One Third Fewer Attendees Lined the Famed 16-Mile Detroit Roadway

After facing the worst power loss in U.S. and Canadian history, that caused a gasoline and water shortage as well as a drenching downpour midday Saturday Aug. 16, it would be fair to expect the ninth annual Woodward Dream Cruise to turn into the nightmare crawl.

Not so, but the blackout did force the cancellation of several pre-Cruise festivities, including the Revvin with Ford Charity Preview and a noticeable decrease in the number of participants and spectators.

The Woodward Dream Cruise, sponsored this year by Eaton Automotive, is one of the biggest annual automotive events in the United States, usually drawing an estimated 1.5 million to 1.7 million spectators to see the some 30,000 vintage cars, muscle cars and hot rods that takeover Detroits major north-south thoroughfare.

It was originally started as a grassroots event by car enthusiasts to recapture the crusin days of the 1950s and 1960s and grew into a mega cultural event in the Motor City as not only the “Big Three” car manufacturers became involved — DaimlerChrysler rolled out its Chrysler PT Cruiser Dream Cruiser Series 3 and Ford sponsored music concerts at the “Mustang Drive In” — but also Hyundai and auto supplier companies try to capture a portion of the spotlight.

Hyundai had 25 of its 2003 Tiburons in various levels of customization on a lot just south of Eleven Mile Road. The display was co-sponsored by Hyundai and Speed, Style & Sound magazine. No doubt it is a sure sign that the Dream Cruise is extending far beyond its original Grease-like roots.

Organizers were expecting an additional 500,000 people to line Woodward for the Cruise, which ran 16 miles through nine cities, anchored by the city of Pontiac to the north and to the south at the Michigan State Fairgrounds in Detroit at the Eight Mile intersection. Cars on the road ranged from 1930s Ford V8s to such “classics” as 1980s Chevy Astro Vans, 1990s Mustang GTs and even newer Chrysler PT Cruisers. However, early estimates from officials say that the turn out was a third lower than last year.

The power black out on August 14 that affected 50 million people in the northeastern United States, including southeastern Michigan, and impacted large parts of Ontario and Quebec, Canada, had Detroiters scrambling to find ice for their refrigerators, bottled water and gasoline. Power to Detroits water pumps had been cutoff for several hours, and when it came back on, residents were ordered to boil their tap water due to fears that contaminants may have worked their way into the drinking supply while water pressure was low. The boiled water order was finally lifted late Monday afternoon.

And, without power, many gasoline stations were temporarily out of business. All motorists, not just Dream Cruisers, went out in search of gasoline stations that still had power, thanks to emergency generators, or drove more than 30 miles to the exurbs, such as Brighton, halfway between Detroit and Michigans capital, Lansing, which had been unaffected by the blackout. Lines formed at open gas stations throughout Thursday evening even until Sunday, resembling the gas lines of the OPEC oil embargos of the 1970s.

As a smattering of cars with empty gas tanks lined the sides of roads and highways, Dream Cruise organizers warned on the radio that would-be spectators and cruisers should not venture to Woodward unless they had a full tank of gas.