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The Globe and Mail

Thrill of speed still drives former Olympian

Ross Rebagliati with Logan (L) and Emma and his 1984 Porsche 928 in Vancouver.

Lyle Stafford/Lyle Stafford/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Ross Rebagliati is in the spotlight again.

More than a decade after winning an Olympic gold medal for snowboarding, he's taking on a new opponent, International Trade Minister Stockwell Day.

Rebagliati is the Liberal candidate who will be going up against Day, the incumbent Conservative in the federal riding of Okanagan-Coquihalla riding in British Columbia, where the former Olympian works as a real estate agent.

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He isn't afraid of a challenge. He made Olympic history by winning the first gold medal for snowboarding in Nagano, Japan, in 1998. And then again for having the medal stripped away after testing positive for marijuana. The decision was later overturned and the medal returned.

On the slope and on the road, Rebagliati loves speed. That's why he drives two second-hand Porsches - a 1981 Porsche 928 and a 1984 Porsche 944.

"The Porsche is more of a driving enthusiast's car. You see a Bimmer and it represents a corporate world. The Porsche is more edgy, more snowboard, more hard-core. It's a race car for the street. It's my style," says Rebagliati, who won't be competing in the 2010 Vancouver games, but he will carry the Olympic torch in Osoyoos, B.C., next month.

"You never see the 928. I remember when Risky Business came out - that was one of my favourite movies. It's one of those cars that I've always liked.

"The great thing about them is they're a dime a dozen. It's not an expensive car to get into. You can find one for less than 10-grand. You can buy a Hyundai for the same price and then you have a Hyundai."

Rebagliati traded in his wife's Jaguar XJS convertible for the 928 last year. "The Jag wasn't very practical.

"The back seats weren't usable. There wasn't space between the front and rear seats and the trunk wasn't big enough to fit the real estate signs into - it was useless for what we needed it for," says Rebagliati, who worked in real estate after retiring from competition a decade ago.

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So he turned to a friend who owns a collection of classic cars. "He always told me if I wanted to get rid of the Jag [to call him]because it was a rare six-cylinder version - most were a V-12 and not available in Canada. We picked ours up in the States ...

"He had this really cool burgundy 928 at the back of his collection. So I called him up and I said, 'What about a 928 for a trade?' He was a little reluctant but I managed to get the deal done."

"I just finished getting my extended winter tires on it - I'm looking forward to rallying it all winter.

"The 928 has four seats and the engine is in the front - most Porsches have the engine in the back. Because the engine isn't in the back, I've got this huge area for the two back seats plus the hatchback, which opens up. I can put in my mountain bikes and snowboards - they all fit inside it." As does the car seat for his six-month-old son Ryan Enzo.

Rebagliati bought the 1984 Porsche 944 three years ago; he tinkers with it often.

"I took out the passenger seat and there's this bed that I've made for my two dogs. I've done a little work on it to keep it road-worthy. "It's a great little car. It's a four-cylinder - it's great on gas. I bought it when gas prices were super-expensive," says Rebagliati, who just wrote a book on snowboarding called Off the Chain .

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Before the Porsches, he was a truck guy - he owned a new 2008 Ford F350 King Ranch crew cab with a twin-turbo diesel.

"I used to have the big truck payments - $1,200-$1,300 a month - whatever. Who wants that? It's just a waste of money. … I always needed a truck for my snowboarding and my camper. But I always wanted a sports car.

"When the price of gas got so high I went to get this little four-cylinder 944. All of a sudden my gas consumption went right down."

Plus, the 944 was more fun to drive. "It has the speed of a snowboarder. This thing is a brute," says Rebagliati before boasting about his driving record.

"I figured out I've clocked over 800,000 kilometres since I was 16. No accidents. Very few traffic violations. One time I rolled through the stop sign near my house, which was two doors from the stop sign - just minor stuff.

"I have my full driver's discount. I'm 38 years old and I've managed to keep all of my cars upright and in the right lane."

He has also owned a 1972 Volkswagen van, a Honda Accord, a Toyota panel van, a 1991 Dodge Ram truck, and a 1999 Ford F350 pickup. He prefers buying second-hand cars to new ones.

"Used is better than buying a brand-new car. For example, my 928 was $100,000 brand new in 1981 and the value I traded it in for was less than $10,000. This car is never going to be worth less than that unless I smash it.

"You don't have to spend $50,000-$60,000 on a car to have fun with it. I'm a big believer in cars under $10,000. You can literally find any brand of car that you've ever dreamt about for around the $10,000 range and never lose money," says Rebagliati who is active with charities Make-A-Wish Foundation, Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver and Kids Help Phone.

"I've been enjoying buying these older cars and not wasting or losing money and having a ton of fun.

"Because it's not brand new who cares if it gets a scratch. I drive my cars all year round - in the snow, rain or mud.

"I don't care if it's a Porsche - that's all the more reason to drive it in the mud."

But if he had his dream car, it might be a different story. He's got quite a wish, though: he rambles them off: a Ferrari Scaglietti, a Porsche Panamera, a Porsche 911 GT2, a Spyker, a Lamborghini …

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About the Author

Petrina Gentile is an award-winning automotive journalist - one of the few women who cover cars in Canada. Her life revolves around wheels. She has been writing for the Drive section since 2004. Besides auto reviews, she also interviews celebrities like Norman Jewison, Patrick Dempsey, Rick Hansen, Dean McDermott, Russell Peters, and Ron MacLean for her My Car column. More

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