Hot Rod Dreams

Three-dollar-a-gallon gasoline, hard times in the auto industry, rising joblessness--nothing seems to extinguish Detroit's love affair with the car.

The Woodward Dream Cruise started 12 years ago as a one-day chance for classic car owners to show their stuff. Since then, the week leading up to the official cruise has morphed into one big party, with onlookers' lawn chairs lining the eight-lane artery two and three deep.

Organizers call it "the world's largest one-day celebration of car culture" and predict more than a million people will turn out Aug. 19, 2006 to watch an estimated 40,000 showoff vehicles that span the history of the automobile.

[Not all classic car enthusiasts are in Michigan. The pictures on this page show summer 2006 vintage and custom car events in The Dalles, Ore., and Beaumont, Tex., as well as Birmingham, Mich.]

2"It lets everybody forget about their troubles," said Dottie Wogan, 63, sitting in the shade of a tree Wednesday with her husband and another couple from nearby Macomb County. "We're hot rod wannabes," 64-year-old Jim Wogan said, laughing.

Not all are wannabes. Back home in Clinton Township, Wogan's friend George Orris keeps a 1930 Ford Model A pickup truck with green body and black fenders. He's had it for 40 years. "It was a hot rod when I bought it," said the 69-year-old retired potato chip executive. "I restored it to the original."

The Dream Cruise covers a 16-mile stretch of Woodward Avenue from the Detroit city limit through Pontiac and touches nine of the city's northern suburbs. The official event runs from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday.

3The two outer lanes in each direction are reserved for "classic cars," which the event's Web site says "are loosely defined as those manufactured before 1975 or a vehicle of special interest."

"It's an escape. It's an outlet for reliving memories from the past," said Don Tanner, Dream Cruise executive director. "Nobody wants to miss this, whether gas is $2 a gallon or $4 a gallon."

The event is free and depends on backing from sponsors that include General Motors Corp., Eaton Corp. and MotorCity Casino.

"I appreciate the nice paint jobs, and I appreciate the restoration work," said Joe Karbacz, who said the cars show "a lot of talent, a lot of art."

He said he planned to return Saturday to make a couple of circuits of Woodward Avenue in his restored 1972 Chevy Nova.

4Not everyone loves the Dream Cruise. In fact, the more people who turn out, the more others complain. They include merchants forced to close because customers can't reach them and residents who face miles-long traffic jams.

A sign in the window of Wesch Cleaners in Birmingham said it would close from noon Friday to 7 a.m. Monday, adding, "Enjoy the Dream Cruise." The closing was just fine with employee Melinda Hughes, giving her a chance to join the crush of onlookers. "Last year, I had a good time, so I said I'd be back this year," she said.

Some environmentalists got a jump on the Dream Cruise last weekend with the second annual "Green Cruise" in Ferndale.

A Green Cruise poster urged people to "celebrate all forms of transportation that do not burn fossil fuel" by honoring those who walk, bike, run, rollerblade or swim.

One of the Dream Cruise's founders said it's a mixed blessing, and a lot of work. "It was fun when it started. Now, it can be a chore," said Ferndale police Chief Michael Kitchen.

Still, there's lot that's good about the event, he said. The Dream Cruise "gets everyone together," Kitchen said. "It reinvigorates our love affair with the car. It lightens the mood. It's a pleasant distraction."