It was 1969 when Lee Gould’s father handed him the keys to his 1949 Cadillac Club Coupe and said he could have it for $1 – so long as Gould promised not to “rod it out.”
“That was the last time I saw him,” says Gould, now 72. “He appeared in my driveway to ‘sell’ me the car, then he died two weeks later … but I’ve kept my promise.”
Gould is one of the hundreds of vehicle veterans with stories as intricate as the cars shown at the Oak Bay Collector Car Festival – and he, and his Cadillac, will be back again this year.
The event, which takes place Sunday, Aug. 11, will close off part of Oak Bay Avenue for the expected 300 collectable cars representing a range of eras from some of the earliest classic motors to some impressively colourful hot rods.
“People love their cars in Oak Bay, and that street offers the perfect ambience for it,” says Ken Agate, who founded the show. “It’s really become a legacy in this area, it’s a combined community effort.”
Effort is something Gould is no stranger to. After investing upwards of $50,000 in his $1 car – and that was 10 years ago – he keeps it stored in the garage of his Beach Drive home. With the number of seagulls who would give the Caddy a new “paint job,” Gould is understandably protective of the vehicle. His refurbishments caught the eye of international car lovers and a feature was published about Gould and his car in The Self Starter, a Cadillac fan magazine, in 2011.
“You don’t see a lot of young purists these days,” says Gould. “There are people who want to rod up their cars, lower them, mod the engine, throw in huge stereos and turn them into something else, but there’s a lot of beauty in ‘original.’”
Gould attributes his love of cars, and his know-how, to John Damgaard – a man who owned the Cadboro Bay Texaco station in the early ‘60s. As a young man working his first “real” job at age 19, Gould says Damgaard taught him everything he knew, from how to manage money and handle a vehicle to work ethic.
“He always said, ‘You run to the pumps, you never walk, because that’s service, and that’s what makes people come back,’” says Gould. “He’s the reason I knew how to work on these cars.”
Yes, plural. Since his first purchase, Gould was offered a twin Caddy by a friend desperate to sell. Though he says he hardly needed two, the lover in him accepted the offer which, “let’s just say, it wasn’t a dollar.”
While the newest purchase is still a work-in-progress, Gould has shown his beauties since 2001 all around the Island, at shows as near as next door and as far away as Qualicum Beach. He’s become a fixture at the Oak Bay show, and says it’s his main highlight every year.
That’s exactly why Agate started the show 13 years ago. The former owner of the Blethering Place Tea Room & Restaurant knew there was a desire for the show with the number of people he saw bringing their special cars out for a special meal. With his own collector’s 1938 Dodge Brothers that he brought over from New Zealand, Agate was tickled by the idea. Other businesses on Oak Bay Avenue showed support in the plan and Agate won the blessing of the mayor and council to close down the street for the day. Now, the event has since turned into a bit of an institution. One of the biggest surprises to Agate: the number of women who come out.
“There are so many women who come out to show their own cars, and many more who had a hand in working on one with a partner,” he says. “Just five years ago, I bought a 1959 Morris Minor Traveller from a woman who had it, original, in Victoria. I thought it would look good outside the Tea Room.”
Agate has more in his collection, including a 1975 Boler travel trailer to attach to his Dodge.
What’s most impressive about the Oak Bay car festival, he says, is its diversity.
“Car shows are like recipes for baking – you might have sponge cakes made by five different ladies, but there will still be one favourite amongst them,” Agate says. “It comes down to the culture, and Oak Bay is lucky to have that true feel of days gone by. We have something special here.”
To participate in the show, vehicle placement is from 8 a.m. on Oak Bay Ave. Pre-registration is not necessary, though the stall fee is $15. A prime rib barbecue is available all day long.