Cruising Woodward in a Super Bee proves there’s no Last Call for car passion

Eric Weiner

For the cost of the gas in the tank, plus $8 for a couple of searing-hot tacos, I enjoyed one of America’s greatest car shows this past weekend. Unlike most car shows, this one moves. It’s the Woodward Dream Cruise, an automotive Super Bowl for the everyman of Detroit. Every kind of car you can imagine—from old VW Buses to Ford Country Squires, slammed rat rods, and exotic supercars—cruise the city’s famous four-lane boulevard on this momentous Saturday each August. Onlookers can post up in a folding chair on the side of the road or, in the spirit of the day, travel down Woodward and share pavement with the cruisers. Riding a Goldwing? Driving a Geo? Doesn’t matter. At Dream Cruise there is one guiding star: run whatcha brung.

In truth, the phenomenon of cool cars cruising Woodward Avenue plays out all summer in Detroit and along the artery to the surrounding metro area. But only on the third Saturday of the month does it reach such a fever pitch, with traffic lights blinking yellow and pop-up tents dotting the side of the road. Engines seem to rev with the breeze. The rich smell of fuel and oil floods the nostrils.

2023 woodward dream cruise impala mustang
Eric Weiner

The event, which shares a weekend with the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance each year, stands in stark contrast to those moneyed happenings on the Monterey Peninsula. Having attended both events over a decade of writing about cars, I am considerably more comfortable at the Dream Cruise: I try to avoid putting on a jacket and tie unless someone is getting married, Bar/Bat Mitzvah’d, or buried. On Woodward I toss my camera over my shoulder and kneel on the grass in the median. It’s fun to walk from intersection to intersection, running across the lanes, when there is a rare break in traffic, to get a closer look at some parked car. Conversation flows among onlookers, easy chatter about the cars we saw, the ones we like, the ones we own.

I’m not alone in my affection for the Dream Cruise. Talk show legend, car collecting titan, stand-up comedian, and Hagerty columnist Jay Leno certainly can afford to fund a caviar-encrusted soirée or fifty in Monterey, but he was in Detroit on Saturday. Standing alongside Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis, inside restaurant and popular car hangout Vinsetta Garage, Leno promoted a partnership between his brand of car cleaning products and Dodge’s Direct Connection parts brand. Kuniskis had a trick up his sleeve, however, surprising Leno by yanking the silk off of the comedian’s own Demon 170—the first customer order delivered.

Leno stuck around to answer some questions, but he was eager to hit Woodward.

“I like Pebble Beach, but it’s $5000 a day,” Leno said. “[The Dream Cruise] is more egalitarian. People are eating hamburgers and hot dogs, driving Ramblers or whatever else. And it’s free! Where do you find a car show that’s free anymore? Everywhere you look—the Corvette guys have their place, over there the Dodge guys have their place, it’s great.”

In a train of other cars, we followed the Demon 170 in a bright blue Charger Super Bee. The Super Bee is based on the Scat Pack and one of Dodge’s “Last Call” models—a final run of special-edition Chargers and Challengers meant to send off the long-lived muscle cars before Dodge changes tack to electrified performance. What better way to bid farewell to America’s favorite muscle sedan than to share its 485-horsepower, 475 lb-ft, 6.4-liter Hemi with adoring Detroiters?

Eric Weiner

For 2023, the Last Call Super Bee comes from the factory with a hockey bag of performance extras: Carved into the hood are twin heat extractors, a functional scoop, and a pair of old-school pins. Adaptive dampers are also standard, capable of shifting weight balance to the rear to maximize the car’s traction when it engages Drag Mode. Other standard hardware includes four-piston front brakes wrapped around 20×9.5-inch wheels and 275-section Nexen drag radials. All told, with a couple of interior option packages, the window sticker reads just shy of $64,000. Few car companies can sell a car on a platform this dated, charge this much, and nonetheless thrill their customers to no end. One gets the sense Dodge is as bummed as we are for the era to be over, so the cars might as well rip a smoky burnout while shuffling off their mortal coils.

Judging by just how many Chargers and Challengers we saw cruising Woodward, we’ll be seeing these cars on the road for years to come. Dodge has long been a source of wonderful color schemes, and our electric B5 Blue Charger floated through intersections among a sea of Plum Crazy purple, Sublime neon-green, and Go Mango orange.

Hearing them is a guarantee, too. Nothing delights yet terrifies small children like the bark of a big Hemi revving at a red light, then idling with menace, as if agitated at the inconvenience. And putting your foot into the throttle never gets old—this Scat Pack motor feels and sounds like it wants to devour everything in the hood scoop’s path. You become rubber; everything else is mere road.

woodward 2023 green challenger
Eric Weiner

The ride is comfortable. The car will turn, when it pleases the court, albeit with palpable weight transfer. Your sense of the front end is decent at best, and on curvier roads it’s never entirely obvious when and how the chassis will settle. None of that is enough to dissuade you from chasing the rev limiter of whatever gear shows on the instrument cluster. The transmission will happily hold gears if you select manual mode via the shift paddles, which were pleasantly cool and metallic to the touch on that particular, surprisingly chill August morning. Seats are a touch firm and feel rather flat, but they are impressively wide and offer plenty of lateral movement. An Abraham Lincoln impersonator wouldn’t crush his hat with all the room under the roof.

Big, comfy, thunderous muscle sedans like this—should they endure—may never provide these same sensations. Leno spoke for many Mopar fans when he quoted Mark Twain: “I’m in favor of progress; it’s change I don’t like.”

He jokes, yet Leno insists that we shouldn’t fear the future: “EVs can keep cars like [the Demon 170] alive. They allow for the pressure to come off them,” he said.

Down the road, too, there must still be great performance cars to which we can look forward.

“When we [Americans] put our mind to something, we can do it quick. I remember not being able to go outside in L.A. in the 1970s, not being able to see the mountains,” Leno said. “Now, I can see the mountains.”

Up and down Woodward Avenue, and from the Chesapeake to Monterey Bay, it’s last call for the Dodge Charger. It will be missed but, we hope, not mourned.




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    Even Jay Leno can be a sellout to the EV crowd. He can see the mountains from LA? That is with millions of ICE running around! Without the glorious engine sounds, trucks, cars and motorcycles, the culture is taking a hit that it cannot recover from.

    If a person truly believes what he/she says, is the person still a sellout? Jay may really believe what he says about EV’s – or he may not.

    Jay can see the mountains, despite the millions of ICE vehicles running around, because California has long led the nation in ICE emission controls. I’ve seen film footage of LA streets in the 1940’s and ’60’s, and the sky is so hazy you can’t see the LA City Hall, the city’s tallest building — at a time when there were millions fewer ICE vehicles in the LA basin. But each one spewed out as many pollutants as hundreds of cars today.

    I think the vehicle industry’s lemming-like rush into all things electric is enormously foolish (and already appears to be biting them in their collective ass), but if we’re goring to maintain personal mobility, future vehicles are going to be very different from the ones we’ve known for the last 100 years. The challenge we should be focusing on is how we can preserve the cars and culture of the ICE era — and transmit that enthusiasm to future generations.

    Woodward is probably the best cruise in the Midwest, maybe the entire country. You will see anything and everything actually driving on Woodward between Detroit and Pontiac, plus many, many cars parked in every lot and strip mall along the way. If you like actually driving your vehicle, this is the cruise to make.

    Sorry, but I’m going with Mike on this one. A real, true Super Bee has only 2 doors, and a very bad attitude. I’m proud to say I own one, Black, stick shift, Hemi powered, fast and very loud, exactly as they were intended to be.

    All you guys sniveling sound like the old guys back when the first Automobile came on the scene. “They will never replace a horse” We will survive this just like everything else in the last 100 years and still have a planet to live on and air to breath. I’ve been a car lover all my life but if it helps the planet to survive and my Grandchildren and their children have good air to breath I can sacrifice my gasoline powered car.

    Celebrate Good Times! EVs are coming, so what? I’ll never tempt a Tesla in my Corvette, but I’ll never buy one either. As W. C. Fields once said, “Rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated.” Jean Shepherd, writing in Car and Driver, said upon the First Arab Fuel Crisis, “It’s the morning after the greatest party of all time.”

    And yet, here we are, 50 years later, with the Voodoo Fords, the Hellcats, the omnipotent LS motors all milking more HPs out of ICEs than we ever thought possible. And tailpipe emissions are actually cleaner than LA’s usual atmosphere. No wonder you can see Mt. Wilson.

    At the turn of the 20th century horses were used to plow fields, run agricultural equipment, provide transportation and numerous other marginally humane duties. Now horses are pampered pets, treated as the magnificent beasts they are. The same will be true of our beloved petroleum fueled machines, the evidence is on the streets of Detroit.

    Long live the Motor City! Long live American Muscle!

    Much like in the late 50’s and 60’s, Woodward is a great place to get an education and see creativity and art in action. I’m in my mid 50’s, and have to laugh at, and sometimes be annoyed by, the kids with their burble tunes that pop and spit on decel, and brand new Camaro’s, Mustang’s and WRx’s that are so loud, you can’t hear yourself think. Many, many folks feel the need to draw attention to themselves which is much of what Woodward is about, and then there’s many others that feel the same need, but it’s more subtle. There are more than a few seriously fast cars there that you would never guess were that fast. There’s an art to the sleeper. Build a car that looks and sounds too slow, and you’ll never get a second look. Build a car that looks like you want it to be fast, but it obviously isn’t, but it actually is. That makes for some fun. Of course, there’s everything on Woodward, and everyone has a different idea and story, so everyone can participate and appreciate and learn.

    While the horsepower and comfort of modern vehicle is enticing (I have my own modern muscle car – 2005 Dodge Magnum R/T), there is nothing like the raw horsepower of a 60’s or 70’s muscle car (I won’t include my slightly modified 1980 360 powered Diplomat Coupe). These are cars you have to drive, pay attention to the road and your surroundings. Enough semi-muffled exhaust to drown out the best of stereos and leave twin patches of newly burned rubber. My 1970 road runner convertible and my wife’s 1973 Charger SE 440 may lack the creature comforts and refinements that new muscle has, but still are a blast to drive.
    Electronics have given us 1,000+ horsepower and torque, killer HVAC and stereo systems, but lack the rawness of a carburetor and vacuum adjusted timing. EVs maybe the wave of the future, but they lack the heart and soul of a muscle car. Count me out on those. We do Carlisle every July without fail, to commiserate with our fellow Mopar people. Woodward is a bucket list item for us. Maybe one day…..

    You may one day get to the Cruise…and enjoy it. Or wish you had a time machine. For me, the first few years, beginning in the mid ’90’s I recall, were a lot of fun. (Speaking as a “sightseer”.

    The Woodward cruise is also a bucket list item for my wife and I, has been for quite some time. Living quite a distance away, have only made the trip over there to drive Woodward once last summer on a quiet and sunny Sunday morning, just to get away and drive over there to see the sights. It was almost like a private cruise on Woodward that morning, traffic was light, could easily stop to take pictures along the way, all the way from Pontiac to Detroit and back. One day we’ll make the cruise in August.
    Very much enjoy reading articles like this one and also the comments. Don’t own an old muscle car but a nearly 40 year old well cared for Pontiac with a larger engine installed for better performance and fun.
    Great article!

    I think Chrysler is making a big mistake in ending the Charger and Challenger, without a proven EV replacement ready. And, the growth in the EV market has softened a bit, at least for now; they may regret not having much of anything to sell, except for disguised Fiats and pickups/SUV’s. Guess we will see…

    I’m waiting for an EV I love. It’s not here yet, particularly with the limited support infrastructure we have now-the lightening fast top-offs now touted require a FCDC Charger, which make up only a small percentage of public chargers. Once they sort that, and the nation’s electric grid in general, it’s game on.
    I love my old cars for what they are, and my new cars for what they are. I see no reason an EV will be different.

    Stellantis did not buy Fiat Chrysler for its car line. They wanted Ram and Jeep. Fiat abandoned Dodge when it spun the trucks to the Ram brand.
    I believe Dodge is dead. The doctor just hasn’t yet confirmed a time of death. Probably the day the last 300/Charger/Challenger rolls off the Brampton assembly line.

    The 1st time I was at the D/C, I was with the Mercury Club with my ’57 Merc and we had a slightly elevated parking lot for us for a great view. I am watching all the wonderful things going by when I hear cheering from up the road coming toward us. I’m wondering what could get this crowd on its feet after watching army tanks, city buses full of revelers, station wagons with fishing boats on trailers, even the MonkeeMobile, just every manner of modified/restored/treasured vehicle going by.

    And then it got to us, the Bluesmobile, with Jake and Elwood inside!

    I cheered also!!

    Most certainly not! There were other Chargers aplenty, plus Impala SS, Marauder, many Crown Vics, Chevrolet SS, and a LOT of Cadillacs.

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