- For those unfamiliar with the Woodward Dream Cruise, there's one statement we can offer that will go a long way to help you appreciate it: Metro Detroit's annual Woodward Dream Cruise is the largest, single-day automotive event of its kind on the planet. More than a million people and 30,000-plus enthusiast vehicles converge along the Motor City's famed Woodward Avenue for the massive cruise every August.
It's an event that harkens back to the very roots of car "cruising" - all the way to the 1950s and '60s when weekend cruising up and down the avenue (with some racing between the stoplights) was the highlight of summer weekends - the place for young people to be and be seen. Fast forward to the 21 st century, and we find that same spirit is very much alive and well today.
The 2011 Dream Cruise marked the event's 17 th consecutive year, and after having spent the previous three years in Los Angeles, it was this Ford Racing correspondent's first Woodward Cruise since 2007. While much was familiar, one thing that has definitely changed is that the one-day cruise has quietly multiplied into a one-week event! While the official Woodward Dream Cruise always happens on the third Saturday in August, the streets of Woodward Avenue were gridlocked with classic cars every single evening for the entire week leading up to the big event.
In recent years the involvement of major automakers in the Dream Cruise has grown, and 2011 was no different. Ford again laid claim to the intersection of Woodward Avenue and Nine Mile Road in Ferndale, MI, along which enthusiasts could find a massive celebration of all things Ford. While most of Ford's vehicle lineup was well-represented, there's no doubt that Mustang is king here. A vast stretch of Nine Mile Road is actually closed down to become "Mustang Alley," the home to what seemed to be an endless, fender-to-fender display of Mustangs of every vintage.
More than 700 Mustangs had lined the street this year, with more than 100 others on a waiting list - poised in the wings for an opening to appear along "Mustang Alley." Mustangs of every era, from a "1964½" Indianapolis 500 Pace Car to the one-of-a-kind Grabber Blue 2012 Boss 302 Laguna Seca and almost everything in-between, were on display. We had a chance to take in the sights along Nine Mile from a rooftop, and the Mustangs were parked as far as the eye could see!
Another exciting feature in this year's Mustang Alley was the "History of the Mustang" display put together by Nick Terzes, a vehicle dynamics engineer with Ford. Terzes worked to assemble a special collection of Mustangs that represented the iconic pony car's lifespan. Eighteen cars were chosen to be part of the display, and their owners were quite proud to show them off to the Woodward crowds in a special area.
"Throughout its almost 50 years on the road, Mustang has continually evolved, while maintaining the hallmark of returning balanced performance and high value," Terzes said. "Our goal with Mustang Alley, and specifically with the History of the Mustang' display, was to showcase the rich history and evolution of the product."
Ford Racing was also present in a big way at Mustang Alley. The Performance Tour trailer was in attendance, showing off the latest Ford Racing Performance Parts, as well as our factory built race cars such as a Super Cobra Jet drag car and a Mustang Boss 302S road racer. Owners of 2005-and-newer Mustangs had the opportunity to have Ford Racing Performance Parts installed on their ride right there at the cruise in the "Mustang Garage." Also drawing in crowds was Ford Racing's 2011 supercharged Mustang GT project car. The 5.0L V-8 powered Kona Blue Mustang was equipped with Ford Racing's 624-horsepower supercharger kit, and made thunderous pulls on a dynamometer each hour, much to the delight of the fans.
One non-Mustang vehicle that was drawing big crowds at Woodward this year was the "Tangerine Scream" Ford Focus ST show car that was on display. The Focus ST will enter Ford's lineup next year, taking the performance fight to the best sport compacts from Europe and Asia. Lisa Schoder, Ford's Focus ST U.S. Marketing Manager, told us about the new car and why it was important to show it off during the Cruise.
"Woodward draws such an amazing crowd of car enthusiasts that it really is the perfect place to present ST as a Ford global performance brand," said Schoder. "The fans we were able to speak with at Woodward provided such great insight and really demonstrated the buzz that Focus ST is generating among enthusiasts. They can't wait to get their hands on this car!"
Another thing that makes the Woodward Dream Cruise unique is that rarely are more Ford Performance Group (FPG) clubs gathered in one place. Some came to the Motor City for their yearly national event, while others gathered in small numbers just to take in the cruise together. FPG clubs having a footprint at this year's cruise - whether it be big or small - included the Motor City Marauders, IMBOC, Team Shelby, SAAC, SVTOA, the Mach 1 Registry, the BOSS 302 Registry, the Yellow Mustang Registry and, of course, the Mustang Club of America.
Tony Alonso represents both the Mach 1 Registry and IMBOC, and he was thrilled to be on Woodward for the Dream Cruise. "I'm very glad that we have the Ford Performance Group support when we come to events like this," said Alonso. "It helps us stay connected through an official Ford channel, and it gives us the ability to communicate with exciting people from Ford.We also have access to opportunities that the average car guy just doesn't get - like tours of the plant where the Mustang is built, and a track day on the Dearborn Proving Grounds."
The biggest FPG club presence at Woodward this year was Team Shelby's, in which Shelby Mustang owners were invited to park their potent ponies in the "Snake Pit" along Mustang Alley. A large number of GT350s, GT500s and even GT500KRs showed up to park in the pit, making for quite a sight.
The Motor City Marauders (MCM) also had an impressive showing, with some 25 Mercury Marauders in attendance for their annual national event at Woodward. We caught up with MCM's Mike Zavislak for a word on the club and what makes the Marauder such a great Ford performance vehicle.
"We started out in 2003 when we formed the club, and we're now here at the Woodward Dream Cruise for our ninth consecutive year," said Zavislak. "We're an interesting breed of car guys, and the Marauder is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of car. We take a lot of pride in the cars and we love that it's a comfortable, full-size car that's also a rocket. It really feels like a throwback to the muscle car era when the automakers made full-size cars with big engines that could hold their own on the street and the track."
Lou Vitale of the Yellow Mustang Registry was also in attendance with a few other yellow Mustangers. They've been gathering at Woodward for almost a decade, and have made an entire weekend out of the Cruise.
"We've been coming to Woodward as a group since 2003, and every year it just keeps getting better," Vitale told us. "We have YMR members here from all over the Midwest, and we kicked things off on Thursday by attending the open house at the Roush Collection. Friday we met up for lunch and then cruised Woodward until dinner, and today, on official Cruise Day, we parked our yellow Mustangs in Royal Oak (MI) to show them off before cruising Woodward one last time. It's been a great event, and we can't wait to come back for 2012!"
And that leads us to the biggest reason that more than 1 million people crowd the streets along Woodward Avenue in suburban Detroit, year after year, for this annual automotive party. It's about seeing the cars cruise. Owners bring their cars from across town and nearly every state in the union, and even from all over the world, to cruise them down historic Woodward Avenue in front of a sea of people. The crowds come just for the spectacle of it. We met several Australians who flew all the way to Detroit just to experience the cruise - and have heard many stories of people even having their cars flown in from Europe and Asia, just to cruise along Woodward!
Attendees arrive early to pick out their favorite viewing spot and watch the collector cars cruise up and down the eight lanes - four lanes on each side - of the divided avenue. Many participants recall the day when tons of muscle cars cruising along Woodward was the norm, but just as many people are experiencing "cruising Woodward" for the first time. Just about anything that rolls is likely to be prowling the pavement here - from all your favorite classic American cars, to exotic European supercars, to oddities such as a V-8 powered bathtub on wheels and speedboat on a trailer that drives itself, without being pulled by a truck!
Several Mustang Bullitt owners and IMBOC Members were experiencing the Dream Cruise for the first time, and came away hugely impressed. "It's been a great event!" said one Bullitthead. "We drove our Bullitts down from Toronto, and I wish this would have been my 17 th Cruise and not my first!" Another told us, "I think Mustang Alley is the diamond of all the shows in the Woodward Dream Cruise. You get to see all of the Mustangs, it's put on by a bunch of great people from Ford, and it's just a fantastic display!"
But as with any big event, very rarely does everything come off without a hitch. There always seems to be something that happens to affect the dynamic of each cruise, and this year's event was no different. The weather forecast called for rain in the afternoon, which was definitely on the minds of most collector-car owners throughout the day. In fact, some had left early to get their prized cars home and put away, out of any inclement weather. But most folks decided to stay.
Sure enough, severe thunderstorms blew in at around 5 p.m., and brought with them torrential rains and some wind gusts what were clocked at up to 70 mph! Cars and attendees scattered in search of whatever kind of shelter they could find from the storm. In the aftermath, many side streets were flooded and the area was littered with fallen trees, downed power lines and toppled tents. Authorities spent the next couple of hours restoring order to the area, and as we expected, as soon as the right-of-ways were made safe to drive on, the cruisers and crowds returned! The party was back on and remained packed with fantastic cars until the cruise came to an official end at 9:00 that evening.
The rain had tried, but wasn't able to dampen the spirits of the massive assembly of automotive enthusiasts who again celebrated our car culture along Woodward Avenue. It's this passion for the automobile that makes the Woodward Dream Cruise such a special event - and why Detroit still deserves its title as the Motor City. The entire Metro Detroit area is steeped in automotive history and tradition, and thanks to the renewed efforts of America's "Big Three" automakers, it still provides the opportunity for a bright and prosperous future.
Plain and simple, the Woodward Dream Cruise is an automotive "happening." For many of us, it has become an annual "can't miss" event. And after revisiting the event this past summer, we can tell you that this, the world's largest cruise, should at least be on the "bucket list" of every car guy!Photos Courtesy of Mike Laney / Ford Performance Group