The Woodward Dream Cruise, now in its silver anniversary year, isn't just the biggest one-day car event in the world, it's an opportunity for the domestic automakers to strut their stuff in front of the home crowd. The big North American International Auto Show held at Cobo Hall is mostly a corporate affair, put on mostly for the benefit of the media, not the average car enthusiast. The Woodward Dream Cruise, on the other hand, is for Detroit area car guys and gals, not suits.
Though it is officially just a Saturday-only affair, the Dream Cruise has spread out over the week before the event, with both spectators and cruisers lining Woodward earlier in the week.
Of course, being one of the biggest car events in the world means that there is going to be media coverage, and to accommodate journalists and press photographers, Ford Motor Company rented a restaurant in the heart of the Cruise route on Woodward and is calling it the Ford Media Clubhouse.
To entertain the assembled journalists, Ford Performance brought out some of the company's sportiest vehicles, both contemporary and historic, including a couple of new Ford GT supercars, a 2003 Ford GT, various assorted historic Mustang Cobras and Shelbys, the new Mustang-bodied NASCAR racer that Ford will be campaigning in that series, a NHRA Cobra Jet drag racers, and a well-worn Shelby GT500 development mule. Of course, there were also a variety of new Mustang Shelbys in both GT500 and GT350 forms and a deep green Mustang Bullitt. Ford also displayed the 10-millionth Mustang made. Eight-figure production numbers typically indicate a very long production life, as with the VW Beetle and Ford's own Model T.
There weren't just static displays. Ford also had some cool cars to test drive, including a very clean, vintage first-generation Mustang supplied by Hagerty, a Bullitt, a GT350, and two Mustang GTs—a coupe and a convertible. I eventually got a chance to check out the 2019 Mustang Shelby GT350 in the paddock, which was being driven when I arrived.
At the time, I had my choice of either a Mustang GT coupe with a stick shift or a bright orange convertible GT with an automaker. My daily driver has a stick, so it's no big deal to me, and besides, it was a beautiful, sunny summer afternoon, so I opted for the ragtop. As I pulled onto Woodward and turned on the audio system, Elvin Bishop's Big Fun Trio’s Keep On Rollin’ started playing on the satellite radio. The song is filled with driving metaphors, confirming that the convertible was the correct choice.
I just took a short cruise up Woodward and back because I didn't want to miss the highlight of the day's activities, the teardown of the supercharged 760-horsepower V-8 engine that powers the all-new GT500.
Engines for the Shelby Mustangs are individually built by two-person teams on a dedicated assembly line at Ford's Romeo, Michigan, engine plant. Greg Coleman, senior technician at the Romeo facility, brought two of his highly skilled techs, Mike Walker and Adam Zdanowski, and a production GT500 engine, fresh from the assembly line. Walker and Zdanowski proceeded to start taking the motor apart, piece by piece. One by one, the jewel-like parts were stored on a nearby rolling cart. The two men worked in balletic synchronization, and in a little more than a half-hour they had the motor disassembled down to the short block. While they didn't work at the frenetic pace with which you might see engines being rebuilt between rounds at an NHRA Top Fuel event, it was still an impressive demonstration of the skills of Ford workers—or at least the ones chosen to work on a specialty product. People who aren't highly skilled or responsible don't get those kinds of positions in the first place.
Although reassembly was scheduled for the next day, the technicians apparently like to stay in practice. Coleman told me that in his spare time he builds hi-po versions of Ford's historic Windsor V-8. After most of the journalists and photographers left, the techs put the engine back together, telling me that they'll have plenty of time to take it apart again before the next presentation. Maybe I’ll stick around for another mesmerizing lesson.