As mentioned in my Holiday Classic Car Spotting featurette last Thursday, I had two very unexpected classic surprises while in North America and the first occurred on just the first full day of our vacation. It was a great delight to spend a few days in Nova Scotia – which is beautiful, incidentally, and well worth a visit – staying with the family of one of my German cousins, who had moved there some thirteen years ago. They live in a place called Lapland (yes!) on a quiet lakeshore, surrounded by forest, the nearest town being Bridgewater – arguably the middle of nowhere. Over a couple of beers on our first evening, we discussed what we might do during our few days there and I half-jokingly mentioned the idea of checking out a classic car show if there was one nearby. To my surprise, the answer was that there was indeed an event happening just about 20 minutes’ drive away, in Nova Scotia’s much smaller version of Liverpool. It was just a local event, so unlikely to attract more than 30 or 40 cars, but we could check it out. “Why not?” said I, of course, and on a cloudless sunny morning, the four of us set off towards Liverpool.
We parked up a short walk away from the town’s Memorial Park and as we approached it, it rapidly became clear that this was not just a small pub meet. Cars – and they were mostly large cars, many with equally large engines – were rumbling one after the other onto the two fields in the park, which soon contained not 30 or 40, but more like 300 largely North American classics. They made quite a spectacular and colourful sight in the August sunshine. Even my non-classic loving companions (I know – sad, right?) were impressed – it would have taken an extreme cynic not to be.
Although I’ve learnt much over the last eighteen months or so here in the virtual pages of ViaRETRO from both fellow team members and our well-informed readers, my knowledge of and about American classics remains somewhat thin. I sincerely hope readers will forgive any errors below. Fortunately, many of the cars spread out across the site had cards on or inside their windscreens providing some basic, if incomplete, information.
We do of course get quite a few Transatlantic classics at some of our shows here in the UK – some more than others – but they are rarely more than a significant minority. In this case, the number of European and Japanese classics on display could be counted on the fingers of two hands in total, and of course they contrasted sharply with the domestic models, not least in terms of size and engine capacity.
If there’s one car we’re guaranteed to always see at a UK show, it’s a MGB – usually in packs – and sure enough, that mainstay of the UK classic car scene was present and correct in Nova Scotia to fly the Union Flag; in fact, there were two, as well as it’s little brother, the Midget. Alongside one of the ‘B’s was a bright red Volvo Amazon and a few yards away, a black early split-windscreen Morris Minor from 1953, on British plates no less. It was proudly displaying its huge engine, all 918cc of it, almost certainly winning the prize for least powerful car of the day. And apart from a pair of Datsun Z-cars and a stray VW Bug, that was the extent of the overseas delegation in Liverpool that day.
The main features of the event were enough muscle being flexed to shame Dwayne Johnson – much of it proudly on display as owners left their bonnets (or should I say hoods?) raised – and some of the best paint finishes I’ve ever seen anywhere, in occasionally dazzling colours.
I’ll start with what for me is a quintessential 1960’s American muscle car – and one of my favourites – the mighty Pontiac GTO, in particular the 1966 model year. From menacing stacked-headlamp front to its sleek, simple yet brutal lines, the GTO looks the business. There’s more to it than looks, of course, as underneath its muscular suit beats an equally powerful 6.4-litre heart pumping out between 335 and 360bhp – enough to propel this hefty machine to 60mph in just 5.8 seconds. There were a few at the show, my personal favourites being one in metallic blue, the other, a ’65 Le Mans, magnificent in bright red – they both looked superb.
Naturally there were examples of the cars you might expect to see even at a UK show, but just in much greater numbers here – Mustangs, Camaros, Corvettes and Chevelles a-plenty. I really appreciate some of the mid-1960’s to early 1970’s cars – not over-burdened with chrome or empty stylistic flourishes, but clean subtle lines that nevertheless let you know there’s some serious grunt under the hood. The first-generation Camaro is a perfect example of that, and there were several at the show.
Mercury, Oldsmobile and Plymouth are marques we see in fewer numbers in UK and the rest of Europe, but there were a good number at this show. From Mercury, one of my favourite cars of the day, a gorgeous 1955 Mercury Monterey in mint green with white roof, as well as a couple of Mercury Meteors, both from 1956 – one in pink-over-black, the second in blue and white – not forgetting a ’67 Mercury Comet Cyclone in cream. All of them looked terrific with the sun glinting off their chrome and gleaming paintwork.
A trio of Oldsmobile Cutlass 442’s were spread across the two fields, one a convertible in yellow and black, the other two being coupés, one in red and the other in black and, errr… well, several other colours. I liked the first two a lot, the last one, not quite so much. Two Plymouth Roadrunners in red-and-black and yellow-and-black respectively also caught my eye.
Progressing to play my game of pairs, two cars that looked great together were a duo of second-generation Chevy Camaro’s, one in red with white stripes, the second in yellow and black (stripes running the length of the bonnet or hood seem to be a thing on some cars – they generally look good, too). Moving away from the muscle (but still mighty), two Cadillac Sedan de Villes, one a ’65 in metallic green, the other a ’66 in blue, both sporting the then fashionable – and in my view, very cool – stacked headlights. This last pair looked quite formidable, one of the ultimate combinations of power and luxury at the time.
It wasn’t just about muscle, power and size at this show, though. There were a number of lesser-spotted (in the UK, at least) badges scattered around the site on cars which would be considered large in the UK but classed as mid or even compact-sized in North America. I mention randomly the likes of two early Dodge Dart Swingers (such a sixties’ name – not entirely convinced they would dare use it again today!) including one in yellow, a smart red. Then there was the red Plymouth GTX with black stripes to match the black vinyl roof, a green AMC Rambler 660 and a darker green Chevrolet Vega – a mini-Camaro if you will (at least in the looks department), and not a car I can recall ever seeing at any UK show. This last model started life as Motor Trend magazine’s Car of the Year in 1971, justifying being named after a star, but suffered quality and reliability issues throughout its seven-year lifespan.
Some of the cars on show were (unsurprisingly) Canadian-market versions of US cars, such as the previously mentioned Mercury Meteors, and a striking red and black Beaumont Sport Coupé from General Motors – as I understand it, a Chevrolet Chevelle in all but name and logo.
Perhaps one of the more eccentric US marques when it came to styling was Studebaker – the adventurous Avanti and Commander come to mind – and while the front end of the green 1965 Cruiser looks relatively conventional, the rear of the car is decidedly quirky, at least to my eyes, with its raised and slightly protruding tail lights.
There were also a number of splendid cars on show in what the organisers classed as Pre-49. I particularly liked the trio of the cream 1927 Model T Roadster, green 1929 Plymouth on lovely yellow wheels, and maroon 1930 Ford Model A, but my favourite in this class was a very handsome 1933 Chevrolet Master Delux in a strong blue with darker blue wings and spare wheel trim – lovely!
I thought this was a terrific, vibrant show, full of colour – the contrast to the limited palette of the vast majority of modern American cars could hardly be greater – and I would have spent longer there had I not been outnumbered by my companions, who were keen to head on for lunch. It made for an excellent start to the holiday for me and it was a very nice change to visit a classic event across the pond. And this wasn’t even the only classic car surprise during our holiday – more on that later!