Detroit s Woodward Avenue was America s center of gravity for cruising and street racing in the '50s and '60s. Its widely paved surfaces with long sections of arrow-straight road between traffic signals provided the ideal location for stop light street racing and cruising action. Woodward even became the unofficial test track for the profusion of hot factory iron churned out by Detroit s engineers. If you lived in the Detroit area in the '60s and wanted to drag race Woodward Avenue was the place to go.
Woodward Avenue: Cruising the Legendary Strip is filled with stories from the people who cruised and raced Woodward in that wonderful era. Also featured are the clandestine and not-so-clandestine efforts by the factories to build cars that the Woodward crowd would buy and race. Woodward Avenue includes everything that surrounded Woodward s action, including Detroit s legendary DJs who provided the cruisers' musical soundtrack, the hang-outs and drive-ins, the high-performance new car dealerships that provided the cars, and the legendary speed shops that provided the hot rod parts.
Excerpt from book's foreword by Eric Dahlquist, former Hot Rod Magazine editor
The same set of cars would race three, four or five times then peel off and go south down Woodward the other direction, matching up with the same or different cars and do it all over again. Once the retail shops along the streets closed there was little normal traffic. Detroit is a working man s town, so most of the regular citizens were home finishing dinner, helping their kids with homework or zeroed-in on prime-time television. By default, the racers were left to themselves. Since Woodward bisected all these various small towns and municipalities, each with their own police force, the jurisdictions were limited and police patrols and routes were known and predictable. Police presence seemed minimal at best on this night.
Still, Detroit had always had hot cars, things moved fast here, people thought fast. The story is told that when Ed Cole became president of GM, he had the elevators speeded up so employees wouldn t waste so much time going from floor to floor. To the engineers who designed them and the marketers who peddled them, Woodward was a place to stretch out their legs on their way across town, measure their creations. The Big Three had its proving grounds, but the real crucible of market competition now was out on the street where life was unpredictable and reputations were made.
The first cars we raced were SS Chevelles and GTOs, maybe an Olds 4-4-2. The Hemi blew the m away like King-Kong on the Empire State Building swatting those pesky bi-planes. It was shooting fish in a barrel. 409 Chevys, 406 Fords, even what had to be a 350hp, 327 Chevy II four-speed, one of the fastest sleeper cars of the day. It didn t matter . . . you d slap the accelerator and the Coronet would rocket launch.
On and on we raced, baiting on anyone with enough guts to try. Eventually, we worked into the middle of a whole jockeying pack of 8-10 cars we toyed with the competition as different cars gave us a shot. Drivers would slide alongside and yell, What the hell is in that thing? Stock came the reply. The Dodge Boys had carelessly forgotten the correct badging so the engine was denoted as a 383.
This literally went on for hours. Like Bruce Miller s Endless Summer, you became hooked on the next wave, the next challenge, the next high. Just to hear the Hemi dual quad 3140 Carter s AFBs cramming all that cool Michigan air through their throats, the TorqueFlite slamming into second gear one more time with a sound of rubber so loud it scared you. ... Read more
Customer Reviews (5)
My husband and I met at Teds in 1965. He was driving a red 1964 GTO convertible (which he still owns). I can still picture it now...Woodward Avenue rekindled all the wonderful memories of Woodward in the 1960s. This is not a good book, it's a GREAT BOOK. If you cruised or street raced on any street in any city in the 1960s, you'll love it!!A must buy!
Wood Avenue: Disneyland for an eighteen year old
I just finished reading Robert Genat's new book, "Woodward Avenue: Cruising the Legendary Strip" and have to say it's another home run for this author. His ability to speak intelligently to both an audience that lived this strip in the sixties or never came within a thousand miles of it makes for "can't put it down" reading-again. It really added up the sum of all the parts, including the kids (and adults), the cars and the dealers who provided them, the drag strips and the music that are still part of our adolescent dream. His introduction could have been written by any one of a million young men during their coming of age years. I know I'll be getting this book out before every Woodward Cruise and nights in between. Congratulations, Mr. Genat!
M 1 Review
"Been there...did that". Loved the book for the mind jogging information and great pictures. It felt like I was back there on Woodward in the '60s. I don't think this was supposed to be a technical treatise but a factual nostalgic ride back on the old street. I have been to all 16 Woodward cruises with a few of my cars. Everyone I talk to has had great memories revived because of the book.
Can't wait for volume #2.
Not For Historic Value
The book had interviews with people who did not live or breath Woodward Ave. This book does not give a factual enough account of the real Woodward. Better readers would be better off reading the article by Brock Yates in Car and Driver published in 1967 called "Street Racing and one from Esquire Magazine published in 1969 called "Gaining Respect On Woodward". There where several other articles by those who rode along with some of the execuitves and "Hot Shoes" of Woodward.
I grow up on Detroit's Northwest side near Woodward and Livernois between 6 and 7 Mile during the 50's and early '60's. This was an area that some of the most active Woodward Racers came from, The Mumford High school area.
I went to school with many of the kids whose fathers where either executives at one of the big three or where tier one suppliers. They always had the latest speed equiptment on their cars. Even if it was a one off. I also had several competitive cars of my own through the years 1967 through 1976. One of my freinds family owned Detroit Recapping that prduced the Good Year Tires. Kurt Kenny was the first to get a 60 Series tire on his '69 Road Runner. They were being made for OEM only and here was Kurt with the only set on a Mopar.
My family owned several auto parts stores with machine shops (even one on Woodward), a tire store on 8 Mile near Woodward, and gas station. My father being the largest warehouse distributor to many of the Detroit area auto parts stores. If I didn't grow up with the racers I would I meet them when I spent time at our stores or visiting our customer stores. Like Berkley Auto Electric, or Barry Robotnick who competes in the Masters Engine Builders competition building alot of horsepower from Ford FE blocks.
In the 1990's we bought the inventory of H and L, Hollywood Hot Rod before Norm, the owner, went out of business. Great Lakes Warehouse, who suppiled the hot rod parts to many of the local stores was bought up by Automotive Replacement Parts Co in Detroit (ARPCO, a company my father was affilated with, around the late 1980's. A few years later ARPCO was bought out by Auto Wares in Grand Rapids.
Some of the early hot rod shops were in Highland Park just off Woodward that opened in the late 1940's. Including our Highland Park store on Woodward near Boston Blvd.
Robert missed the real racers. Dave Kanters, best remember from AMC team of Maskin and Kanters. Dave owned the Shell station that every one now flocks to called Sam's Shell just above 13 Mile Rd. Richard Maskin owns Dart Heads and employeed Dick Arrons and George Delorean up until a few months ago. Art "the Dart" Kosins who family funded Maskin and named the place after Art's nick name. Art's brother Terry "Peanuts" was one of the characters in Brock Yates artcle. Randy Adams, whose father was part of the ad agency MacManus, John and Adman raced the only 1969 Pontiac Trans Am with a Ram Air IV ordered up by Jim Wangers for them. You Had Steve Mair, whose father was General Motors VP Alex Mair, had a 1070 Chevelle Big Block Chevy all aluminum block set up by GM engineering that pulled train lengths on Jimmy Addison. Mike Magary who ran a '69 COPO Camaro all aluminum big block with Tunnel Ramwould consistanly beat Jimmy Addison. (Jimmy admitted to these two loses and several others in magazines and in person before his death) Mopar Magazine had an interview with Addison about Magary some years ago. Car Craft did a short article on the Camaro. You had Mike Fons and several other "Professional" with '56 and '57 Corvettes that Addison wouldn't go near. Franie Ulbrick in the ex- Jim Wangers 1968 Firebird aka the "Black Bird" beat Jimmy. The Firebird was the subject of "Popular HOT Rodding" in 1971 and in "Super Stock and Drag Illis." in 1972.The list of "Real" racers goes on and on and fast cars goes on and on. No car on Woodward was ever unbeatable.
I even raced Dick Teaque, Head of AMC Design on Northwestern Hwy and beat him. He was driving the red AMX III. Dick lived in Franklin and would accompany his son's on Woodward to do market research. You had John "The Cheater" Politzer who drove for Jim Wangers and who was the Geeto Tiger "Mystery" Tiger. John would also drive for Wally Booth. John was the main subject of Brock Yates' 1967 "Car and Driver" article. John had several of his own highly competitive cars. John Greenwood, Bob Shafer, Al Ekstrad,and many many more would be out there. Most are still alive and have a more colorful story to tell than some guy from an out lying suburban city that went to Woodward a couple of times per year.
There is a picture at Detroit Dragway from 1962 with four cars coming off the line. Those where the "Hot Shoes" from Woodward. Bill Sidewell, '61 Catalina, Jim Wangers '62 Royal Race Car, Norm Ruby '61 Ford, and I can't remember the guy with the 409 '62 Chevy.
Without the manes and the reason the picture means little then racing four across at Detroit Dragway.
The had a side bar about the "Urban Legend" of "If You Could Beat Me You Could ... Me" on the back of some Vette's and Camaro's was in fact Vince Piggin's daughter. Vince was a head of COPO, special order cars, race cars, fleet cars etc. His daughter car went through engineering. I believe her name was Cindy. She would take the cars to Detroit Dragway as well.
We ran mostly Woodward and Northwestern HWY (I696) on Thursday nights. The original High End Club guys from the '50's still meet to this day every Thursday at the Big Boy on Telegraph Rd near 15 Mile in Bloomfield Twp. In the early years it was a group made mainly of kids from the wealthier neighborhoods of Northwest Detroit around Mumford HS. (Palmer Woods, Sherwood Forest, Palmer Park)and Rosedale Park. After the 1967 riots most moved to Southfield, Huntington Woods, Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills and Twp. Many of these Suburbs lined Woodward. Everyone was an ear shot from Woodward.
The book discussed Northwood Shopping Center. A friend of mine's dad, Eugene Sloan, owned many of the Suburban Detroit movie theaters and built Northwood Shopping Center in the 1950's as the first strip mall. They did not have an out building Jack-In The Box on the lot as discribed in the book.
After the 1969 Memorial Park riot in Royal Oak, over a baseball game, is when the Royal Oak City Counsel cracked down on kids gathering in the drive-ins. You could stand out side your car or they could ticket you for loitering. That is when all of the drive-ins became primarly sit downs. Many closed their doors.
The book inaccurately talked about the restaurants you came across on Woodward. The first Drive In North of 10 Mile Rd on the East side was a Big Boy than Totem Pole. That is not counting resturants south of there like the popular Hedges Wig Wom. There were many many more popular Drive Ins and restaurants. There was no Biff's on Woodward at maple (15 Mile Rd). There where two Biff's on Woodward. One at 6 Mile and the other was attached to a motel at 11 1/2 Mile Rd. The motel one still stands as Monte's Grill. I have no idea where a third one would have been in Birmingham. There was one at Telegraph and 15 Mile Rd.
We never had a special restaurant that we hung out at and never heard of any one of them being territorial to any other High School as discribed in the book. There where more than 30 different restaurants that ran up and down Woodward. The book gave the wrong inpression and locations of the few it did mention. We would also race/cruise from 8 Mile through Ferndale which at that time had several dealerships, Olds, Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge and Pontiac. There was parking on the median island in the '50 - '70's where we could watch the action or go after cars we would want to race. The Radio City theater was just north of 9 Mile and 1967-'68 played the movie "Bullett" which many guys had it timed to catch the street scene than hit Woodward.The "Serious Racers", big dogs hung out at Dans' Big Town, just north of 13 Mile Rd.
These Northwest suburban families had a lot of dispossible income and bought their kids not only the basic GTO, SS or GTX . They allowed them to go out and purchase performance equiptment. Or even put in a 427, 454's, Hemi's, 440's and 428's etc. Bore and stroke them. Booth and Aaron's, Holbrook and Cornell's balanceing was a busy places. The new car Dealerships like Ace Wilson's Royal would put fully blue printed 421 and 428's into GTO's.
Woodward had N&S, which later Gratiot Auto Supply took over in 1971. Custom Speed Enterprises opened a store south of 13 Mile Rd. Shorts Auto Parts open a store on Woodward north of 11 Mile and another north of 9 Mile Rd. You had Booth and Arrons a little over one mile west of Woodward on 12 Mile Rd. Down the street was Berkley Auto Electric and Midwest Auto Supply.
The Chapter on the Dealerships did not really show all those on Woodward. Nor all of the High Performance ones. They missed the open house that Ford Total Performance put on at Stark Hickey West in 1968. Ford tried to copy Ace Wilson's Royal Pontiac's open houses. (By the way Ace sold Royal in Apri/May 1969, than in approx. 1973 to Fresard not as discribed in the book)
There where two Pontiac Dealerships on Woodward: Wilson Pontiac, Cadillac at Quarton/Big Beaver(16 Mile) Not realated to Ace Wilson's who was on Main St. in Royal Oak, and Higgins Pontiac on Woodward north of 9 Mile. There was also Mason Chrysler Plymouth who orginal sponsored the Ram Chargers, at Woodward and 10 Mile Rd next to a Red Barn Resturant, in front of the Zoo.
Bottom line. I was greatly dissapointed with this books lack of real research..... it seemed to be a rush job and missed much of the "REAL" Woodward. While the idea of including popular radio stations, D.J.'s, auto supply stores and high performance dealerships was a good one. The accuracy and time lines were not well executed. There needed to be more of the peolpe mentioned above, who regularly ran Woodward to be interviewed.
excellent book. I am in my 60s and moved ot the Detroit area in 1984, but I followed (and dreamed) the Woodward ave scene for many years. This book, for a brief time brought me back, and whether you experienced it first hand or not, you will feel like you are there.
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