A look at some of the city’s hottest rides—and some of the most enthused enthusiasts
When the warm weather hits, the car-obsessed and their vintage toys come out to play, top down, engines gurgling, exhaust pipes fuming. But who are they and where do they come from?
Purchasing Manager, Etobicoke
To behold Mark Doust’s 1953 Austin-Healey 100/4 is a revelation: the car is gorgeous, curvy and lithe, pinched around the waist like a wasp, and streamlined for speed, right down to the collapsible windscreen that slides forward at its base to reduce resistance. “You can never drive like that, of course—it just directs the bugs to your teeth,” Doust says, laughing heartily.
The list of pleasures associated with owning and driving vintage cars may be long, but not one of them has anything to do with practicality. For Doust, the obsession is in his blood. He was introduced to vintage performance cars as a child, when he was dragged from racetrack to racetrack by his father, George, who was an early partner in Toronto’s premier British car dealership, Grand Touring Automobiles.
“My father is 88 and he’s still working on cars at his farm,” Doust says. And with two other Healeys, a Riley and a rare racing Fiat in his collection, all of which he drives regularly and fast, Doust shows every indication of being headed for a similar future.
Media Mogul, High Park
One sunny summer afternoon in 1965, Moses Znaimer left a job interview at the old CBC building on Jarvis Street and strolled over to Carlton and Yonge. There, parked at the side of the road, was a mint 1954 Jaguar XK-120 drophead coupe, with white paint, a burgundy leather interior, a split windscreen and fender spats.
“It was an auspicious day,” Znaimer says. The CBC interview led directly to his first job in broadcasting, and the Jaguar became his first car—although it wasn’t for sale, so that took some luck and conniving. First, he took the plate number to a licensing bureau to request a reverse trace, and got declined.
“I moped and protested,” he recalls. Finally, one of the young women working behind the counter took pity on him and slipped him the information on the sly. After months of courtship, the 86-year-old owner agreed to sell. “I had a thousand dollars to my name,” Znaimer recalls. “I told him I needed $150 for insurance and gave him $850. I wonder what the price would be now.”
The online auto market Hemmings pegs it at anywhere from $60,000 to $100,000, but Znaimer is not tempted to sell—for him, collecting cars is not about pursuing profit (he also has a DeLorean and employs a “car guy”). “The Jag was the first car I ever owned, and it will be the last.”
Master Electrician, Mississauga
John Sale fell in love with Aston Martins at the cinema, watching Guy Hamilton’s 1964 classic, Goldfinger, wherein Bond’s trusty Bentley is decommissioned in favour of a modified DB5, equipped with an ejector seat and what we now call GPS. “I never thought I’d own one,” Sale says.
In fact, he owns the DB5’s progenitor, and its acquisition was decidedly un-Bond-like. It was 1978, nine years after Sale had moved to Toronto from England. One morning, looking out the window of his electrical shop at Eglinton and Dixie, he spotted the car parked in the field across the street. “It looked like an animal had been sleeping in it, the bonnet was missing, and the engine had seized,” he recalls. All that aside, he was feeling gung-ho as he plunked down $3,000. “I was sure I’d have it running again in 18 months.”
It took longer than that just to take the ailing car apart. Craftsmen had to be called in for almost every problem, while Sale did the wiring, suspension and brakes—all told, he worked on the car just about every Saturday morning for 29 years.
Three years ago, when it was finally perfect, he took it to the annual meet of the North American Aston Martin Owners’ Club in Lime Rock, Connecticut—where it placed First in Class. Sale admits to coddling his car. Last year, a collector offered him $350,000 for it. He turned it down.
CBC Radio Host, Creemore
It should come as no surprise that a nascent ad man would fall in love with the copy before the car. So it was for young Terry O’Reilly when he first laid eyes on the Doyle Dane Bernbach print campaign for Volkswagen’s Beetle.
“The best advertising that has ever been done was for Volkswagen in the ’60s,” O’Reilly says now, referring to the seminal campaign with headlines such as “Think Small” and “Lemon.” “I could never sell that to a car company today,” he adds.
When he was growing up in Sudbury, something else impressed him about Volkswagen: even on hideously cold days, the cars ran. Beetles, mostly. But also their more dashing, better-dressed sibling, the Karmann Ghia.
Regrettably, in the Canadian climate, Karmann Ghias usually rusted much faster than they accelerated. Nonetheless, in 1995 O’Reilly tracked down his dream model—a 1963 Cabriolet in near mint condition—in Greenville, South Carolina, and had it shipped to Toronto. It served for years as his daily ride, weather permitting (it has no heater). But now that O’Reilly commutes from Creemore (in a practical hybrid SUV), the VW only gets weekend service—and lots of polishing.