Ready, set, cruise: Woodward Dream Cruise returns in a big way

The Woodward Dream Cruise, that rolling bazaar of nostalgia and American car culture, returns today in a big way.

For the first time in four years, all nine communities along the route will participate in the annual event.

Businesses have rediscovered the Cruise with new sponsorships while Detroit’s Big Three will cram roadside displays with their latest wares.

Organizers even expect to turn a profit after several years of losses.

“People from all around the country and world come,” said Greg Rassel, president of the event.

None of this is a surprise to people living near Woodward Avenue, especially the part about the world coming.

Residents said it feels like the world is already there. They have watched it drive past all week long, a ceaseless stream of vehicles from yesteryear ambling up and down Woodward.

“It’s back,” said Gordon Rhodes, 60, a Royal Oak retiree.

When organizers said the event is back, they meant it has returned to its old glory.

When Rhodes said it, he meant like the expression in “Poltergeist.”

“Cars all day and cars all night,” he said Friday. “Don’t get me wrong. I like cars.”

But he likes them one at a time.

Add 39,999 more cars, a million folks ogling them, squealing tires and revving engines, generous doses of romance and nostalgia, and you begin to understand what’s going to happen today.

And we haven’t even mentioned all the scoops and spoilers and suicide doors that will be adorning the customs, classics, exotics, muscle cars and hot rods.

It’s no wonder the Cruise is billed as the biggest one-day auto event in the world. The 16-mile ribbon of asphalt runs from Ferndale to Pontiac.

“There’s no place I’d rather be,” said Tom Sellers, 65, a limousine driver from Freeland.

He was referring to his canvas folding chair perched along Woodward Avenue in Pontiac. Behind him was his gleaming black 1957 Chevy.

Unlike the limousine, the Chevy doesn’t earn Sellers a living.

If he had to choose between the two, however, the limo would be history.

“It’s like a first love,” he said about the Chevy. “I can’t explain it.”

It’s that type of love that has fueled the Dream Cruise for 18 summers.

And it’s that love that makes gearheads giddy that the event is rebounding so strongly after struggling several years during the recession.

Jack Elder and his red 1974 Camaro are there every year, good economy or no.

He interrupted a slow sojourn along Woodward to discuss Dream Cruise protocol with a reporter.

Rule No. 1, he explained, is to be seen. Rule No. 2: If Rule 1 doesn’t work, then be heard, by racing one’s engine or peeling rubber.

“I wouldn’t do it, but others like the attention, you understand,” said Elder, 43, of Berkley.

Yes, we understand.

The car lovers said they were happy to welcome Birmingham back to the fold. The chi-chi community left the Cruise in 2009 for several reasons, including the fact that cities didn’t receive any money from event sponsors.

Another happy development will be the increased presence of the Big Three.

Chrysler will display 75 vehicles — its largest showing ever at the event, said the company. Chevrolet, which is a sponsor, will boast Corvettes galore today in honor of the car’s 60th anniversary.

Ford will set up a Mustang Alley at Woodward and Nine Mile in Ferndale.

Sellers said he was happy to hear that the Big Three will be spending more money.

“This is their history,” he said about the Cruise. “It’s all about them.”

It’s also about the people who drive those cars. People like Sellers, who spent several years meticulously rebuilding his Chevy.

“I’m not the only one,” he said. “There’s a lot like me.”

And they will be congregating all day long today on one part or another of Woodward Avenue.