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Everything old is new again

History takes flight at quirky models featured at spring car auction

Published April 8, 2013

Whether your interest in classic cars is passive or you’ve got an extensive collection and money to burn, you’ll find plenty to see and do at the Toronto Spring Classic Car Auction.

The next edition of this semi-annual event runs from April 12-14 at The International Centre in Mississauga.

Terry Lobzun of auction convenor Collector Car Productions says that the event is designed to appeal to classic car fans from all walks of life and put them on even ground.

“We try to keep it to cars that you don’t have to be a millionaire to buy,” Lobzun says. “It’s fun because it’s like a car show but everything’s for sale.

“The majority of the cars, you can inspect them, sit in them, try them on, as opposed to a car show where everything’s roped off and you can’t touch anything. It’s a very interesting event.”

The auction features cars from every decade over the past 100 years. The makes on offer naturally lean heavily toward the American Big Three, but it doesn’t take much digging to find Porsches, Ferraris, Jaguars, Volkswagens, and even Toyotas and Mazdas in the mix.

Among the more quirky selections: a 1972 Harley-Davidson that has never been started; a Formula 2000 open-wheel racer from 1997; a 1992 AC Cobra once owned by former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Wendel Clark; a 2002 Ford Crown Victoria police car still painted and sporting a working light bar; and a limited-edition Pontiac Trans-Am styled after the pace car for the 1980 Indianapolis 500.

There is also an on-site flea market where history buffs can find accessories, memorabilia, books, posters, and much more.

The star of the show, though, isn’t a car at all — it’s an important piece of Canadian aviation history that’s destined for the scrap heap unless a buyer can be found.

The Gimli Glider is a Boeing 767, formerly part of Air Canada’s fleet, that was involved in a spectacular incident on July 23, 1983.

While en route from Montreal to Edmonton, the jet ran out of fuel — an investigation found that the miscalculation was due to Canada’s then-recent adoption of the metric system — and it was forced to make an emergency landing with zero power.

After calculating that the plane would not be able to reach the closest major population centre of Winnipeg, the flight crew determined that the best landing location within range was a former air force base outside Gimli, Man.

Piloting the plane at the right angle and speed to hit the runway correctly required some deft manoeuvring. Fortunately, the flight’s commanding officer, Capt. Robert Pearson, was an experienced glider pilot, which allowed him to execute some techniques in which commercial pilots are not typically trained in order to land the plane safely.

However, unbeknownst to the crew, the former RCAF Station Gimli had been converted into a motorsport park and a club racing event was under way. It was mere luck that the day’s on-track activity had been completed shortly before the beleaguered aircraft made its final descent.

Although the front landing gear failed, the plane came to a stop on the runway with no serious injuries among the 61 passengers on board. The flight crew escorted the passengers off the jet while the race teams on the ground fought fires with the extinguishers they had in their pit boxes.

Because Air Canada was owned by the government at the time, there were no celebrations and no commendations handed out in the aftermath. Pearson was demoted, and the incident was swept under the rug. The jet was quietly repaired and put back into the fleet, where it remained in service without further incident for more than 25 years.

After its final flight a few years ago, the plane was acquired by an American company that buys decommissioned aircraft and sells them for parts. When the staff there learned of the history behind the Gimli Glider, they contacted Collector Car Productions to see if the company could help the historic aircraft find a more appropriate fate.

“They were fully aware that this tail number, 604, was a very important airplane to Canadians,” Lobzun explains. “It has a lot of history to it, and that’s why they reached out to us.”

The plane itself won’t be present at the show due to the logistics required, but a video presentation will be played detailing its history before it hits the auction block. It’s estimated to sell for between $2.5-3 million.

“There are museums and individuals out west that are fully aware of the plane,” Lobzun says. “It’s a matter of finding a generous philanthropist or organization that would be interested in bringing it back to Canada and preserving its heritage.

“It could have a sad ending, but we hope that somebody’s going to come forward and at least take the aircraft and we can save it.”

Classic car auctions have unquestionably enjoyed ever-increasing popularity over the past two decades. Lobzun has a theory as to why that may be the case.

“It’s kind of an homage to a forgotten era,” he says. “You can buy a painting or a neon sign or have a Coke in a six-ounce bottle and that all brings back memories.

“But a car is like a time machine because you can put your high school sweater on and grab your sweetheart and still drive down to the drive-in or go down that country road and you’ve got the smell and the sound and the power and the feel.

“It appeals to all the senses, and it really can transport you back in time.”

The Toronto Spring Classic Car Auction runs from April 12—14 in Hall 3 of the International Centre in Mississauga. A one-day pass costs $18 and includes parking, a bidder’s card, and an auction program, and a pass for the full weekend can be purchased for $30. For more information on the location, show hours, the full lot list, and more, visit http://www.ccpauctions.com.

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