Although Manitoba's classic and special-interest car community is primarily made up of folks with a penchant for vehicles built in North America, there are a growing number of enthusiasts in the local vintage car hobby who absolutely adore British cars.
If you're a regular at the many car shows held each summer throughout the province, you've surely spotted a variety of these imported gems from British manufacturers that include Triumph, Austin Healey, Jaguar, Mini, MG, Austin and even the ultra-luxurious Rolls-Royce brand.
A great majority of our local British car enthusiasts are members of car clubs dedicated to the preservation and enjoyment of these rare and often extremely valuable machines. Local clubs include the Triumph Drivers Club of Manitoba, the Mid-Canada Mini Group, Austin Healey Club of Manitoba and the Jaguar Club of Manitoba.
Thomas Struthers, a member of the Triumph Drivers Club of Manitoba, fondly remembers driving his Triumph TR4 year-round in the mid-1960s, an early start on an extensive collection. Although he got out of the hobby for a few years, he returned with a bang. His collection now includes a number of British imports including a fleet of Austin Healeys as well as MG, Triumph and Jaguar models.
His passion for the cars is as much about speed as beauty.
"I've always admired what British car manufacturers were doing," Struthers said. "Instead of big cars with V8 engines, the British brought us sports cars with precision steering, excellent brakes and a power-to-weight ratio that offered a thrilling ride."
As an added bonus, they are also easy to restore and maintain.
"Even an old guy like me can work on them," he said, laughing.
Although rare machines, such as an Austin Healey, are expensive, models from both Triumph and MG can be restored for roughly the same amount of money as similar vintage North American cars, and the parts are readily available. In fact, many of the models built by both MG and Triumph were imported to Canada and the United States and are actually easier to come by here than they are in the U.K.
The BBC television show Top Gear, arguably the most popular automotive program in history, may have opened many North American auto enthusiasts' eyes to the wonder of British cars, but the local connection with these stylish and timeless machines has been alive and well in Manitoba for decades and continues to grow.
Struthers helped organize Northern Lights Rendezvous 2012, to be held June 14, 15 and 16 in Kenora. The annual event has been held in other Canadian cities, including Winnipeg and Thunder Bay, and has also been hosted south of the border in both North Dakota and Minnesota. Struthers has a summer home near Kenora.
The Rendezvous promises a spectacular gathering of more than 130 rare British cars and more than 200 revellers. The three-day event features a golf tournament, guided tours, driving events, a show and shine along the Kenora Harbour Front and a gala awards banquet hosted by American auto icon Dennis Gage, the star of SPEED TVs My Classic Car.
Members from the Triumph Drivers Club of Manitoba, the Mid-Canada Mini Group, Austin Healey Club of Manitoba and the Jaguar Club of Manitoba have been working together on the gathering, which promises to be another British invasion.
For more information on the upcoming 2012 Northern Lights Rendezvous and links to local British car clubs, check them out on the web at www.britishcar.ca/rendezvous .