Woodward Dream Cruise: The Greatest Car Show on Earth

Among the many reasons car aficionados love Michigan? They know that every third Saturday in August, one and a half million people will converge on M1 running from Detroit to Pontiac—known as Woodward Avenue—to view 50,000 classic, hot rod, and muscle cars on parade.

Every model year and color is welcome to spew gas fumes, burn rubber, and compare engine modifications until the wee hours of morning.

We make cars. We love cars. We are car people. And we stand proud to host this great event, going on now for 18 years.

We are the sons and daughters of auto factory workers, engineers, designers, and executives who together made the American automobile the industrial backbone of the country, and Detroit the epicenter of the auto industry. “How goes Detroit, so goes the country.”

If Aug. 19 is the actual day of the Woodward Dream Cruise, you can be assured the week preceding it has gear heads arriving early to fill the local hotels. They come from everywhere in this fabulous car-lover’s country, with representation even from Canada, England, and Sweden, at the very least. The cruise has unofficially become an eight-day event with a tiny participation of females in the mostly male-dominated event.

You can have your Pebble Beach and the Concourse d’Elegance. The car-lovers are of the t-shirt, jeans, and shorts variety, and admission is absolutely free.

Overnight the curbs are lined with tents, canopies, t-shirts, and food vendors. Every inch of roadside viewing is lined with folding chairs; people are very territorial about their small piece of viewing turf. Most warm evenings, this activity continues even after the conclusion of the cruise.

Conversations swirl all around about where you found your car(s) and in what condition. Some have done their own restoration in their garages, while others went to area professionals.

Paint jobs costing thousands of dollars with such enormous depth of shine leave brand new models paling in comparison. Colors range from bright neon shades to the traditional two-tones of the 50’s. I love those turquoise and salmon combinations.

Men with snow on the mountain are here acting like teenagers again, driving their Vettes, Mustangs, Chargers, and big body classics. It is a joyful sight to see. Drop tops are everywhere and sought for their value.

It’s all about emotion and passion for old cars. They are absolute works of art, and nothing turned out today even comes close in style. What has stalled the imagination of the car companies?

It seems that with the passing of hip designers like Bill Mitchell, Harley Earl, Carroll Shelby, and even maverick John DeLorean, buyers are doomed to end up with high-priced cookie-cutter cars that make a boring sea of black, silver, and white.

“They don’t make them like they used to” is heard over and over again as you negotiate your classic down the eight-lane gridlocked highway that takes you from Ferndale north to Pontiac, the city now staggering under the closure of several GM plants that once manufactured the Pontiac car and GMC Trucks. Its Greyhound bus facility and Service Parts Dept. closed long ago, leaving it like Flint—barely hanging onto financial existence.

Ahh, the 50’s, what a time to grow up. Rock and roll and beautiful cars reined. We thought those fabulous designs would go on forever like $.18 a gallon for gasoline.

We like retro. That is why we haunt junkyards and swamps, crane our necks driving down isolated roads, and peer into old barns. Those beauties are still out there waiting to be discovered, saying, “Bring me home, restore me to my former glory, and show me off in the Woodward Dream Cruise. I’ll catch their eyes and make their hearts pound.”

Remember that famous drive-in restaurant at the corner of Square Lake Rd. and Woodward Ave. in Bloomfield Township—Ted’s—where all the high school kids circled round and round? Well, now it is a chain drugstore, and I am still ever hopeful that it will close and our favorite drive-in will return to serve that delicious banana cream pie and pig in the blanket.

We will breathe in noxious gas fumes. Our ears will be assaulted with high performance engine noise, all to our extreme pleasure. That’s not Chanel No. 5 filling the air. It’s the fragrance of burning rubber. Bring it on.


Betty Apigian-Kessel

Betty (Serpouhie) Apigian Kessel was born in Pontiac, Mich. Together with her husband, Robert Kessel, she was the proprietor of Woodward Market in Pontiac and has two sons, Bradley and Brant Kessel. She belonged to the St. Sarkis Ladies Guild for 12 years, serving as secretary for many of those years. During the aftermath of the earthquake in Armenia in 1988, the Detroit community selected her to be the English-language secretary and she happily dedicated her efforts to help the earthquake victims. She has a column in the Armenian Weekly entitled “Michigan High Beat.”

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