History of the Woodward Dream Cruise

Stephanie Sokol for The Oakland Press

What started as a small fundraiser for a soccer field has grown into the world’s largest automotive event, bringing more than one million people to Oakland County. This year marks the 19th annual Woodward Dream Cruise.

In August of 1995, retired plumber Nelson House was setting up fundraising to create a local soccer field. He contacted Jean Chamberlain, who later became the Cruise founding president, about his idea for “Cruising in Ferndale.”

FYI: The Woodward Dream Cruise draws nearly 1 million classic cars fans for 18 miles along both sides of Woodward Avenue, from Ferndale to Pontiac. This year’s event, on Aug. 17, again will feature the “Dream Cruise In Shoes” 5K run/walk on the morning of Dream Cruise in Royal Oak. Browse through all Woodward Dream Cruise merchandise online at www.shopwdc.com.

“It sounded like there would be more cities interested than just Ferndale,” Chamberlain said. “I gave (House) the numbers of the chamber directors on the route to Pontiac, and he called them and set up a meeting. That was how the Woodward Dream Cruise was born.”

The Michigan Department of Transportation and Oakland County Sheriff’s department partnered with the cities in the beginning to help the event run smoothly, Chamberlain said. The first year the non-profit automobile event was hosted, it received a lot of response from people around the country.

“We decided that if we got 25,000 people, it would be a huge success,” Chamberlain said. “The first year we had 250,000 people.”

Chamberlain said the Cruise started out small, quickly growing to be known worldwide and sponsored by advertisers. The board splits money with the cities the Cruise goes through, including Pontiac, Bloomfield Hills, Royal Oak and Ferndale.

Driving up and down Woodward Avenue was popular before the Cruise was created, however. Former Madison Heights resident Terry Bistue has been driving down the road since he was young, participating in the Dream Cruise from its start as well.

“Back in the ’60s, I was a weekend warrior,” Bistue said. “Every Friday and Saturday night I would go cruising up and down Woodward. I worked at a gas station on Woodward as a teenager, so it’s always kind of been part of my life.”

The owner of a ’67 blue Chevy II, Bistue said the cruise started out as people driving up and down the street like he used to, though it has evolved past a simple cruise to more of a party.

The Cruise has grown more commercial, with businesses and vendors putting on parties and the Big Three sponsoring activities and entertainment, though he said it is still a lot of fun.

“It’s always an experience to go because every year you see something you’ve never seen before,” Bistue said. “The one thing about it is you get people from all over the world coming to Woodward. All kinds of cars, from junky things that people find out in a field, to quarter million or million dollar cars, you see a lot of variations. It’s always special to the guy driving it, it’s theirs.”

While the cruise has evolved since its start, with additions like corporate involvement the weekend is still reminiscent of the ’50s and ’60s when people took their cars for a spin down the street.

“It’s a chance to see a happy face on the Detroit area,” Chamberlain said. “People hear horror stories about Detroit not being safe, with bankruptcy and everything. It gives us a chance to show off our city, the region, and certainly Oakland County.”

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