19, a portion of Woodward Avenue will be closed so that car lovers can legally drag race as part of “Roadkill Nights Powered by Dodge.” The owner of the fastest Dodge vehicle receives a prize of $19,000.
The Woodward Dream Cruise has also embraced digital, offering an app that makes it easier for participants to find nearby events, lodging and dining. The official website contains a gallery of memorable photos plus information for sponsors to get involved. But at its core, the cruise is all about experiencing the beauty of a sleek Mustang or Corvette, the rumble of a muscle car passing by, and the gritty feel of summer.
What are your favorite outdoor events that capture the joy of summer?
Image source: National Parts Depot YouTube footage
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