Collecting, restoring and driving vintage cars is more than a hobby, it’s a passion.
At Hot July Nights this year, car enthusiasts of all kinds flocked to 100 Mile House to show off their favourite rides from the 1920s up to the 1990s. Every one of them had their own stories and reasons for being a part of the hot rod community.
Longtime 100 Mile House Cruzers Car Club member Jim Williscroft said that hot rods get into your blood. For him, the vintage car scene is more about the camaraderie he feels with his fellow car enthusiasts than anything else.
“I’ve met hundreds — maybe thousands — of car guys and it’s an instant bond. When you meet another car guy it’s like having another brother,” Williscroft said. “I can really see why people take to cars.”
Williscroft first got into collecting cars as a young man before he and his wife had kids. After a 20-year break while they raised their children he got right back into it, using money from his business to fund his projects.
With a laugh, Williscroft said his beloved 1967 Camaro took about 25 years to build from scratch. Over the years he’s made a lot of memories in the car, adding that a love of cars keeps you young.
“My wife and I took this ’67 Camaro down to Route 66 on my 66th birthday. We were flying down the highway with all the windows down, tunes up, doing 120 miles an hour. We were just flying, without a worry in the world,” Williscroft recalled with a smile on his face. “That’s what it was all about.”
The prized show cars tend to come from the 1950s to late ’60s. Williscroft said for a time car manufacturers were producing some magnificent cars with unique designs before everything became largely the same. The rarer the car, the more prestige its owner gets.
Brad Morrison is always on the hunt for vintage Mercury trucks. Once a division of Ford, the Mercury brand was primarily sold in Canada for years, making certain models of old vehicles incredibly rare. At Hot July Nights this year, Morrison brought his newly restored 1967 Mercury Crew Cab.
Morrison only found the truck thanks to a summer cabin he keeps on Hendrix Lake. For 15 years the Chilliwack native drove past the old truck lying in a field until two years ago, after it had been moved, he spotted the Mercury name on the tailgate.
“I was like ‘Holy smokes.’ I stopped and got out. I started yakking with the owner and long story short I made a deal to buy it and he was nice enough to sell it to me,” Morrison said. “I have a few of these trucks I try to preserve, but I’d never seen a crew cab before.”
His love for the Mercury can be traced back to his dad, who owned a red-and-white 1968 Mercury truck, the last year they made them. The nostalgia and “Canadiana” of the vehicle have stuck with Morrison all his life. He currently has six restored Mercury trucks, as well as an additional 15 parts trucks he calls his “field of dreams.”
As he began the restoration process on the crew cab, Morrison went to the Ford archives to find out more about the model. He soon discovered only six of these trucks were ever sold in Canada, making it a unique find.
“As a Mercury guy, it was like the ultimate treasure find. It’s like people who collect hockey cards who find that one Gretzky rookie card,” Morrison said. “I had to do a complete ground-up restoration. Everything came right off down to the frame. A shop in Chilliwack did all the work for me and they did a great job. I love the fact I can bring it back to its hometown where it was sitting for so long.”
MDA Fabrication’s Mac Harris, who recently joined the Cruzers, remarked that working on project cars like Morrison’s is always a delight for him and his crew. Harris said he loves the culture that surrounds cars and enjoys meeting people who share the passion he has for them.
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“I’m one of those people who enjoy the building aspect almost more than the driving. I like the process of the headaches, the late nights, finding parts and just building in the garage,” Harris said.
“You can get into a car for a thousand dollars and be welcomed into the car community, or you have guys who go full-blown who pay people like myself to build full show masterpieces. It’s a car culture for everybody.”
Each project he works on is different, Harris explained. Sometimes a car will take only 100 to 200 hours to get ready for the road, but more often than not he said they can take from 500 to 1,000 hours.
“In this line of work, you often don’t bill for time. You’re doing it because you enjoy it. It’s a lot of labour of love from the people building the car and the owners.”
Harris’ own project car is a 1951 Chevrolet Stepside pickup truck, the same kind of vehicle his grandfather had when he was growing up. He bought the truck 12 years ago in Radium, B.C. and has been chipping away at restoring it ever since.
“I bought it as an eight-year project, and I’m about 12 to 13 years into it now. It runs, I can move it as a frame but it’s very far away from being a ’51 Stepside,” Harris chuckled. “Being at Hot July Nights and seeing all this really gives me the motivation to finish it.”
Watching young people like Harris join the Cruzers makes Williscroft happy. They’re what’s needed to keep the car culture alive for years to come. Old-timers like Williscroft are happy to help them and share their knowledge.
“Come in and listen to the guys because everyone wants to help in some way. Once it gets in your blood it never leaves. It’s that tingle you get in the morning, the dream you have at night, racing down the highway. That sound, that feeling, that smell, it all gets into your blood.”