Birmingham, Mich. — There is nothing more American than the automobile, symbol of wide open spaces and individual liberty. And there is no greater celebration of the automobile than The Woodward Dream Cruise, which takes over six miles of the Motor City’s main street — Woodward Avenue — on a Saturday every August. That most democratic of auto shows, the Cruise attracts over 1 million people who come to drive their own classic machines or just ogle the pet rides of others.
The Cruise is an automotive circus dominated by cars from Detroit’s hey day — 427 Mustangs and Cobras, ’50s Chevy Bel Airs, ’60s Caddys — but it also features everything from post-war Rolls Royces to state-of-the-art Lamborghini Diablos.
This year, however, a cloud hung over the event. Not only because two of Detroit’s struggling automakers are now willing captives of Uncle Sugar, but because the automobile itself is in retreat from political assault.
“This is gone,” Jack Beller, the owner of a 1966 Corvette, told Associated Press reporter David Grant while sweeping his hand across a Woodward parking lot full of car candy.“This is gone forever.”
On the eve of the Cruise, local governments warned cruisers that the weekend may violate federal ozone standards and urged drivers to fill their tanks on Friday and idle less on Saturday. Big Brother’s advice foreshadowed more draconian measures when future CO2 caps might force drivers to pay carbon offsets, or, worse, shut down the Cruise altogether.
These days GM downplays its muscle cars in favor of the whispery, 100-mpg, plug-in Chevy Volt. The car’s silence seems to fit an era when the General has quietly surrendered to a green White House’s rules and product dictates. Even the mighty ’Vette is now marketed by GM in a green ad that highlights — not the car’s 430 horsepower — but its 26-mpg highway performance.
“As the industry turns toward more fuel-efficient and even electric vehicles, classic car owners worry the soul of the cars that symbolized personal freedom, speed, status and sex appeal have been lost,” wrote the AP’s Grant. “In their place, the highways are filled with identical sedans that hum along, one just like the other, none more spectacular than the next.”
A metaphor for America? If cars have lost their soul, can the country be far behind? It is hard to believe that autos have become objects of scorn, but today’s elites — P. J. O’Rourke calls them “fun-suckers” — have targeted the sub-18-mpg vehicles that gave Americans so much joy on Woodward this weekend. They even named a bill for them — Cash for Clunkers — and demanded that they be sacrificed at the green altar, with sodium silicate pumped through their lungs.
Market socialism is on the rise in the nation’s capital, and cruisers fear its effect on the choices in their showrooms. They lament that — in order to meet government-mandated mpg rules — all cars have been forced to conform to the same aerodynamic template. It makes “everything looks like a jellybean,” says Beller.
But as America’s town halls demonstrate, Main Street Americans are regaining their voice. Worried that Washington is choking their liberties, the roar of protest has grown deafening. Politicians tell us that electric cars are “the future” in a world brought to its knees by carbon restrictions. But it’s hard to imagine Woodward Avenue — past or future — where the individual spirit isn’t expressed by the howl of a big-displacement engine.
Sixteen-year-old Kevin Duby, of Livonia, Michigian drove to the Dream Cruise this year having spent four years of his savings on a ‘79 Camaro. “I would rather work two jobs to drive that than a Prius,” he said.