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Jazz singer Holly Cole and her 1968 Ford Gran Torino.

Tim Fraser/The Globe and Mail

Holly Cole

Profession: Jazz singer

Age: 49

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Hometown: Halifax

The car: 1968 Ford Gran Torino convertible

Notable achievements

Her CDs Girl Talk and Don't Smoke in Bed went platinum in Canada; Blame It On My Youth went gold in Canada and Japan; Temptation, Dark Dear Heart, Romantically Helpless went gold in Canada

Upcoming

Performs at the second annual McMichael Moonlight Gala in Kleinberg, Ont., June 8

Other peformance dates: June 22, Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts, Oakville, Ont.; June 27-29, Jazz Festival Theatre du Nouveau Monde, Montreal; July 5, Jazz on the Mountain festival, Blue Mountain, Ont.; Sept. 7, Jazz Sudbury, Sudbury, Ont.

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***** ***** *****

She's an iconic Canadian songstress.

Holly Cole hit the music scene with her debut album, Girl Talk, in 1990. She was an overnight success – the album went platinum in Canada. More than a dozen albums followed, including the Juno award-winning Shade and Don't Smoke in Bed.

Today, the internationally acclaimed jazz singer is hitting a career high note with her latest album, Night, and a jam-packed concert schedule that'll take her across Canada and Germany later this year. Her next gig is at the McMichael Moonlight Gala in Kleinburg, Ont., on June 8. And even though the event is close to home, she won't be driving her own wheels. After all, it is a vintage car. Just like Cole, her 1968 Ford Gran Torino Convertible shines in the spotlight and is still going strong.

What sparked your interest in vintage cars?

I love cars from that time period. I love them because I love chrome. I like the look of '50s cars, but I'm not interested in them because they've got more of a grandpa feeling to them. The time period between 1965 and 1970 is my favourite time period for cars.

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They were always streamlined. They were still big, but they didn't have that grumpy, grampy look. After '70, they had huge butts. They had an awkward look. From '65-'70 is the time of the beautiful Mustangs, the Ford Fairlane – my favourite cars come from that period. Aesthetically, they are the most beautiful cars.

I like big-ass old cars. They're so substantial. Cars are so interesting in how they relate to people's lives. (The Gran Torino) symbolizes a time of my life when I bought it a long time ago. Not in 1968, but when I was in my 20s. I can't cope with selling it because it feels like a portion of my life is leaving – the portion of my life that I don't want to leave. It's like selling a part of my soul, a part of my life. Maybe I should admit I'm not in my 20s any more, but I still love it. It has enormous symbolism for me.

Have you done any modifications?

It's not in mint condition, but one man or woman's junker is another's dream car. It looks gorgeous. I love the chrome.

What really sold me on the car is the snake eyes on the rear taillights – it's awesome. What's not to love about a car that big? For cruising around, it's so much fun. It's like I'm driving around in a living room. All of my extended family can go in there and have a party, it's so huge.

This is not showroom. I don't want it to be. I like the fact that's it's lived a life.

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It has had three owners. Nowadays, most people's cars live and die quickly. You don't usually have three-four owners. I see the war wounds. It makes it interesting to me.

It's cherry red inside and cream on the outside with tons of chrome. It's really nice.

I have to say, it's not for the faint of heart. If you do lose power it's really hard to steer and push the car. You really know why power steering was invented. When you lose power, it is everything you can do to move the wheels an inch. But I still love it.

It's a big boat – any problems driving or parking it?

You can't park it anywhere. I take up two spots. Parking spots have changed in size because cars have changed in size. There is no chance of getting this car into one parking spot. If I took one spot in a parking lot nobody could get in their cars. I couldn't get out of mine, except it's a convertible so I could actually jump out!

Does it break down often or is it hanging in there?

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It's not hanging in there. It's broken down several times.

I learned to do something that is very dangerous, that I do not recommend. Pour gasoline into the carburetor to start it. It's not a good idea. These things, although dangerous, are charming. You can't do that in a new car.

This car, you need a real mechanic. I don't mean somebody to connect it to a computer and say, 'This is what you need, fix it.'

A mechanic who knows how a car works – who studied it, cares about it, and loves it. Watching my mechanic is a beautiful artistic thing – he opens the hood and stands one foot over each headlight and he fixes the car that way. He goes, 'Start the car.' And he listens to it. I can see things working in his brain. It's an artful, beautiful thing.

He knows exactly what makes an engine work. And he loves it. It's a dying art. It's a passion. I enjoy the experience of it as well.

No, I don't want to be a mechanic. I don't love it that much; that's why I became a singer. But I enjoy the experience of it. Maybe the same way my mechanic enjoys a concert. I enjoy watching him tinker, listen and stand on the hood of my car – it's awesome.

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Now a whole bunch of mechanics don't care how engines work. They just want a job. Its sad for them.

If I'm going to a gig, it's not a good idea to drive my car because any number of things can break down on it.

What's your worst breakdown?

On the corner of Bathurst and St. Clair [in Toronto] – it's a huge intersection – the car stalled at evening rush hour.

That car probably weighs two tons – it's a big, bad thing! I had to push it and steer it at the same time with everybody looking.

Nobody could move. And my dog, Rhoda, a great big black German Shepherd, sitting in the passenger seat going, ha-ha, looking at me. You think someone would get out of their car? Nobody helped me push it out of the intersection. I felt like Wonder Woman!

It's an automatic. And it's power brake and power steering, but oh boy. If you lose power, the steering is so hard. I remember Rhoda used to sit in the front seat beside me and whenever I left the car she'd jump in the driver's seat and she learned how to honk the horn. She learned that if she'd beep the horn I would come back. And I'd say stop doing that! I'd leave and she'd do it again. She was training me.

What does a Gran Torino convertible say about you?

It's sexy as hell, in my opinion. There's also an air of confidence in that car. There's also a serious nod to nostalgia, which I love as well. There's a substance to it that you don't find now.

The interview has been edited and condensed.

pgentile@globeandmail.com

Twitter: @PetrinaGentile

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