Love it or lambast it, the Woodward Dream Cruise is soon to roar back into Oakland County north of Detroit.
Shiny hot rods are already zooming on Woodward Avenue, beginning to lift the curtain ahead of the third Saturday in August – when the world’s biggest one-day car event rolls back to the nation’s signature cruising highway, M-1 from Ferndale to Pontiac on Aug. 18.
Aside from the cars already burning rubber on M-1, there’s another Dream Cruise curtain-raiser soon taking place, one that’s quieter and frankly more cerebral, inside an old building in Royal Oak. It’s there you can find a mock-up of Woodward Avenue, complete with mile-road signs and white lane stripes, as well as menus and photos from the avenue’s long-gone drive-ins and other landmarks. Burgers for 20 cents, anyone?
Taken at a walk, this version of Woodward should send any cruise buff or history fan on a charming trip down memory lane. Check out the Detroit Zoo’s entrance of the 1950s, like something from an old movie, in crisp yet nostalgic black-and-white.
But that’s just the half of it. Visitors to the Royal Oak Historical Museum – inside an old city fire station, and far more polished than the usual small-town museum – can ogle gorgeous cars. Not actual cars; volunteers have set up a knockout display of fresh concept-car art, drawn by some of Detroit’s top car designers of the last 40 years.
The artists are retired now but still drawing like mad, said David McIntosh of Beverly Hills, a longtime GM designer. (Remember the sporty 1988-91 Buick Reatta? His design.) McIntosh is now active in a club of retired designers. They stay in touch to stay inspired, he said. Many lent their work to this Dream Cruise curtain-raiser.
The exhibit, at 1411 W. Webster in Royal Oak, runs Aug. 3-Sept. 15. It’s free during usual museum hours, and $10 a ticket for the fundraising preview party at 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 3 (see royaloakhistoricalsociety.com).
The artists’ theme is a type of car that always seemed to test designers’ imaginations, engineers’ limits and the public’s aversion to change: cars with rear engines.
“We sometimes call these junk in the trunk,” quipped Tom Gasser, a museum volunteer and retired BMW auto parts manager, referring to the rear-engined fantasies in the beautiful drawings, but also to the collector cars expected at the museum’s annual car show, set for 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 4.
Gasser, 68, of Royal Oak said he was thrilled to have obtained one notable rear-engine vehicle to display right inside the museum. It’s a tiny, two-seat 1958 BMW Isetta 300, whose only door is literally the entire front of the car. The Isetta is on loan from his former employer, the Eitel Dahm Motor Group of Rochester Hills.
The exhibit’s concept-car art includes idealized images of the discontinued, rear-powered Chevrolet Corvair and Pontiac Fiero, stylized views of rear-powered Ferrari and Corvette concepts, plus then-and-now views of the rear-powered Tucker Torpedo – that is, how it looked when introduced in 1948 and how it just might look today if it were still being built.
Tucker fans are celebrating the innovative but ill-fated car’s bitter-sweet 70th anniversary. It went out of production after just a year, said Steve Lehto, a lawyer in Southfield who is author of “Preston Tucker and his Battle to Build the Car of the Future,” a 2016 hardcover reissued this year in paperback. The book has a forward by car-loving comedian Jay Leno.
Production of the Tucker ended amid scandal and allegations of stock fraud in 1949, and although Tucker eventually cleared name, it was too late to save his “beautiful and ground-breaking car,” Lehto said, in a telephone interview last week from his Upper Peninsula vacation home.
In addition to the Tucker drawings, the museum will display a rare exhibit of Tucker artifacts provided by John Tucker Jr. of Ann Arbor, grandson of the namesake car’s inventor Preston Tucker, said museum curator and longtime Royal Oak resident Muriel Versagi.
Only 51 of the cars were ever built, “but we’re hoping to get a Tucker for our car show – we’re waiting to hear,” Versagi said breathlessly last week. For this small-town museum, staffed solely by volunteers, that alone would make cruising history.
Contact Bill Laitner: [email protected]
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