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Woodward Dream Cruise: GM Designers Show Off

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 2017-08-17 Motor Trend Staff
1949-Cadillac-Coupe-de-Ville-Series-62-03.jpg Woodward Dream Cruise: GM Designers Show Off

The beauty of the Woodward Dream Cruise is that it'san excuse to embrace car culture for the full week leading up to it. And if you work for an automaker, it can be a ticket to bring your favorite project car to work and a hall pass to leave the office for the day.

The cruise might technically not be until Saturday, Aug. 19, but General Motors on Tuesday celebrated the 8th annual Design on Woodward. It is an employee enthusiasm event for the design organization.

Almost 100 cars were registered to take part, starting with a gathering of vehicles from a Model A hot rod to current Camaros and Corvettes and everything in between, brought lovingly to work by design staff. Then at noon, under police escort, a caravan made its way from GM's tech center on a 10-mile cruise to Memorial Park in Royal Oak, right on Woodward. You know you are in Detroit when motorists at blocked intersections sit back and admire instead of fuming over the short but unanticipated delay. This is the first year using Memorial Park, but it proved an idyllic lawn to park cars for the afternoon to be admired.

1970 Pontiac GTO 01 © Motor Trend Staff 1970 Pontiac GTO 01

Here are some of the cars we checked out.

© Motor Trend Staff 1949 Cadillac Coupe de Ville Series 62

Father Joe Nemecek and sons Jacob and Josh all work in GM Design. This smooooth restomodded Caddy belongs to a family friend, and the Nemeceks have helped do much of the work on it. Beneath the shaved skin (the door handles have been removed and replaced by electric latches operated from behind the flip-up taillamp), lurk many nonoriginal bits. The front suspension is from a '71 Plymouth Barracuda, the engine is a '96 Cadillac Northstar V-8 (with its top covers painted beige to match the roof), and it runs a 9.0-inch Ford rear axle. Josh says it'll do 90 mph with ease and get 18 mpg.

© Motor Trend Staff 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396

Bryan Campbell, a studio engineer with the global architectural studio, loves Chevelles and GTOs. He found this one in Michigan in 1989. It is an original SS 396, but it does not have the original engine. Campbell restored it the way he envisions it: with an LQ9 Escalade truck engine with LS heads. Like most project cars, it is still a work in progress. His current focus: an over-the-top interior.

© Motor Trend Staff 1972 Nissan Skyline GT

This stunning JDM gem has been restored almost entirely by owner Jose Gonzales, who works in the GMC truck studio. The labor of love took about five years, the last two of which were mostly spent sorting out the mechanicals. Right now it's running an L28 inline-six bored out to 3.0 liters, but he has one that's out being restored and runs an 85mm stroke crank for 3.2 liters. The car started life as a GT with flat-topped rear wheel openings, but Gonzales has rounded the arches and added GT-R style flares and has mounted BRIDE racing seats from Japan. The stunning finished product recently took home a Lion award from the Concours of America at St. John's.

© Motor Trend Staff 1999 Pontiac Trans Am Ram Air WS6 30th Anniversary Edition

Ralph DeWitt is a digital modeler working in Global Brand Identity. He has one of the 535 Pontiac Trans Am 30thAnniversary Special Edition convertibles made in Quebec before the car was discontinued. Of the 535 made, 35 were for Canada; the rest for the U.S. DeWitt has had it for five years, and he knew the previous owner. He also knows the car. He was part of the production styling team that worked on it in clay form in the mid-1990s. He was told his Ram Air Trans Am was a pace car used to carry former astronaut Buzz Aldrin around the Daytona 500 just before the car became available in 1999. The car is all stock except a modified exhaust. The badging on the back says it all: LS1-sick and twisted.

© Motor Trend Staff 1956 Chevrolet pickup truck "Silverod"

Tom Raleigh of the Advanced Design studio shows off the barn find that his younger son found in Port Huron, Michigan, 12 years ago. It has been "mildly worked on" including adding "Silverod" to the tailgate. The truck has its original steel, original gunmetal metallic paint, and a 327 with mild cam. It gets used. The original wood in the bed has been covered in landscaping material. Every year he says he will redo the wood, but it hasn't happened yet. As he makes plans to retire in Charleston, it could happen. And this could also be his last Woodward Dream Cruise in the truck that has lawn chairs in the bed for fellow cruisers to join the ride. Raleigh has had old 'Vettes and Buicks, but the truck is low maintenance, the most fun and "stupid loud" with cherry bombs. "In second it starts backfiring like a howitzer."

© Motor Trend Staff 1986 Lamborghini Jalpa

John Mack serves as Design Manager in Chevrolet's Performance Studios, and he's a big fan of Italian design. He already owned some Alfas when he set his sights on acquiring one of Carrozzeria Bertone's most quintessential designs: the mid-engine V-8 Lamborghini Jalpa. "I love Bertone's aesthetic," he says. "It's blocky and masculine where Ferraris tend to be softer and more feminine shapes." He has no plans to modify this pristine example (the 386thof 410 ever built), and he reports having comparatively few mechanical troubles with his exotic. Just some accelerator cable issues, which are mostly resolved.

© Motor Trend Staff 1963 Buick Riviera

Adam Bernard now serves as GM's associate director of competitor intelligence, but he's "grandfathered in" to Design on Woodward from his days as a design analysis manager in the 1990s, and he serves as an associate faculty member at Detroit's College for Creative Studies. So it's no wonder that when he set out to acquire a Buick Riviera, he insisted on the original—which hews most closely to former GM Design honcho Bill Mitchell's orders to Buick chief Edward Rollert to design "a cross between a Ferrari and a Rolls-Royce." He loves the first-year-only aircraft style slider controls and the accessory purse hook (a $1.25 dealer accessory).

© Motor Trend Staff 1929 Model A Hot Rod

Sculptor Todd Storrs built a roadster from a lot of parts bins. In his regular job he builds show cars and concepts for GM, which must be perfect under the auto show lights. The roadster is his therapy car, built from found parts, no rules, and is anything but perfect. He used the book Birth of Hod Roddingas his guide and started with a steering wheel and an engine, neither of which he ended up using. It is a tribute to original hot rods; an ode to speed, not beauty. It was built with six decades of car parts ground and welded to fit. It has an original patina but a small block engine that looks like a 331 V-8 engine from a '55 Cadillac. Riding in it is like going 100 mph on a wild mouse carnival ride. Storrs says. Along for the ride: a picture of Rita Hayworth tacked to the passenger-side panel.

© Motor Trend Staff 1991 GMC Syclone

Retired experimental powertrain engineer Richard Reider owns this two-door pickup built for the 1991 model year and only offered in black. He has number 2,287 of the 2,950 made, and everything is original except the boost gauge he added because the original was too hard to see. The truck chassis and body were built at the Shreveport assembly plant but then sent to ASC (American Sunroof Corporation) to get the cladding, the modified 4.3-liter turbocharged V-6, and the bespoke interior including special seats with a lumbar package that involves squeezing a ball similar to the pump on a blood pressure machine. Reider found the Syclone in Ohio six years ago using Craigslist. He had not driven it in three years, but his daughter Jen Kostrzewa works at the design center and encouraged her dad to get his historic vehicle license to take part in the cruise.

© Motor Trend Staff 1970 Pontiac GTO

The first thing that caught our eye on this baby was the almost stock-looking alloy Pontiac rally wheels. The originals were steel, often worn with trim rings, but owner Jim Ciolfi explained that YearOne Muscle Car Parts sells 8.0-by-17.0- and 9.0-by-17.0-inch billet or cast wheels that look stockish while greatly increasing the car's footprint and stance. Jim had a GTO like this in high school and acquired this one in great shape, but he has enjoyed dressing it up with carbon-fiber trim inside, white vinyl gage faces, and ambient lighting. Future plans include more carbon fiber—a front splitter and new hood vent inlets.

© Motor Trend Staff 1958 Chevrolet Apache Pickup

This 1958 Apache pickup was a neighborhood find for Kurt Ohlgren 30 years ago. It was his work truck for years. "I beat it to hell." About eight years ago he started fixing it up and did everything himself except for the bright yellow paint job. It has the original frame and body, afuel-injected Ram Jet engine, a 327 rear end, and a Mustang II front suspension as well as a New Yorker trunk.

© Motor Trend Staff 1974 AMC Javelin AMX

Dave Brigolin has "only" been working at GM since 1992 (he now does 3-D scanning and CNC machining support), but he bought this AMX in 1976. He did most of the modifications to it during the run up to its big debut at Detroit's legendary Autorama custom and hot rod show in 1982. Said modifications included an Offenhauser intake manifold, Hooker Headers, suspension mods, gold foil interior trim, and those mean wheels and drag slicks, which are mostly for show. He only drag raced it once at Detroit Dragway back in the day.

© Motor Trend Staff 1971 Chevrolet Blazer

Mike Ruby, a sculptor in GM's surfacing group, bought this beauty six years ago just because he liked the rarity and unusual nature of these removable-roof Blazers. He hasn't touched the body, but has worked his way through the suspension, brakes, carburetor, and manifold and gas tanks and added some nice headers to make that 350 burble real sweet. Thought the tires look up to the task, Mike never off-roads his baby. As for plans for further upgrades? "Well, if it ever needs a respray, I may return it to the original Hugger Orange." The sooner the better, we say!

© Motor Trend Staff 1989 Lincoln Mk V11 LSC Drift Racer

Chevy truck studio clay sculptor John Janke bought this Lincoln 10 years ago from a long-time friend and role model after admiring it for all the years he had owned it. Recently he has transformed it—with his friend's help—into a drift racer. Mods include swapping in a turbocharged 5.0 bored to 306 cubic inches and a manual transmission, welding the rear differential, fitting wheel adaptors and drift-optimized rubber, and installing racing seats. Next up on the modifications list: Front suspension control arms and custom spindles and rear suspension Panhard rod and trailing links. How has his first season of drifting gone? "I've had moments of glory, but I'm new to the sport and have a lot to learn," he says.

© Motor Trend Staff
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