Cruisin’ Woodward: My First Time

 

By: Steve Magnante

 

Though I currently live in rural Massachusetts, I spent sixteen years in Los Angeles. Eight of my years there involved serving as Technical Editor for Hot Rod magazine where I had a 31 mile daily commute from my home in El Monte to the Petersen Publishing complex at 6420 Wilshire Blvd., on the border of Beverly Hills. Well, you’ve probably heard all about L.A. traffic and I’m here to tell you it’s all true. My daily commute to the office – one way – took two hours. Add it up, that’s four hours a day times five days a week. Yes, I spent twenty hours in my car every week just getting to and from work.

 

So when I was immersed in Woodward cruising traffic I had an immediate sense of deja-vu. But….just as quickly as it hit, it passed and I was more taken by the thought: “This is one traffic jam I want to be in!” Seriously,, each block was a history lesson in American auto production. I saw at least one of virtually every car made in the U.S.A. on those slow, easy rides up and down Woodward Avenue.

 

What really struck me was how the cruisers were incredibly courteous to one another. No tempers flared, everybody seemed to be enjoying the process of idling along at between 5 and 15 mph, open windows encouraging car-to-car meet and greets between car owners of every stripe. It truly was a dream (to borrow part of the event’s official name).

 

I also recalled a near-miss regarding the Woodward cruise from my days at Hot Rod. Back around 2001, I was initially assigned by my editor to travel to Woodward and produce a magazine feature story to appear in the pages of Hot Rod. I must admit, having heard that the event stretched out over 14 miles, I was intimidated and perplexed by the daunting task of photographing every element – and not leaving something important out. In the end, I had to make a last minute trip to a race and another writer was assigned the Woodward story. I was somehow relieved since I wasn’t sure how to give full coverage without the aid of a helicopter or flying shoes.

 

Happily, for this, my first boots-down trip to Woodward, my sponsor was Dodge, which hired me to host a number of video clips to be shown on redlinedodge.com. My home base was the expansive (and I hear quite expensive) lot at the corner of Woodward and Thirteen Mile. When I wasn’t driving the cruise route with the Dodge video team and Mark Prior’s graciously-loaned ’70 Polara convertible, I stayed put at the Dodge display, interviewing lots of folks about their Mopar collector cars.

 

The highlight interview for me was having the honor of conversing with three members of The Ramchargers; John Wehrly, Dick Skoglund and Dave Rockwell, on stage at 1:30 on Saturday afternoon. Though I was born in July of 1964 – the same month that the 426 Hemi began making noises at the drag strip – I missed out on the muscle car era. But that didn’t stop me from becoming a sponge at age 10. I bought stacks of vintage car magazines and fed my head. One area of interest was The Ramchargers – the first factory drag team in U.S. history. And there I was interviewing three of its members…for Dodge, no less!

 

Oh, before I go, many folks ask me if I’m a Chevy guy, or a Ford guy or a Mopar guy. To be honest, I love ‘em all. It’s impossible not to learn to respect solid performance engineering – regardless of its origin. That said, I always conclude by admitting that “Chrysler products are closest to my core”. That’s been true since I was a 10 year old reading about Hemi ‘Cudas, Charger Daytonas and Max Wedge Polaras. So while I can certainly appreciate a Boss 302 Mustang or a Tri-Power GTO, Mopar muscle machinery always struck me as being the most serious. I still see it today with the Third Generation Hemi engine program (though something must be done to counter the supercharged Camaro ZL1 and Mustang GT500). No doubt The Underground has a solution brewing as I type these words. We’ll stay tuned! Until next time, if you’re able, carve out a week next August to attend the big cruise on Woodward. It truly is one traffic jam you’ll be happy to be part of! –Steve Magnante

 

Steve Magnante is most frequently seen on stage providing live, on-stage vehicle commentary during the Barrett-Jackson collector car auctions on Speed TV and has been an automotive journalist for the past 20 years. His work has appeared frequently in enthusiast publications like Hot Rod, Car Craft and Mopar Muscle