Classics, hot rods and lowriders, oh my

Cruisin’ Gratiot brings thousands to Eastpointe in 15th year

By: Sara Kandel | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published June 17, 2013

 From the classic cruisers that sat in the parking lot to the Cruisin’ Gratiot Idol contest inside, Cloverleaf Restaurant offered a plethora of entertainment options on cruise day June 15.

From the classic cruisers that sat in the parking lot to the Cruisin’ Gratiot Idol contest inside, Cloverleaf Restaurant offered a plethora of entertainment options on cruise day June 15.

Photo by David Wallace


Thousands of spectators flocked to Eastpointe June 15 for a day of picnicking amid classic cars and show-worthy rides at the 15th annual Cruisin’ Gratiot.

“It was a great day for the cruise,” said Cruise Coordinator Harvey Curly. “The weather held up really nice — it wasn’t too hot and it didn’t rain.”

Curly estimated that more than 145,000 spectators visited Eastpointe throughout the day to take in the 1,500 vehicles on display and cruising the strip.

“We sold about 450 lane passes, but many of the cruisers with a lane pass would go around once or twice and then park for a while,” Curly said.

Still, the strip was crowded with all types of vehicles — classic to new, original to modified — filling up the rest of Gratiot and offering folks picnicking in the median a constantly changing landscape.

It was Utica resident Jim McKeehan’s first time at the cruise. He came with friends from neighboring Roseville to show off his 1964 Mercury Comet Caliente.

“I bought it in this condition, but it took about another 10 grand into it to make it right,” 70-year-old McKeehan told inquiring spectators.

Not far down the strip, 39-year-old Mark Bencoff, of Birmingham, had his 1961 Chevy Impala on display.

“I bought it five years ago in California and brought it back here, and we totally redid the entire build from the frame up at a shop here in Detroit,” Bencoff said of his chrome-laden, three-pump hydraulic lowrider with a rear ornament that read “USO” and a license plate holder that read “Compton.”

Bencoff explained that USO is the name of his car club. It means “brother” in Samoan. As for the license-plate holder, he said his car’s not actually from Compton, but the holder is a rare find that pays tribute to what got him into lowriders in the first place.

“It’s not really from Compton, but I got into lowriding because I was into that whole thing and that license-plate holder is actually very, very rare. Bill Barnet Chevrolet was a Chevy dealer from the ‘50’s to the ‘80’s in Compton, and they went out of business years ago, and then I found that license-plate frame, and because it says ‘Compton’ on it, I thought it was pretty cool, so I had it re-chromed and repainted and put it on the car,” Bencoff said.

Next to him, 71-year-old Commerce Township resident Harve Difner was showing off his 2000 Plymouth Prowler.

“It’s one of 11,702 that were made,” Difner said. “They only made them for five years, from 1997 to 2002, and aside from the way you see it now, it has about $10,000 worth of extras on it.”

Difner redid the entire interior to add red accents to match the car’s outer paint job. Despite its rarity and expense, Difner said he drives the car regularly.

“From November to April it’s in a garage and never comes out,” Difner said. “It doesn’t see daylight until around the middle to the end of April. When I know the weather is going to be right, I bring it out and I go everywhere with it. I’ve gone to Saugatuck with it. I’ve gone to Charlevoix with it.”

From the old to the new, unique to tried-and-true, and even a few rides that inspired a chuckle or two, cruise-goers had plenty to keep them occupied. Families walked the parade route, sat for shows and explored the restaurants and stores that lined the strip.

“I think, from all reports, people seemed to have a genuinely good time,” said City Manager Steve Duchane. “It was like a big picnic with a lot of cars, and people seemed to get a pretty good sense of what the community is all about, and as a community manager, I couldn’t ask for much more.”

Duchane added that he noticed quite a few rides he wouldn’t mind owning himself, if someone else was footing the bill, but of all the cars he saw, the one that stood out the most is one that gave him a good laugh.

“There were a couple I really liked, but the one I keep thinking about is a pickup truck with a couple guys sitting in the back and it was filled with water,” Duchane said. “I got a good laugh out of that one.”

There was lots of laughter on cruise day. Despite the Gratiot traffic and busy sidewalks, the whole city seemed to have a laid-back, easygoing feel to it. To keep that vibe going strong, the cruise committee put in months of work leading up to cruise day itself.

“The whole board of directors worked very hard, and everyone just took their responsibilities and ran with them, and of course the City helped too; they couldn’t have been more wonderful to work with,” Curly said. “The 15th annual was a great year, and in a couple months we’ll get to work making the 16th annual just as great.”

As for rumors cruising around on cruise day that the 16th annual could be the beginning of the first annual Macomb County Gratiot Cruise, Curly put the kibosh on that.

“We are going to stay where we are at and we are quite happy with the size of our great cruise the way it is now, and we have no intentions of changing that,” he said. “The 16th annual will be from Eight Mile to 10 Mile right here in Eastpointe, just like always.”