Established in 1996, the Woodward Dream Cruise started as a fundraiser for a soccer field in Ferndale in 1995. today, it’s the world’s largest one-day automotive event, drawing 1.5 million people and 40,000 classic cars each year from around the globe — from as far away as New Zealand, Australia, Japan and the former Soviet Union — muscle cars, street rods, custom, collector and special interest vehicles. Car lovers from California, Georgia and Canada will converge in Metro Detroit on Saturday to participate in what has become, for many, an annual rite of summer. For Detroiters, however, the passion for American automobiles highlighted every year at the Woodward Dream Cruise extends well beyond the annual summer event when thousands line the streets of Woodward to look at the cool cars drive by.
The rebirth of American automobile icons such as the new redesigned Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger have spawned a new generation of American car fans in Detroit.
Randi Payton, founder of African Americans on Wheels Inc., said the passion that many Detroiters have for American vehicles dates back to some of the earlier years with Charles Richard C.R. Patterson, an African-American car manufacturer from the early 1900s.
“When we travel the country, we see thousands of African-American car clubs but Detroit by far seems to have the most,” said Payton. “They have a car club for just about every American car and brand. However, they don’t get a lot of attention.”
For many, the passion for American automobiles is a source of pride tied directly to the fact that much of their livelihood and income has been tied to the industry. Ford, Chrysler and GM are credited with helping to build the African-American middle class by providing them with better- paying jobs.
“We literally built these vehicles,” said Payton. “The first middle-class jobs we had were working in the automotive plants. We have an intimate attachment to these automobiles.”
Bill Finklea, a 54-year-old Detroiter who works at Ford’s Woodhaven Stamping Plant, has had an attachment to Mustangs since the ’60s when he owned one in high school. Finklea currently owns a 1997 fire engine red Mustang GT.
“I like the shape of the body and it’s always been fast,” he said, speaking of his passion for the Mustang. “That’s what keeps me going. Most of the people on the east side know me for that red ‘Pony.’”
Detroiter Caleb Jones, a retiree from GM’s Tech Center in Warren getting his ‘69 Dodge ready for the Woodward Dream Cruise, said a lot his passion for American cars stems from his history with the American car companies.
“I was in the UAW,” said Jones, a member of the Detroit car club Metro Cruisers. “I just feel that this is what keeps the economy going, American products, American cars.”
Bob McCray, a retired mechanic for the City of Detroit who is also a member of Metro Cruisers, owns a 1934 Ford Three Window Coupe.
“I’ve been involved in this for a lifetime,” said McCray. “I’ve always had different automobiles. There’s nothing better I’d rather be doing. It’s the camaraderie and the passion you share for the cars.”
MotorCity Casino Hotel, presenting sponsor of this year’s Dream Cruise, kicked off the inaugural event for the Detroit chapter’s official Cars and Coffee Detroit to be held Saturday mornings except for Aug. 15, due to the cruise.
The Detroit chapter Cars and Coffee event, part of a national campaign, was developed as an event where Detroiters can gather to show off their cars, kick tires and chat with other car buffs over a cup of coffee.
The weekly free event will showcase classics, exotics, concepts, hot rods and motorcycles. It also features a website, http://detroit.carsandcoffee.info, where Detroiters can get updates on activities and events and participate in discussion forums and share their passion for automobiles.