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Detroit Week: 'Motor City' Forges Its Future As It Celebrates Its Past

1.5 million people gather for "The Mother of All Car Meets"

A little over two years ago, the U.S. auto industry was in free-fall, worse than today's stock market. Both General Motors and Chrysler were in bankruptcy and on the receiving end of unpopular government bailouts. Parts companies were in bad shape too, feeling the pain from the automakers they sell to.

Today, however, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, despite the gyrations of the stock market and threat of a double-dip Recession, are on solid ground, earning billions and restructured in such a way as to withstand whatever comes next in the economy.

Late August in Southeast Michigan for the last fifteen years has been a time to celebrate its past -- the past that made so many people think two years ago that the auto companies were worth saving from the sledge hammer of uncontrolled bankruptcy and private equity fund vultures that would have picked the companies clean of worthwhile assets and cut hundred of thousands of jobs in the process.

The Woodward Dream Cruise has become an annual tailgate party around Detroit, a gathering of some 1.5 million people and 40,000-plus classic cars. Woodward Avenue is an artery that begins on the Detroit River in the shadows of the GM headquarters building, and runs north through the suburbs. The thoroughfare this week has seen a parade of classic collectible Chevy Corvettes, as well as brand new Chevy plug-in electric Volts as the storied American brand celebrates its 100th anniversary.

But even as GM, Ford and Chrysler show off some of their new wares to the public, the real attention is on the vehicles of years gone by: classic designs of vehicles that are still sold today, such as Ford Mustangs, Dodge Challengers, Chevy Camaros, Jeep Wranglers, Chryslers and Lincolns; as well as examples of cars and brands that have become museum pieces, such as Oldsmobiles, Plymouths, Mercuries, Packards, Hudsons, Studebakers, Crosleys, Nashes, LaSalles, Kaisers.

The Woodward Dream Cruise has become the Mother of all classic car weekends. With chrome, horsepower, tailfins, convertible tops and growling engines in abundance, it is an emotional reminder of the love and pride that most Americans feel for their auto industries. Germans, Italians, Japanese and Brits feel much the same about their automotive history.

The difference between those countries and the U.S., though, is that you tend to find more love for classic American automobiles abroad than you find for foreign cars in America. One of the biggest worldwide fan clubs for Jeep, for example, is in Germany. Cadillacs from the 1960s commonly turn up at classic car meets in England. Classic Fords, of course, are part of Europe and Australia's automotive history and past as they have been sold in those markets for decades.

There are some foreign makes found at the Dream Cruise, mostly Volkswagens, BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes. A drive up the avenue this week also spotted a handful of Saabs, Alfa Romeos, Jaguars, Volvos, Minis, MGs, Triumphs and Sunbeams. There are few Japanese cars -- a scan through the thousands of cars assembled this week before the big weekend of celebrations revealed a few Toyota Land Cruisers from the 1970s and a Datsun (the name Nissan used when it launched in the U.S.) Z sports cars.

AOL Autos and Autoblog this week will be honoring the past and present of the U.S. auto industry by covering the Dream Cruise and offering other coverage of "The Motor City," what it does, and what it has done for decades. The city of Detroit has gone through decades of economic struggle; first as middle class families fled the city for the suburbs and in the last few years as the auto industry in southeast Michigan shrunk, impacting the whole region.

But this is "Detroit Week" at AOL Autos where we will be celebrating and spotlighting the great design and know-how that has come out of the industry here, as well as some of the people who make it "The Motor City."

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