This Sunday, a thousand or so anglophile automobile owners - ranging from those with mundane but much loved Minis to regal and resplendent Rolls-Royces, plus the Triumph TR6 pictured here - will line up their rides on the grass in Bronte Creek Provincial Park in Oakville, Ont., to take part in an annual fall gathering known as British Car Day - rain or shine.
"But it never rains," says Wayne McGill, the TR6's owner and a founding member of the organizing Toronto Triumph Club, who goes on to qualify that statement just a little bit. "Well, in all the years we've held the event it's never rained all day or heavily. We've never been rained out."
The shape of things to come
Not that a little atmospheric distillate would do more than dampen the enthusiasm of those who take part, arriving from across Canada and the United States and other foreign parts, in what's billed as the premier all-Brit meet in North America. At worst it might short-circuit a few ignition systems, or cut into the 8,000 or so spectator count that has made event the park's busiest day for many years now.
Triumph enthusiast McGill, an insurance agent who lives on Bronte harbour in Oakville, doesn't take credit for creating the event, originally a weekend gathering of Toronto Triumph Club members on a farm near Peterborough. But he did instigate its mid-1980s move to Bronte Creek.
"It began as a celebration of British cars and a social get-together. We'd get 130 cars showing up, which we thought was pretty good. But I didn't like driving my Triumph Herald across Toronto. It's happiest at about 50 mph which is not fun on the 401."
The death of do-it-yourself
He'd helped found the club in the early 1980s, after Triumph went out of business and area enthusiasts felt a need to band together for mutual support. McGill was serving as vice-president and it was decided to move the event west of the city. "Our hope was that we wouldn't lose too many people by changing the venue, but the first year 375 cars turned up and it's grown since then to its current number of around 1,100 cars of all types."
McGill, who served as event chairman for a decade or so and is still on the organizing committee, became a British car fan as a young teen despite growing up in the muscle-car 1960s. "I had no real interest in them compared to smaller more fuel-efficient cars, still mainly British at that time," he says.
Early influences might have been the family's 1950s Hillman and an Austin Mini. And he says he was "fixing up" British cars before he was old enough to drive including a Sunbeam Alpine and miscellaneous Minis, cars that just happened to come his way. Something they still do.
"People approach me with absolute junk because they know I'll probably take it, particularly if it's a Triumph. We strip them down and make parts available to club members rather than see them go to the junk yard."
His own first car, however, was a hand-me-down Rambler American, but it was soon replaced by the Mini he drove during his high school years and later by an MGB. He bought his 1973 TR6 new with money earned at a summer job with Ford while attending the University of Windsor - a pretty cool car for a 21-year-old. "I thought so," he says, of the car he bought despite parental pressure - his father worked for Ford - to buy a Comet GT.
"I said no, I want something with a top that comes down," he says, and chose the Triumph for its six-cylinder engine, overdrive transmission, power disc brakes, rack-and-pinion steering and general air of sophistication - which included niceties such as carpeting and wind-up windows.
"He said I wouldn't keep it two years. I said I'd keep it for 10 years." He's now been driving it for 37.
Triumph began making bicycles in the late 1800s, added motorcycles in 1902 and cars in 1921, building some pretty sporting machinery by the 1930s, but the company failed in 1939. It ended up in the hands of Standard Motor Co. post-war, which launched a new range of Triumph cars and in 1953 the TR2 sports car, which started a long run of TRs produced until 1981.
The TR2 evolved into the TR3 (in a couple of variants), then the TR4 in 1961 and TR4A, and the TR5 in 1967 (TR250 for North America). This model, while basically the TR4A, introduced the 2.5-litre inline-six as a replacement for the former's venerable Standard four-cylinder.
The TR6, which came along in 1969, and was the last of the old body-on-frame designs, was dressed in attractively reshaped (by Karmann) sheet-metal and powered in North America by a carbureted, 104-hp version of the 2.5-lire six (injected Brit engines made 150 hp). It proved the most popular TR up to that time with more than 94,619 built, all but 8,370 finding their way to North America.
It was followed by the wedge-shaped and monocoque-bodied TR7 and finally the V-8-engined TR8, the last of the real Triumphs, produced until 1981. The Triumph name, via the usual convoluted corporate process, is currently owned by BMW.
Another Triumph that has been part of McGill's life for many years is a 1967 Herald acquired 25 years ago, and there's also a Land Rover Series II and a 1977 MGB in his garage.
McGill treated his TR6 to a down-to-the-bare-frame restoration a few years ago. "After 30 years, it was getting tired looking, but it's been the most trouble free car I've ever owned."
And now looking like new again, it gets regular summertime use, just as it has for most of the last four decades.
To get to British Car Day this Sunday, take the Burloak Drive north exit off the Queen Elizabeth Way and follow signs to Bronte Creek Provincial Park. The event starts at 10 a.m. with awards at 3 p.m. For information go to www.torontotriumph.com and follow the British Car Day logo link.