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Classic and specialty cars on display along DL City Beach today

It was a little chilly last month when the first Cruise DL Night of the year was held on West Lake Drive, but that didn’t keep spectators from checking out the cars. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

It’s hard to tell what decade it is as people stroll up and down West Lake Drive, enjoying warm weather, good music, and unique automobiles parked up and down the beach.

From the newest models of sleek sports cars to vintage autos that recall days long past, there is something here to interest anyone who has a passion for cars.

With summertime rolling into the area, Cruise DL Night is back, hosting classic, restored and special-interest cars from all around the area.

“It goes back to the days when people used to come down and cruise the beach,” said Gary Thompson, a member of Midnight Cruisers, the local group responsible for bringing Cruise DL Night to the city.

The event, now in its fourth year, has seen increased interest and participation during each of the seasons it’s been put on.

“Weather permitting,” Thompson said, “We can have 100 plus cars.”

Participants park their vehicles along the beach-front section of West Lake Drive. The road becomes a one-way as people from all over lakes country and beyond come to drive or walk along the route to appreciate some of the finest automobiles local collectors have to offer.

The event draws in auto enthusiasts and collectors from many surrounding communities. Lee Swanson, another Midnight Cruisers member who was instrumental in the creation of the event, said that participants from up to a 60-mile radius drive to town to show off their cars.

The event hosts a range of vehicles, from Ford’s classic Model T’s all the way up to various new models including Ford Mustangs and Dodge Chargers.

“It’s open for anyone who wants to come” Thompson said, adding that they’ve seen a wide array of special-interest autos over the past three years.

The idea for Cruise DL Night stemmed from seeing other area communities hosting similar gatherings, and recognizing local interest for Detroit Lakes putting on an event of its own. In turn, Thompson said, they’ve influenced other small towns to hold their own events.

Thompson feels, however, that the beach-side location of this event adds something special which can’t be found in other communities. The waves, sand and air of nostalgia created as the classic cars line the beach make for a one-of-a-kind experience.

After they came up with idea to host Cruise Night in Detroit Lakes, Swanson brought the plan to the city. Detroit Lakes’ leaders have been on-board from the beginning.

“We’ve had great support from the chamber” Swanson said.

“Carrie’s out at every event,” Thompson added about Chamber of Commerce President Carrie Johnston who, he said, has shown a lot of enthusiasm for the group and the event.

The night also provides a boost for beach-front business, with attendees often stopping to eat or shop at one of the numerous establishments along Detroit Lakes Beach. A DJ provides music to add to the night’s atmosphere as onlookers drive, stroll or set up lawn chairs to watch all the activity.

Both Swanson and Thompson show their own cars at Cruise Night, and say that getting them ready and pulled from winter storage in the spring always takes some hard work.

Oil-changes and tune-ups, plus detailing and cleaning  before each event is a worthwhile labor for the two, who have each been restoring and showing cars for more than 10 years.

Thompson said he plans to roll up in a ’73 Barracuda while Swanson has a couple different options to choose from, including a ’65 Corvette and ’52 custom-restored Chevy.

Both men participate in Midnight Cruisers, and say the group welcomes anyone to come for the chance to ‘talk cars’ and cruise around the area.

“There’s no president or secretary or anything like that,” Swanson said about the group. Rather, he said, they are an informal gathering of auto- enthusiasts.

Meeting all year-round, the group has traveled to several area events, including the recent Devil’s Run, a car show and rod run held in Devil’s Lake, N.D.

Their signature event, Detroit Lakes Cruise Night, got off to a slow start this year as the first night for the event, held on May 14, saw a few snow flurries still in the air. The two anticipate that warmer weather and the start of the busy summer season will have more people coming down the beach for the next event, to be held today.

Thompson and Swanson said the event offers the opportunity to enjoy a night on the beach with music, good company and the chance to appreciate all the hard work and dedication that goes into restoring the classic cars.

They hope the event provides a fun evening out for people in the area.

“Come down and enjoy the beach, maybe stop at Zorbaz,” Thompson said.

Detroit Lakes Cruise Night takes place on the second Wednesday of every month from May to September. It begins at 4 p.m. and runs until 8:30. Anyone with a special-interest car is welcome to come and park along the beach.