Detroit — For some, restoring classic cars is just a fun hobby. For Denis Woltemate, restoring a jet black 1967 Plymouth Fury — the same kind of vehicle Detroit police drove while attempting to keep law and order during the unrest that swept the city five decades earlier — led him down a road that brought him closer to his late grandfather.
Woltemate’s grandfather, William Woltemate, was a sergeant in Detroit’s Mounted Police Department and served for 25 years, retiring in 1968.
After his grandfather died in 1998 at age 84, Woltemate stumbled upon a photo of his grandfather dressed in uniform, holding his Dalmatian named Cinders, in front of a Plymouth Fury.
“I thought it would be pretty cool if I could find a car like that,” said Woltemate, 52, of Delaware.
So five years ago, he hunted on eBay, and sure enough, he found a 1967 Plymouth Fury that he believes was driven in a Minnesota police department. He paid $5,000 to the seller in San Diego and spent another $3,000 restoring the vehicle to what it would have looked like in 1967.
To do that, Woltemate sought the help of Farmington Hills resident George Patak, a 27-year veteran of the Wayne State University and Ann Arbor police departments.
Detroit Sgt. William Woltemate poses with his dog, Cinders, in front of his 1967 Plymouth Fury police car at Rouge Park Stables in 1968. (Photo: Courtesy Denis Woltemate)
Patak won the title of “Best Restored Law Enforcement Vehicle” in 2008 and 2010 for his 1963 Plymouth Fury. Besides wearing a 1963 officer uniform while driving the car, Patak plays recordings of police calls from the area the car was assigned in Detroit 1963.
“I always wanted to be a cop ever since I was a little kid, so much so that I’d ride my bike up to the local 14th Precinct Schaefer Station, and I watched them do roll call in the parking lot at night,” said Patak, 67. “ … As a kid, these guys were my heroes, so I always wanted to restore a car like the kind my heroes drove.”
Woltemate discovered Patak through articles written about his car, and called him for advice about restoring the Fury to match the one his grandfather drove in the picture he found.
“Because of the age of the picture, it wasn't easy for me to discern whether the car was black or a really dark blue, so he helped me clear that up,” Woltemate said.
Patak also explained what kind of siren and flasher to install. A stickler for details and authenticity, he said Woltemate added few embellishments.
“The lettering on the door, I think, is a little larger than it really should be,” said Patak, describing the “Detroit Police 675134” painted in yellow on the doors.
“He put a replication of the mounted patch on the back that the Detroit officers wore, and they never had those (on the cars).”
Woltemate didn’t have many stories from his grandfather’s time in law enforcement and didn’t know why his grandfather drove a Fury when mounted officers rode horses. But Patrick Muscat could fill in the gaps.
Paul Meray loves his ’63 Ford Falcon convertible, as well he should.
It’s Venetian yellow, an optional pastel that year, with a black top and new black upholstery. The retired fire captain from Warren saw it on eBay four years ago, bought a $100 plane ticket to Oklahoma City, and drove his new old Ford home with nary a problem. Well, except for when the throttle return spring fell off, but a quick trip to an auto parts store had him back on the road the next morning.
“You don’t see many of ‘em,” he said, and passers-by on Woodward a few nights ago seemed to enjoy the car as much as Meray does. But still, in a perfect world? If money and availability were no object?
Fly away, Falcon.
Friends sit by the 1963 Ford Falcon owned by Paul Meray of Warren. (Photo: Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
Envy is as much a part of the Woodward Dream Cruise as exhaust fumes. You watch 12 hours of astonishing automobiles roll by, and heck, it’s human nature to wish you were behind the wheel instead of behind a light pole. But it turns out that even the owners of ogled vehicles would typically like to see something else in the garage — and they can describe what’s missing with precise detail.
“A 1967 Corvette,” said Meray, 65. “Sidepipes, a 427, black with a red stinger hood.”
An average weeknight leading up to Saturday’s 23rd annual main event is the best car show most cities would ever see — probably the only spot in the world where a DeLorean follows 50 feet behind a DeSoto.
The cruise has become as much a coronation as a celebration, stretching for not only miles but weeks. And it was a simple task to ask dream car drivers to describe the cars of their dreams.
John Reed of Haddon Township, New Jersey, brought his wife along in 2007 when he first came to the Dream Cruise. “How many times do we have to drive up and down this road?” she asked.
John Reed of Haddon Township, New Jersey shows the fake ID and badge that he displays with his 2008 Mustang Bullitt, based on the movie "Bullitt." (Photo: Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
Now he brings a friend, this year in a 2008 Bullitt edition Ford Mustang GT.
Reed, 63, has the almost-requisite cruise-car-owner white mustache, and the almost-requisite other cars at home: seven assorted Chevrolets spread throughout his garage and four others. But his dream car is parked someplace else.
“Marina blue ’67 Chevelle SS 396,” he said. “When I was 15, I saw it sitting in a car lot. I fell in love with the body style.”
Teenaged reverie is a common theme. “I’m just trying to relive my childhood,” said Jim Trosin of Waterford, only better and with more disposable income.
In 1999, Trosin paid $5,000 for the battered husk of a 1965 Pontiac GTO convertible. “The whole neighborhood thought I was nuts,” he said.
Five years later, doing everything himself except for the seats and top, he had a showpiece.
When Jim Trosin of Waterford paid $5,000 for the battered remnants of his 1965 Pontiac GTO, his neighbors thought he’d lost his mind. (Photo: Detroit News)
Trosin, 66, has second-generation aptitude and an engineering degree from Lawrence Tech (and a white mustache). What he nearly had, until an unsolicited deal to sell the GTO fell through last month, was a stack of unexpected cash. He knew just where to put it:
Leslie Briggs, a 46-year-old bartender from Livonia, was a double rarity — a woman piloting a cruise-worthy car along Woodward, and someone supremely, permanently satisfied with her vehicle, an all-original 1979 Pontiac Trans Am.
The friend who found it for her, 51-year-old Jeff Tomanek of Macomb Township, parked his 1980 Corvette next to the Trans Am. He has pledged the ‘Vette to his 13-year-old son, Jon, and pointed to the ideal replacement as a version of it motored north.
“A ’55 Chevy,” he said. “Blue and white, with the chrome, 427, 4:10 rear end and a four-speed.”
Leslie Briggs of Livonia owns her dream car, an all-original 1979 Pontiac Trans Am with a Smoky and the Bandit edition CB radio. (Photo: Neal Rubin / The Detroit News)
Detroiter Robert Billinger, 66, has his choice of three cars to bring to the cruise, but none of them will make the trip. “I’m going to New York tomorrow,” he said, almost apologetically.
His first car was a metal-flake-green ’63 Ford Galaxie. “Everybody had a classic back then,” he said. “We just didn’t know it.”
Now he’d like a 1969 Camaro, please, 454 engine, black with a white interior. His problem, alas, is as commonplace as his yearning: how to pay for it.
Meray, the former firefighter with the Falcon, has a plan. “Lottery tickets,” he said. “I buy them every week.”
The same day as the Dream Cruise, there’s a Powerball drawing worth $510 million. If you see him next year with the ’67 Corvette, you’ll know how it turned out.
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