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Charles Tan at age 6 in his family's new Chevy II.
Charles Tan at age 6 in his family's new Chevy II.

Classic Car

One man's sentimental journey with his family's first car Add to ...

Dr. Charles Tan had tears in his eyes after slipping behind the wheel of his newly restored Chevy II for the first time a few weeks ago.

They were generated in part by sentiment, he says, memories of his mother and father selecting the car from a Montreal dealer's showroom in 1966, and being ferried around in it while growing up in the Quebec mining town of Chibougamau.

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Charles Tan, 44 years later, in the restored Chevy II.

But he says the bill for restoring it to that same showroom condition might also have had something to do with it.

Tan is keeping the actual tear-inducing number to himself, but it's likely a multiple of what this humble, Oshawa-built, two-door compact is now worth. "I did it strictly for sentimental reasons. I know I'll never get my money back out of it," he says, endorsing one of the best possible reasons for restoring an old car.

The story of the Tan family - dad, mom and nine children - and their Chevy II began with the arrival of the senior sibling from their Philippines home to attend McGill University in the early 1960s. The rest of the family followed with Tan's father working as a teacher in Montreal. A move to Laval prompted the elder Tan, then 58, and his wife to acquire their licences and go shopping for their first car.

The restoration of Dr. Charles Tan's Chevy II was completed a few weeks ago, 44 years after his parents first bought the car.

Tan says an elderly couple would arrive at their home and take his father and mother out for lessons, with he and his brother in the back. Dad proved to be "an awfully bad driver" and his mother subsequently handled most of the family driving.

Tan was 6 1/2 when they visited Salois Chev Olds in the fall of 1966 and in the showroom beside the 1967 Chevy II was a then-just-introduced 1967 Camaro SS. "My brothers recall my mom really wanted that one, but we had to keep to dad's budget," says Tan.

What was delivered to their door by the salesman was a Model 100 Chevy II, Chevrolet's main rival for Ford's Falcon and Chrysler's Plymouth Valiant/Dodge Lancer in the 1960s. In-house competition was provided by Chevrolet's initial compact-car entry, the Corvair, but the simpler-in-concept Chevy II won that family squabble.

The Corvair, Valiant and Falcon had all arrived for 1960, but Corvair proved a little complex for North American tastes and Chevrolet soon realized it was getting beaten badly in the segment, which resulted in the arrival in the record time of just 18 months of the Chevy II for 1962.

Nothing fancy about this one, just a monocoque-structured, conventionally engined (a four and a pair of sixes) car available in neatly styled two- and four-door sedan, station wagon and convertible bodywork. The Chevy II nameplate was used until 1969, and it was called the Nova until production of these rear-drivers ended in 1979.

Tan says the only options were the 120-hp, 194-cubic-inch Hi-Thrift inline-six and a two-speed PowerGlide automatic transmission, white-wall tires, special Deluxe Fisher-body seatbelts (four only), small round "dog-dish" hubcaps, white wall tires and a $100 AM pushbutton radio that his teenage brothers had insisted on. They passed on the $2.53 cent glove-box light option.


Hall of Fame defenceman Bobby Orr made his NHL debut with the Boston Bruins.

The Batman series started its TV run, starring Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin.

The Soviet Luna 9 became the first unmanned space vehicle to make a controlled landing on the moon.

The first episode of sci-fi writer Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek was aired in September with Montreal's William Shatner playing Captain James T. Kirk.

Cool new vehicles introduced in 1966 included Ford's Bronco, the Lotus Europa and Mazda's Bongo.

Tan remembers being driven to school in it, hitting the metal dash teeth-first one day after a sudden stop. And a trip to New York where the antenna was ripped off and a "big compass, the equivalent of today's GPS," was stolen. Seashells, likely from the beach at Atlantic City and collected by his sister, were found during the restoration.

It then spent nine years in Chibougamau, accumulating just 11,000 often pretty frosty miles, before being given to Tan's eldest sister, who took it to Calgary. Tan, who now lives in North York, saw it for the first time since his childhood on a visit seven years ago and discovered his sister was thinking of selling it. After a brief test drive, he decided, "I can't let this car go," and two years ago bought it.

He turned it over to car guy Malcom Elston in Belleville, Ont., whom Tan knew through curling. "It was surprisingly straight, complete, sound and very original," says Elson, who brought together a team of local body, mechanical and upholstery experts and set them the task of restoring it.

The Chevy II, now looking and driving like new again, was turned over to Tan in early September and his first outing was to the Georgian College Canadian Automotive Institute car show in Barrie.

He had gone as a spectator but was told the car looked so good he had to park it with the show cars, which, along with the family history it represents, must have made the restoration cost tally seem more than justified.

"It's been just great," he says. "And it has brought back so many memories."


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