Eleven Cars, One Motorcycle
by Leanne Shapton and Derek Shapton



Until my brother and I were well into our thirties, our father collected vintage cars and motorcycles. He loved their design, the satisfaction of repairing and restoring them, and the social atmosphere of the car shows and swap meets. I’m sure a certain wistfulness for his boyhood and teenage years found some expression in his passion for these cars. These were the vehicles that characterized the era during which he entered the adult world.

We grew up enduring long road trips to car rallies and flea markets, picnicking at campsites and eating at roadside diners, all set to a soundtrack of Buddy Holly and Doo-wop, an idealized post-war paradise thirty years removed. We added a layer of our own on top of our father’s second-hand mania, with cars from the 70s and 80s mixed in among the Studebakers and British motorcycles. Looking at these photographs now, our memories intersect and overlap, but also diverge. These cars and bikes are literally vehicles for our nostalgia.

1 – 1953 Studebaker Champion (green car on left)

Derek – My favourite of Dad’s vehicles. I was devastated when he sold it as I secretly planned to buy it from him when I was old enough. It had striped brown fabric upholstery and it always seemed cool and shady inside, even on the warmest days.

Leanne – What I recall most about this car is the thin mint green and maroon plaid blanket in the backseat. And the mothballs that would roll back and forth across the package shelf whenever dad made a turn.


 2 – 1963 Studebaker Avanti

Derek – It had toggle switches in the ceiling that glowed orange in the dark, and it sounded the way I imagined a World War II bomber might. We had it for years, and I was excited to turn 16 so I could drive it. I did so only once. I stalled it immediately because the clutch was so heavy, and was afraid to try again.

Leanne – I also remember how this car sounded. Like the happy purr of an enormous lion. It was the first car I drove when I was fifteen, down the driveway and onto a country road. And back. Thrilling and chic. It was my favourite of dad’s cars and the one that made me think he was cool.


3 – 1973 Ford Thunderbird

Derek – It had a huge, dark, plush velvet interior that induced carsickness immediately. We drove it once to Florida and I wanted to barf the whole time. We were on our way to the Dixie Mall in this car in 1977 when Elvis died; Mom pulled over to the side of the road and started to cry.

Leanne – I have no recollection of this car.


4 – 1978 Dodge Van

Derek – A former government service vehicle, it had a military logo still faintly visible through the paint on one of the doors. We drove it to Thunder Bay one year for a family wedding. I read L Ron Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth on that trip. I also got left behind accidentally at a gas station in Wawa, Ontario. I remember coming out of the bathroom and watching the van pull out of the parking lot and drive away down the road. Dad thought I was in the back somewhere, underneath a blanket.

Leanne – This van makes me think of Lake Superior and grilling hot dogs on a hibachi atop a slab of Canadian shield beside the highway. The doors were heavy and made satisfying clunks and slams. I loved that it had windows, which made it much less sinister than windowless vans (which made me think: kidnappers.) Mom sewed the curtains that we would pull closed when we all bunked down for the night on a custom-made platform and orange wool cushions in the back. I would always want to sit in the front passenger seat, where my feet could not reach the floor. It smelled vaguely of army surplus.


5 – 1978 Pontiac Parisienne.

Derek – I thought this was a beautiful, sophisticated car because of the partly enclosed rear wheels. I left a bag of Gummy Bears in the back window one summer and they melted into a giant, delicious multicoloured mass that I nibbled on for weeks.

Leanne – I would sit in the back seat during night drives, usually to and from Filipino relative’s houses. Leaning against the window I would watch the beams from street lamps through the glass as they seemed to touch the hood of the car and pass it along to the beam of the next street lamp.


6 – 1964 Studebaker Hawk (white car on right).

Derek – Our father’s pride and joy. We went to many many car meets in this vehicle; I spent hours cowering in the car’s shadow, trying to hide from the sun, as all the shady parking was inevitably taken by the time we would arrive and we never had an umbrella or anything. The best spot was always in the big shadow from the massive hood.

Leanne – The interior of this car was red, I would stare at the perforated ceiling until there was one layer of dots floating close and one further back. Eating was not allowed in the car.


7 – 1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass

Derek – It had a brown, all-vinyl interior that was incredibly uncomfortable in the summer. I hated riding in it while wearing shorts because my legs would stick to the seats, and the seat belt buckles would get horribly hot and painful to touch. The one redeeming quality was the aroma; it smelled almost exactly like my Star Wars figures.

Leanne – On Tuesdays and Thursdays mom worked late and we would go to the library after school to wait for her. At 5:55pm I would station myself at the picture window in the children’s book section, and watch every passing car for these round headlights. She would also use this car to pick me up from Brownies, always late, because she would watch Magnum PI to the end.


8 – 1987 Buick Century.

Derek – I inherited this car from my cousin and drove it for years.  Leanne borrowed it one winter and left it unlocked on a downtown Toronto street, and a bunch of her stuff got stolen out of it.

Leanne – I have no nostalgia for this car. Only anger at my stupidity for leaving the doors unlocked while I had dinner with my boyfriend at Bar Italia. I spent the next week combing the back alleyways of Toronto looking in dumpsters and corners for my sketchbooks and clothes.


9 – 1983 Ford LTD wagon

Derek – I learned to drive in this car. When I finally got my license I would take Leanne to her early morning swim practices in it. We would get drive-through donuts and coffee and listen to music really loud on the way to the pool. I once folded down the back seat and squashed eight of my friends in the back, plus myself and one more in the front. We were stopped by the police, who let us off with a warning. I never told my parents.

Leanne – Swim practice/swim meet car. The cab of this car would be filled with the emotions of dread, hope or relief. When she picked me up mom would sometimes bring me hot sandwiches wrapped in tin foil and I would eat them next to her in the passenger seat. Other times I would lie down in the backseat and loop the middle seatbelt loosely over my parka and try to sleep.


10 – 1984 Mazda 626

Derek – This was the most “futuristic” car we ever owned. It had a digital speedometer and the stereo was a crazy mess of LEDs that took up half the dashboard. We only had for it a short time, Dad was worried that something computer-related would go wrong and he wouldn’t be able to fix it himself, so he sold it. He’s never been the sort to take his cars back to the dealer for repairs.

Leanne – I felt very glamorous when dad would pick me up from swim practice in this car. It only happened a few times. My dad did a drawing of this car that I thought was excellent.


11 – Norton 750 Commando

Derek – The most dangerous vehicle that we regularly rode. Dad would take me to school and softball practice on it, and I’d have to wrap my arms around him and hold on as tight as I could. My helmet was so heavy I could barely move my head, and all I could see while riding on it was a tiny sliver of asphalt between his side and my arm. As a result, longer trips on it were both terrifying and very boring.

Leanne– This was a loud bike. If dad took me out on it mom would stand in the doorway and scream “Be careful Bob, Oh my god!” Dad told me to lean into the curves. Once I figured that out it was fun.


12 – 1982 Plymouth Caravelle

Derek – We called this car the Brown Cow. It was an ex-RCMP undercover car and was stupidly fast. We had to keep cinderblocks in the trunk so the rear wheels wouldn’t lose traction too easily, but that didn’t stop me from trying to spin them any time I could—it was particularly fun on wet pavement. I ended up buying it from my dad, and then when I was in college a guy came up to me at a mall and asked if I wanted to sell it. I suggested what I thought was a ridiculous price and he agreed. When I dropped the car off at his house, he was so drunk he could barely walk. 

Leanne – I thought this was the ugliest car we ever owned. The Frantics had a song about a brown car and it reminded me what a loser car it was. Of course it was the only car dad would let me drive regularly when I got my license.

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