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Tough Call for Car Lovers: California Dreaming or Detroit Cruising?

This weekend's Woodward Dream Cruise in Detroit and the Concours d’Elegance in California offer car lovers two ways of appreciating the automobile.
Len Katz Photography

It’s been dry and sunny in Detroit all week, but anyone living near the city’s main drag, Woodward Avenue, might have thought there were thunderstorms on the horizon. The roar was actually the sound of revving V-8 engines and will continue this weekend as the annual Woodward Dream Cruise draws as many as 1.5 million viewers.

On the other side of the continent, crowds already are building on the Monterey Peninsula for a weekend of excitement wrapped around the toney Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, considered the crowning event of the year by classic car fanciers.

The Dream Cruise and the Concours highlight two very different aspects of the automotive world – and underscore the fact that America’s love affair with the automobile has hardly diminished. But what’s a gearhead to do – unless you have a private jet ready to whisk you from one to the other?

Detroit’s gathering is a show for the masses, allowing anyone to participate. Thousands of muscle cars, hot rods, sports cars and exotics will spend the day cruising up and down the eight-lane boulevard that serves as the Motor City’s main thoroughfare.

“It gets bigger and bigger every year,” noted regular Dream Cruise fan Bob Wissman, who recalled spending plenty of time riding around with friends in their Corvettes, Camaros and Mustangs as a teenager back in the 1960s.

This will mark the 20th anniversary of an improbable event that took shape almost by accident, when a small car club in the Detroit suburb of Ferndale decided to change things up. Rather than having its members park their cars for the club’s annual gathering, organizers thought it would be more fun to cruise up and down Woodward Avenue. Word got out and almost 250,000 people showed up.

Muscle on display at last year's Woodward Dream Cruise.Len_Katz / Len Katz Photography

That number is expected to 1 million to 1.5 million this year, according to authorities, with upwards of 40,000 to 60,000 cruisers taking over Woodward Avenue. Those vehicles will be an eclectic mix of modern muscle cars, like the new 2016 Chevrolet Camaro, classic ‘60s cruisers, and even some off-the-wall automotive esoterica. Several Hollywood cars, including one of the Monkeymobiles, also are expected..

The Pebble Beach Concours is a much more elegant affair. Organizers invite only a select group of the world’s most desirable – and expensive – vehicles for display on the greens of the ritzy Pebble Beach golf course. Among the frequent participants are celebrity collectors such as Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld, and fashionista Ralph Lauren.

A 1934 Packard 1108 Twelve Dietrich Convertible Victoria, owned by Joseph & Margie Cassini III, from West Orange, New Jersey, took the “Best of Show Award” at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in Pebble Beach, Calif., on Aug. 18, 2013. The event, part of Classic Car Week on California’s Monterey Peninsula, aims to recognize and encourage proper preservation of the world’s great automobiles, judging vehicles for their historical accuracy, technical merit, style and elegance.Tom O'Neal / AP

The Sunday event, which began as a way to raise money for local charities, will bring out thousands of collectors and wannabes from around the world. Those lucky enough to be invited to show a car can only hope to go home with a trophy.

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That’s enough to get some entrants to invest more than $1 million to restore classic automobiles, which this year will include rare Bugattis, Duesenbergs and Talbot-Lagos. Longtime judge Ken Gross said a best-of-show winner could see a lavish payoff, the value of a benighted vehicle often jumping by millions of dollars.

Those who find the Concours a little too rich for their blood have plenty of other options, the Concours is the centerpiece of nearly a week of events across the Monterey Peninsula. There are secondary car shows, such as the Concorso Italiano which focuses on “La Bella Macchina,” brands like Alfa, Ferrari and Maserati.

And for those who prefer to see their classics moving, there’s the annual Monterey Motorsports Reunion. Described as a museum springing to life, it brings out race cars from as long as a century ago and turns them loose for three days of racing at the challenging Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

There are also nearly a dozen different classic car auctions, and sponsors expect they could generate as much as $100 million or more in business before they pack up their tents on Monday, marking the unofficial end of the summer car season.

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