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1966 Mercury Park Lane convertible owned by Ted Forbes
1966 Mercury Park Lane convertible owned by Ted Forbes

Classic Cars

He's got 21 convertibles - but who's counting? Add to ...

Ted Forbes says he'd travelled around the world 59 times before deciding to tuck himself away in Sooke, B.C. - along with a few of the things he'd accumulated along the way.

"If you've got two of anything, that's a collection, and it's just matter of time until you come across the third thing, isn't it?" he says, explaining how he's managed to accumulate assorted guns, knives, motorcycles, antiques, furniture, aircraft memorabilia and, oh yeah, let's not forget 21 late-1950s and early-1960s North American convertibles.

He's still adding items that appeal to his wide range of interests, including more of those great-looking ragtops from what most consider the North American auto industry's greatest, certainly most flamboyant, era.

"I just can't seem to stop," says Forbes, and he obviously has no interest in doing so.

Who could blame him, as the cars, particularly those from the Fifties, express the exuberance and vitality of a North America bouncing back from a wartime decade of hard work and sacrifice. In a way, they are his personal reward for the quarter century he spent working in the offshore oil industry around the world.

A Manitoba-born "stubble-jumper" who's now 63, he left home at 15 to work in the oil industry and spent about 25 years drilling for the stuff, mostly in faraway places. After initially working in Western Canada, he, with his then-17-year-old new bride Sharon keeping him company, embarked on a career that took him to the Sahara, Italy, the North Sea, West Africa and Southeast Asia - where he acquired the nickname "Typhoon Ted."

The cars were accumulated on trips home between contracts, from which he often arrived via California. "There were plenty around, you just had to look for them, and they were cheap," he says, which isn't always the case today as baby boomer collectors have driven up prices.

Additions to his extensive collection of Fifties convertibles were hauled home to his parents' place in Manitoba or stored in neighbours' granaries, barns and garages. "Then I'd go away overseas and do it all over again," he says.

Sometimes, on his return, he'd find his father had hauled some of his "finds" to the junk yard during his absence, which likely led to some interesting family discussions. "But I'd just keep bringing more and more," says Forbes, who explains that his enthusiasm for cars developed while in the saddle. "I spent lot of time on the back of a horse, herding cattle, and all I could think of was cars.

"And as kids we would cut out pictures of cars and take them to school and compare them. My first car, at 14, was a '49 Meteor coupe that I drove on the farm. And we'd build up cars to drive when we got our licences. I thought every kid was interested in cars."

And that interest hasn't waned: "There's nothing like the sound of a good set of pipes and the look of a neat car with a set of skirts and a continental kit."

Not all Forbes' cars came from the United States; included in his collection are a number of scarce Canadian versions, rare because production numbers here for many models were low and winter conditions weren't conducive to a long life, leaving few survivors.

Those in his collection have been restored with the preservation of their Canadian originality in mind - to the extent that bolts used in their restoration must have the dimple in their heads that identifies them as correct Canuck components.

Forbes spent much of his working life employed by American firms, but says, "I'm a patriotic guy. I like Canadian stuff better than any other stuff on Earth."

A number of cars and have come and gone over the years, but Forbes' collection today includes some of the most evocative cars of the rock 'n' roll Fifties.

Stored in and around the home he and Sharon built in 1982 in Sooke are 1955, '56 and '57 Meteor convertibles, a 1958 Pontiac Parisienne, 1958 and 1959 Pontiac Bonnevilles, a 1960 Parisienne and 1959 Oldsmobile and Chevrolet Impala convertibles.

He also has a 1955 Mercury Sun Valley, 1955, '56, '58 convertibles, and a still original, made-in-Canada, 1966 Mercury Park Lane convertible with just 41,000 miles on its odometer. This one has a personal history, as Forbes purchased it in 1968 after a stint working in Edmonton, and he and Sharon drove it on their wedding day.

And let's not forget the Ford and Meteor-branded products, starting with a 1956 Skyliner glass top, a 1958 Edsel convertible, a trio of Meteor convertibles from 1955, '56 and '57 and a '64 Galaxie convertible. The Meteors indicate just how few of these cars were built here. There were just 201 of the '55s, of which eight are known to survive, 479 of the '56s, of which 26 remain, and 647 of the '57s, of which 18 remain on the road.

Forbes is currently working on the restoration of another '57 Meteor and a 1959 Bonneville as well as helping local enthusiasts with their projects, through the powder-coating company he and Sharon have operated for 20 years.

Why the focus on fifties cars? "They're just what Sharon and I like best," he says.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

 

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