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