One of the annual traditions in the metropolitan Motor City is the Woodward Dream Cruise. Held annually on the third Saturday of August, the cruise is a day-long celebration of car culture. Instituted in 1995 as an effort to raise money for a children’s soccer field in Ferndale, Michigan, the event now attracts more than 1.5 million visitors. Featuring more than 40,000 muscle cars and street machines, the Woodward Dream Cruise is now considered the world’s largest one-day vintage car event.
Woodward Avenue was chosen not only for its central location – it is the unofficial divider of metropolitan Detroit’s east and west sides – but more importantly for its significant muscle car history. It is rumored that John DeLorean found inspiration for the Pontiac GTO – considered by aficionados as the original muscle car – while driving home from General Motors in downtown Detroit to his home in Bloomfield Hills. In the glory days of muscle car culture, young men in their Chevelles, Camaros, Challengers, and Barracudas could be spotted on summer evenings drag racing from light to light down the long suburban expanse of Woodward Avenue. The original Dream Cruise was true to this vision; the two right lanes were devoted to classic muscle cars and hot rods, while auto enthusiasts and curious spectators lined up curbside to take in the style and sounds of the magnificent machines of the past.
However in recent years, the cruise and the cars that drive in it have changed. While there are still a few true muscle cars in attendance they have been taken over by modern muscle. This was nowhere more evident than at the traditional “Mustang Alley” display held each year in Ferndale. Once populated by classic Mustangs, 9 Mile Road is now the place to park the new generation of pony cars. What has also changed are the folks who own them. As a product of the 60s and 70s, classic muscle cars are overwhelmingly driven by members of the baby boomer generation. Now in their 70s, the grey haired men are less inclined to take an unreliable 50 year old car into the stop and go traffic of Woodward on Dream Cruise day. The newer cars reflect a changing population of muscle car aficionados. The younger generation, while acknowledging the Mustang’s significant history, prefer the speed, safety, economy, reliability and superior power of modern muscle. And once discouraged, if not outright banished, from participating in muscle car culture, women now take pleasure and pride in the power and excitement the new cars have to offer. Women are now credited with purchasing over one third of Mustangs, suggesting not only that the female motorist has become more car savvy, but also that the masculinity associated with Detroit muscle is ever-so-slowly shifting.
A recent Detroit Free Press article made note of the changing automotive population, referring to the 2022 Woodward Dream Cruise as ‘a celebration of tradition and new.’ As an aging boomer who has done extensive research on the muscle car, I miss seeing the panther pink and grabber blue muscle cars of the past driving down the Woodward Avenue of my youth. But as one who writes about women and cars, I am delighted to see women challenging gender stereotypes and embracing performance and power through the purchase and display of fast and noisy modern muscle.
Note: One month after this blog was posted, Phoebe Wall Howard, an auto writer for the Detroit Free Press, spoke to a number of Mustang-owning-women – which she refers to as ‘Mustang Mamas’ – in an article to promote the Detroit Auto Show.