Those days were gone, but the memories remained, and it was from this longing for the past that the Woodward Dream Cruise Weekend was born. It was decided, with the surprising blessing of the local communities, that one day a year would be a celebration of Woodward's heritage. Cars of all ages and sizes would be welcome on this particular Saturday to come out and make the loop once again.
By 2001 the event could be called the Woodward Dream Cruise Week. Drawing in the neighborhood of a million people (literally) for the event, not to mention some serious corporate sponsorship, people were already rolling onto the boulevard by the previous weekend. By Tuesday, street rods, restored musclecars, vintage classics, Harleys, and a tremendous variety of radical machinery were already on Woodward in force, showing off and snarling traffic for miles.
Steve Dulcich and I drove up with Jerry Pitt and Dave Hakim from the Mopar Nationals on Sunday afternoon; it was sort of a Mopar Nats Return From Brice Road Caravan. Dave, marketing manager for Mopar Performance Parts, has lived in the Detroit area his entire life. He knew Woodward from bygone days (it was the first place he went once he obtained his driver's license in 1978) and also had the iron to make a respectable showing of it now. One car is an unrestored '71 Hemi Charger R/T and the other is the former Wayne State University crash accelerator 440-6bbl '70 Road Runner. We spent most of Monday evening helping Dave put a new throwout bearing in the Hemi car (followed by a midnight blast past million-dollar homes in Grosse Pointe to test the handiwork), but he wanted to take the Road Runner out the following night to Woodward. We were there, baby, we were right there.
Why the Six Pack instead of the Hemi? Well, for one thing, Woodward is littered with traffic signals; the Hemi would never get a chance to really turn on. The Road Runner is also a survivor, though a testdrive had Dulcich pressing Dave to 'fess up to what he'd done to it. The opinion of our out-of-town contingent was unanimous: This thing was stout. The Polyglas repro tires would spin at will, but with the right launch technique, the car's weight would visibly sit back on the rear tires as the 440 came to life. I've driven this car a couple of times and the front suspension is very tight; it handles great for its massive 2-ton weight. Besides, one of Dave's buddies, Bob Karakashian, known locally as "Mr. Six Pack," would be on hand with a '70 Hemi 'Cuda, so Dulcich and I would be able to swap back and forth as we cruised that evening.
The meeting place was a vintage Elias Brothers' Big Boy Restaurant, one of the first ever opened, located near 13 Mile Road in Royal Oak. At 7 p.m., Dave picked us up at the hotel, we fueled up with 110 leaded at a Woodward Avenue gas station (gotta love that), and we were able to spend some time watching the parade of iron go by once we parked. There were already hundreds of spectators seated in lawn chairs and standing on the sidewalk, while every closed business on the street was converted into a mini car-show display field. It was after 8 p.m. by the time Bob rolled in with his daughter, Kelly; brother, Jack; and friend and Chrysler employee Mike Delahanty all packed into the Hemi E-Body. After Dave introduced us to the sizeable dessert menu at the Big Boy, we loaded up our dynamic mechanical duo and headed south.
By now, it was bumper-to-bumper traffic for almost 5 miles, cars maneuvering in and out of their lanes as they tried to get an advantage in forward motion. I was riding shotgun in the 'Cuda, and we used a set of walkie-talkies to keep in contact in case we lost sight of each other (quite easy tonight), not to mention needle each other a little bit. Bob followed the white Road Runner down past 11 Mile as we made a U-turn and headed northbound.