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Best of 2012: Patience is a virtue with vintage car club

Pleasure drive on hot day slowed by mechanical breakdowns and one slow-speed crash

Published December 25, 2012

In Vancouver, B.C., I was invited to ride along on the annual drive of the antique chapter of the Vintage Car Club of Canada.

Most of the cars were really old — horseless carriages from 100 years ago — and I was offered a seat beside the driver of a 1908 Cadillac.

It was a very hot day and it felt good to sit in the breeze of the open car, but the driver didn’t look happy when we chugged away on the 25-kilometre route around the suburbs. “It shouldn’t be making that noise,” he said, grinding a pound off the gears during a shift. “Something’s not right.”

After about 8 kilometres, he was so distracted by the clanky transmission that he didn’t notice the Model-T Ford stopped in front of us; by the time he saw it and stood on the ineffectual brakes, it was too late. The driver cursed loudly. We hit so slowly that little damage was done, but even so, his nerves were shot and he decided to head home.

I was offered a ride in a 1957 GMC truck, which went well for about another 8 kilometres, until we came across a 1932 Reo sedan, lifeless beside the road. Its driver had his head buried under the louvred panels of its hood, cursing quietly while his wife sat patiently in the shade.

“It’s the heat,” said the driver. “I forgot to open the louvres and now there’s a vapour lock in the gas line. I should have brought my 1912 Reo — it would have been fine.”

He sucked and blew and coughed and spluttered into the gas line for about 15 minutes until the sedan finally also coughed and spluttered into life. I was offered a ride in it, but decided to stick with what I knew and stayed in the ’57 for the final stretch to the end at a club member’s home.

There, after ice-cream floats, the ’57 left and I had to ask for a lift with four others in a 1911 Cadillac — it was headed back to where I’d left my 2012 car, about 9 kilometres away. The day seemed even hotter and onlookers waved at the curious old car putting slowly along the road, and then even more slowly up a long hill close to home.

In fact, we drove so slowly up the hill that we lost all power and pulled ignominiously to a halt beside the road. The driver cursed matter-of-factly and pulled a hand crank from beside the seat, then tried to turn the engine while his passengers called encouragement. But it was all in vain. After 15 minutes of useless churning and sweating, he suggested we walk the final kilometre over the hill to home.

As I was leaving, an elderly woman approached on the sidewalk, grasped the driver’s arm and exclaimed in delight about the Cadillac.

“I used to drive in a car just like this!” she cooed. “I wish I still had it.”

“Want to buy this one?” he replied. “It’s going cheap today.”

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