New Voices: The car that started it all

New Voices gives unpublished Atlantic Canadians the opportunity to share their passion about all things wheeled, stories about vehicles, car life, road trips, restorations, adventures and misadventures. If you have an idea, please send us an email: [email protected]com 

  • WHO?  Richard Wood, 16 years old
  • WHAT? New driver’s permit in hand
  • WHEN? Spring of 1965.
  • WHERE? Sydney, Nova Scotia
  • WHY? Like every guy his age, he wants his own wheels!
That was the start of a life-long passion for cars. Here it is 2020, and I just acquired my three hundred and first vehicle, and the passion is still there.

 

Many of the vehicles I’ve owned were very special, interesting, rare, or valuable but the question usually asked is not, what was the 43rd vehicle or the 117th or even the 271st? No, the question is usually: what was the first car I ever owned?

It’s almost embarrassing because the pocketbook was the determining factor not it being my dream car. After a summer of waiting, doing odd jobs and saving every penny I could, in October, the opportunity arose. Here are the facts, and nothing but the facts!

We lived just outside of Sydney in a quiet rural area. A close neighbour was a retired older British gentleman who loved fishing in the Bras d’Or Lakes every day from April until the close of the season each fall.

I heard Miss Opportunity knocking. “I’ll give you $30 right now!”

He had a 14-foot aluminium boat which he towed to the lake every morning, backed the trailer into the water up to his rear wheels, and sailed away for the day, leaving the car with the back end in the salty water!?! Every few years he bought a new British car, the current one being a top-of-the-line 1961 Vauxhall Cresta six-cylinder, four-door sedan with leather interior.

Since September, it had been sitting in his yard, back end on the ground, never moving.

One day in October, I decided to inquire about why this shiny, like new, interesting car was sitting idle. It seems that five years of being parked in salt water every day had not treated the rear spring shackles too kindly. They had rusted to a point where the rear of the spring mount had let go and the springs were up through the trunk floor, on both sides, the tires up to the top of the wheel-wells, and the car not driveable. He was waiting for the scrap metal guy to come and tow it away because he wasn’t going to spend $600+ to repair it.

“And what are they giving you for the car?” I queried.

“25 dollars,” was his reply. I heard Miss Opportunity knocking!

“I’ll give you $30 right now!” I replied.

“You just bought yourself a fine British automobile!” he whispered with a little twinkle in his eye.

A 1961 Vauxhall Cresta, like the one pictured here, was the car that started it all for Rick Wood.

I ran home, got $30 out of my ‘piggy bank’, rounded up my younger brother and his wagon, two four-foot lengths of 4×4, a scissor jack and away we went.

I paid for the car, got a receipt, signed registration and it was mine!

We jacked it up, put the 4x4s on top of the axle and under the trunk floor so the tires were free to roll. I started it up, put the wagon and jack in the back seat and down the road for home we headed, more proud than a mom with a new baby. Mom and Dad were a little surprised to say the least.

The next week, after school each day, and the weekend was spent repairing ‘Beulah’.

Nothing fell off, nothing broke, everyone survived, we were all set for next summer!

Now, you gotta remember this is 1965 Cape Breton. I’m a 16-year-old with only a few ‘Handy Andy’ tools, no mechanical skills, but a lot of bright ideas and problem-solving skills from years of Boy Scout training.

So here we go: first, raise up the car and make it safe to work on; remove the bumper; repair the two holes in the trunk floor with a couple of 1/8th inch pieces of steel plate screwed and glued to the floor.

We cut away the rusty shackle mount then shaped a couple of four-foot lengths of rough 2×4 hardwood with a hand-plane until they could be hammered into the remaining unibody frame the length of the trunk floor and bolted them into place. We drilled holes for the shackle bolts, filled them with soap for lubricant and cut off the excess lumber with a handsaw. We replaced the bumper, set the car back on the ground, stepped back and patted ourselves on the back.

The car set level, all seemed solid. Time for a test run.

Off we went for a ride up and down the road a few times until the gas gauge was screaming to stop, so we parked it. Nothing fell off, nothing broke, everyone survived, we were all set for next summer!

That was Car # 1. I drove it all that next summer, about 4000 miles with never a problem. I sold it in the fall for $400 to some guys who needed a hunting vehicle. I’ve never looked back.

However, I do believe I learned a few lessons from working on #1 that have stayed with me over the last 50-plus years and 300 vehicles: think safe, work safe, follow rules, acquire decent tools, learn how to do things properly, build safe, and quality matters.

Above all, take pride in your work. That is how others will judge you and the vehicles you build, restore and sell.

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