Fun With Fossil Fuels

Detroit’s annual Woodward Dream Cruise is more fun than any car-lover should be allowed to have.

My eyes are burning and I’m a little light-headed from the exhaust fumes I’ve been sucking down all day. For the last 12 hours my diet has consisted solely of chili-cheese dogs from the 50’s-style diner on the corner. To make things just that much more interesting, a light rain is starting to fall as darkness descends. And still I can’t bear to tear myself away from the full-on automotive spectacle taking place on the street in front of me.

Ah, but before you question my sanity—and you wouldn’t be the first—know this: This is no ordinary chunk of asphalt and no ordinary August evening in the Motor City.

This 16-mile stretch of Detroit’s Woodward Avenue is nothing less than the cradle of American hot rodding. And this endless parade of pristine muscle cars, wild customs, and museum-quality classics—a scene that will make you believe that somebody has flung open the doors to the world’s coolest auto museum—is the annual Woodward Dream Cruise.

Though you may never have heard of the Dream Cruise, this event dwarfs any of the more famous automotive extravaganzas you can name. Organizers of the event, which bills itself as “the world’s largest one-day celebration of car culture,” say it annually draws more than 40,000 custom and classic cars. Frankly, I lost count somewhere around 10,000.

Lest you think that you need to be a hardcore gearhead—or even an adult—to come and play, you should know that this family-friendly event attracts more than 1.5 million spectators every year. Which means you’ll find there are more than enough interesting diversions—from Elvis impersonators and rock bands to carnival-like kiddie areas and food courts—to keep the whole family happy.

While not every car that rolled by was a councours d’elegance-quality show-stopper, the hours I spent on that Royal Oak, Michigan street corner were seldom dull. In fact, at the peak of the event I actually found it hard to take my eyes off the street for fear I’d miss something really interesting.

So what will you see at the Woodward Dream Cruise? It’d probably be easier to answer the question “what won’t you see?” My own list contained everything from home-built hot rods to a million-dollar Ferrari Enzo to completely off-the-wall machines that included motorized barstools and wheelie-popping golf carts.

In fact, I walked away from my first Dream Cruise experience convinced that, if you hang out long enough and keep your eyes open, you’ll see one of everything rolling down Woodward. Which is why I’d go back in a heartbeat, exhaust fumes be damned!

Xtrordinary Xtra
Rumor has it that engineers from Detroit’s Big Three automakers routinely used the nighttime cruising scene on Woodward Avenue as a proving ground for their latest factory hot rods during the height of the muscle car era.

Xtrordinary Xtra
The Dream Cruise got it’s start in 1995 as a one-time event to raise money for a kid’s soccer field.

Xtrordinary Xtra
While the Dream Cruise is technically a one-day affair, each of the nine cities along the route plays host to a wide range of activities the preceding week. For a list of what’s happening where, check the event’s website.

The Facts
Name: The Woodward Dream Cruise
Location: Woodward Avenue, from Ferndale to Pontiac, Michigan.
Cost: Free

My Advice

  • A hat, sunscreen, and good walking shoes are a must. Lawn chairs and a small cooler filled with water or soft drinks will also come in handy.
  • When your tired feet begin to give out, simply hop aboard the free shuttle buses that run up and down Woodward all day long.
  • Don’t forget your camera and plenty of film or memory cards—the folks back home won’t believe some of the things you saw without pictures.
  • Understand going in that open alcoholic beverages, jaywalking, and vehicular shenanigans like burnouts will earn you an expensive ticket.
  • Hotels along Woodward book up many months in advance and you can expect to pay top-dollar for your room. Fortunately there are plenty of more affordable lodging alternatives available throughout the area.