Calgary Herald, Customized van takes couple ’round world, by Greg Williams

This story was first written for the Calgary Herald’s Driving section, and was published on March 9, 2007. There’s a postscript at the bottom from 2017.

From 1970 to 1986 Calgarians Trevor and Wendy McGrath traveled the world.

And the only home they had during those 17 years was a 1970 Volkswagen Kombi van.

The McGraths, originally from Australia, were full of wanderlust in the late 1960s. They set off in a British-built Commer camper van and toured Europe and a bit of North America, including Canada. The pair even lived in Edmonton for a year in late 1968 and early 1969 where Wendy worked as a teacher.

They were moving again in 1970 when they traveled to Los Angeles. Here, they sold the Commer and returned to Australia.

“We had a nice home in Australia, which we had rented out,” Wendy says. She adds that when they returned to Australia they didn’t plan to spend the next 17 years traveling.

Their initial plan was to purchase a new vehicle for ‘overland’ travel, and circumnavigate Australia. An overland vehicle is something that will comfortably travel over all types of roads and through all types of conditions.

The pair bought the 1970 VW Kombi van brand new for $2,800, and Trevor worked to outfit the bus as an overland vehicle. He started by cutting out the van’s metal roof and installed a taller, fibreglass roof. A living area was created that included a gas stove, refrigerator, stainless steel sink, cupboard and wardrobe storage, bed and toilet.

“It’s amazing what you can get into it (a VW van) with a bit of ingenuity,” Trevor says. “We chose the VW over, say, a Land Rover, because the VW Kombi vans were so universally distributed, they were everywhere. New or used parts could be had worldwide.”

He performed many modifications, including sheeting the underside of the VW with aluminum panels, and fitting a plastic screen to cover, and help preserve, the glass of the windshield.

Around the time Trevor was finishing up outfitting the van the pair decided to sell up everything in Australia and truly tour the world.

“All of our friends were tied down with children and mortgages,” Wendy says. “And one day when Trevor was mowing the lawn I took him out a drink. We sat in the shade, looked at each other and said: ‘What are we doing here?’

“Once you’ve traveled around the world a bit, the freedom of that is something you can’t shake, and it’s very hard to turn your back on.”

After selling their property in Goulburn, a town about 192.5 km inland from Sydney, the McGraths invested every penny at close to 18 per cent. “We said we’d keep going until we reached equilibrium, and stop before we would eat into our capital.”

Ultimately, the McGraths toured the world. The van was shipped more than 68 times, and they toured at least 200 countries, including England, Iceland, Afghanistan, India, Morocco, Malaysia, South Africa and Chile.

Trevor had painted a map on the side of the VW that indicated their travels, with overland routes marked in red, air routes in black and sea routes in blue. They say that $100 a week was enough money to cover all of their expenses, including fuel and food. The McGraths never stayed in campgrounds, instead finding sites where the van could be easily concealed.

“We were hassled on numerous occasions, you can’t travel around the world for 17 years without problems,” Trevor says. “Very often we were camped in areas where only idiots would camp, and we had strategic plans on how to get out of tight situations.”

Trevor replaced the engine at 50,000 to 60,000 mile intervals. “We were on the fifth engine (when they were done traveling), and engines were always replaced from a preventative point of view. The van was our lifeline, and we didn’t want to be forced away from it,” he says.

By 1986 the McGraths knew they had to stop. They ruled out going back to Australia, and said they’d liked Alberta when they were here in 1969. And, they realized Calgary was close to the mountains – a key influence as the pair have skied just about every major ski resort in the world – and they wanted to be close to Lake Louise and Sunshine. They purchased a condo in Calgary and kept the VW in storage and used it for annual holidays. By 2006 Trevor says the van had to be sold as storage and insurance fees were becoming prohibitive, and the van itself was beginning to deteriorate. He listed it on eBay and created a website to help inform potential bidders. (The site has been updated, and can be seen here.) The van eventually sold, and is reported to have stayed in Calgary.

“That was the saddest day of my life, to walk away from that van,” Trevor says. “It was like the child we never had, and it truly was just the three of us.”

Here’s a postscript to that story. In early January, 2017, I caught up with Wade Idt of Calgary. He’s the fellow who purchased the McGrath’s van. He tells me he’s done nothing to alter the vehicle except restore some of the lettering on the side of the van, and that he and his family of four routinely use the bus and do go camping in it. Well done!

 

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Photo courtesy Trevor and Wendy McGrath

Calgary Herald, It’s Auto Show Time, by Greg Williams

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photo courtesy Aston Martin

The 2007 Aston Martin Vanquish will be on display Mar. 14 to 18 at the Calgary International Auto and Truck Show.

It?s auto show time.
Calgary?s International Auto and Truck show rolls into the Roundup Centre this month, and the display offers a glimpse at all of the new 2007 vehicles, plus some of the 2008 models.
From March 14 to 18 every major auto manufacturer will show off the latest in sheet metal, paint, pistons and gears (www.calgarymotordealers.com).
For 2007 the list of concept and future production vehicles under the spotlight includes the Jeep Gladiator, Hummer H3T (the pickup truck version of the large SUV), Ford Super Chief and Fairlane and Chevrolet Camaro. A couple of the 2008 vehicles to be shown include the Buick Enclave and the Lexus LS600HL hybrid.
While the mainstream manufacturers will take up every nook and cranny of the halls in the Roundup Centre some special interest makers will show their wares in the Corral. The list includes the Aston Martin Vantage and Vanquish, Bentley GT coupe and GTC convertible, Lotus Exige S, Lamborghini Murcielago LP640, Maserati Quattroporte, Ferrari 430 coupe, Saleen S281 Mustang and 331 Sport Truck.
Perhaps the best way to get up close and personal with the new iron is to take in the Vehicles and Violins gala. This event is something of an enchanted evening of music and food. Select groups of musicians from the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra play their strings and horns amongst the displays. A variety of international cuisine is provided at buffets stationed throughout the exhibit, but the automobiles are really the stars of the evening.
Now in its eighth year Vehicles and Violins is, in essence, a fundraiser for local charities. This year the recipients of funds raised are the Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre (AARC) and the Missing Children Society of Canada.
Vehicles and Violins began in 2000, when the event raised $73,500 for the CPO?s Heartstrings program. Every year since the Calgary Motor Dealers Association (CMDA) has selected two worthy charities that share the funds, including the Kids Cancer Care Foundation of Alberta, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, Prostate Cancer Institute of Calgary, Alberta Children?s Hospital, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Alberta, NWT and Nunavut and the Canadian Diabetes Foundation.
More than $1,160,000 has been donated since the gala?s inception.
Tickets for Vehicles and Violins are on sale until March 9, and are $150 each. They can be had by calling 974-0710 or by emailing cmda@telus.net.
The Calgary International Auto and Truck show officially opens on March 14 and runs to the 18. Tickets are $11 for adults, $7 for seniors and youth, $3 children six to 11, free for children under six. A family of four pass, two adults and two youths, is $25.00.

As published in the Calgary Herald’s Driving.ca section…

Calgary Herald, A classic breed: Television show host has never met a car he didn’t like by Greg Williams

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photo courtesy Dennis Gage, My Classic Car

Greg Williams, For the Calgary Herald

Published: Friday, February 23, 2007

Dennis Gage is the affable mustachioed host of My Classic Car, the popular car culture series currently seen on Speed Channel.

Gage had no formal TV training when he met My Classic Car creator Brad Kimmel. After putting together a pilot episode, Gage didn’t think anything would come of the endeavour. But, as he says, “We’re currently in production of our 12th season, which is 13 more than I thought we’d do.”

Gage’s background is diverse. He’s played guitar and trumpet in numerous bands, and has opened for Charlie Daniels, Waylon Jennings and Dr. Hook. Gage also has a PhD in chemistry and has worked in product development at both Proctor & Gamble and Bristol-Myers Squibb.

However, Gage loves all vehicles, four-wheeled and two-wheeled, and his boundless enthusiasm is what makes My Classic Car memorable.

We caught up with Gage to ask him to talk about his favourite topic — anything with wheels. He’s appearing this weekend at the World of Wheels, today from 7 to 9 p.m., Saturday 1 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. and Sunday 1 to 4 p.m.

Click here to read the rest of the story in the Calgary Herald…

Calgary Herald, Ducati packs power, pares price by Greg Williams

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photo courtesy Revoluzione Cycle Imports

Redesigned series aims to maintain performance, but cut maintenance

Greg Williams, Calgary Herald

Published: Friday, February 23, 2007

Ducati has long been perceived as the Ferrari of the motorcycle world. But with the introduction of the 2007 Ducati 1098-series, the Italian maker hopes to be perceived more as the Porsche of the industry.

“Ferraris are very exclusive, they’re expensive and they typically cost more to maintain,” says Ian Loughran of Calgary’s Revoluzione Cycle Imports.

“Porsches are relatively easier to obtain, they have fantastic performance and they have great quality — and are not as high-maintenance.”

In the past, Ducatis were notorious for their rigorous and costly maintenance schedules. But that’s changed for 2007.

All Ducati models now require less frequent service, and fewer parts and less labour at each service, thus reducing maintenance costs by 50 per cent.

Click here to read the rest of the column in the Calgary Herald…

Calgary Herald, Red Hot and Race Ready Mazdaspeed3 by Greg Williams

The Mazdaspeed3 may drive like a missile, but it’s still one practical little number

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photo courtesy Mazda Canada

Greg Williams, For the Calgary Herald

Published: Friday, February 09, 2007

Mike Bennett, in his own words, is a bit of a car kook. Over more than three decades, he’s owned and driven some impressive autos, and he subscribes to no less than 10 automobile magazines.

So, what did he think of the 2007 Mazdaspeed3 he drove for a week?

“It’s like a Swiss Army knife sport compact,” said Bennett, commercial sales manager at Calgary’s Varsity Chrysler.

“If someone had to have just one car to do everything — from daily driver to a track-day vehicle — they couldn’t do much better.”

That’s high praise for the Mazdaspeed3, a car that debuted at the 2006 Geneva Motor Show. The Mazdaspeed3 is based on the Mazda3 Sport, which was selected 2004 Canadian car of the year by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. To top that off, AJAC voted the 2007 Mazdaspeed3 best sports/performance vehicle under $50,000.

Click here to read the rest of the feature, the People’s Test Drive, in the Calgary Herald…

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photo courtesy Mazda Canada

1939 Triumph 5T Speed Twin

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This is my 1939 Triumph Speed Twin, “rustored” by John Whitby. I acquired this machine from the estate of Bernie Nicholson, of Nicholson Bros. Motorcycle fame. Bernie is famous for his seven editions of Modern Motorcycle Mechanics, the bible for any British ‘cycle enthusiast.

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Bernie Nicholson hillclimbing the 1939 Triumph 5T Speed Twin in Saskatoon,

circa 1939

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Forward momentum ends, Bernie Nicholson with the 1939 Triumph 5T Speed Twin, circa 1939

When the Triumph came home it was set up as a hill climb machine. Bernie had a set of megaphones on the bike, but for some reason he’d removed the girder front end. I began a search for the correct girder and was finally able to locate a 1940 girder fork, which has the helper, or check springs, on the side. While technically incorrect for the 1939 machine, it was better than nothing! My own motorcycle accident put this project to the side. But when John offered to put the bike together I didn’t hesitate. This motorcycle wears all of its original patina. John painted and distressed the fork, headlight and front fender. The mufflers also were ‘beaten’ to give them a weathered look. It took very little to persuade the Triumph to run. It likes to smoke a bit, but I think we’ll leave it as is for a while longer.

Calgary Herald, Whizzer still creating a buzz after nearly 70 years, by Greg Williams

Look — on the road. It’s a bicycle, it’s a motorcycle, it’s a Whizzer.

Developed in 1939 by Breene-Taylor Engineering Corp., a Los Angeles maker of aircraft components, the Whizzer engine was introduced and sold as an efficient form of transportation.

Marketed as a kit, the Whizzer drivetrain could be installed in just about any boys or men’s bicycle frame — presto, a power bike

Read the story in the Calgary Herald…