Bernie Loughran has been a hot rodder since his earliest teenage years growing up on Vancouver’s east side. The sound of squealing tires and open exhaust from street racing on Kingsway in the early 1950s was intoxicating.
He would ride his bicycle to the Cal-Van Hot Rod parts store, King’s Burgers and the Aristocrat at Kingsway and Fraser where the hot rodders hung out. As 13-year-olds, he and his hot rod-smitten buddy were accepted by members of the BC Custom Car Association (BCCCA) who met monthly at the local Horticultural Hall.
Sixty-five years later, Bernie and wife Caroline have a pair of Ford Model T hot rods in the garage behind their Cambie-area home. The oldest turned 100 last year – a curious and rare 1916 Ford Model T centre door sedan.
What’s it like driving a century-old hot rod? Caroline Loughran likes it. The centre door gives equal access to both front and rear seating. And riding in the ancient car with stagecoach styling is like a room with a view.
Caroline looks out a picture window-sized windshield with side windows like giant picture frames as she pilots the T up Cambie Street heading for a photo shoot in Queen Elizabeth Park.
Ahead is the 1926 Model T ‘tub’ phaeton driven by husband Bernie. It is much like Bernie’s first hot rod – a Model T roadster pickup mounted on the frame of a 1932 Ford sedan that he bought in the Fifties for $50 and drove home. In 1957, he graduated and got his dream job working at the Cal-Van speed shop for the lofty sum of $1 per hour.
“I wore a shirt and tie and had my own counter section,” he recalls with a hint of pride.
He was saving money to attend the University of British Columbia but decided on a trip to China with a buddy. But they never got past England where they ran out of money and had to look for work.
Bernie got a job as a sports reporter because he knew American football and there was an exhibition game about to be played. When that was canceled, he convinced his editor that he could provide coverage for exhibition drag racing by American quarter-mile icons Don Garlits and Tommy Ivo who were to face off on four former RAF airstrips. He met and married Canadian-born Caroline in England and sold his hot rod in Vancouver thinking he would stay in England and become a family man.
He asked his long-time Vancouver friend Don Holloway to be in the lookout for a ‘bathtub T’ which is slang for a model T touring car body. Dutifully, Holloway bought a 1926 Ford Model T touring body for $100 and delivered it to the Loughran family home where it was stored until Bernie returned to Vancouver following 11 years overseas.
Once back in Vancouver, Bernie found work as a technical illustrator for a truck manufacturer while Caroline taught in a Montessori school. But the auto trades kept calling out and he was soon the operator of two MAACO body and paint shops in North Vancouver and Richmond, a franchise made famous by $199 paint jobs.
He got the idea for a unique courtesy car for his business from Donald Duck comic books. Grandma Duck drove an ancient coupe with extra high windows that looked to Bernie like an early Ford Model T. He began looking for one like it. That search led to a farmer’s field outside Rocky Mountain House, Alberta where a 1916 Ford Model T was stuck in the frozen mud. Bernie discovered it wasn’t a coupe as described, but a much rare centre door sedan. He bought it.
“It was a basket case with all the wood rotted inside the car but it wasn’t rusty,” he recalls, adding he had to wait for a snowstorm to clear in the Rocky Mountains before heading out to trailer the T home. That was nearly 30 years ago.
After he sold his businesses and retired, he borrowed a section of his old shop to build his hot rod. He rebuilt the original body but made sure all the underpinnings are modern. That includes fabricating a new frame and installing disk brakes, power steering, air conditioning and a 2.5-litre V6 engine from a 1979 Mercury Capri. Bernie took more than a decade to finish the car but has had 15 years of enjoyment from the hot rod that is now more than 100 years old.
Ford built more than 15 million Model T vehicles from 1908 to 1927. The centre door model was very low production beginning in 1915 and ending in 1923. Bernie Loughran’s centre door Ford Model T is one of the earliest built.
“I’ve always loved hot rods,” Bernie says. “This one makes me happy and puts a smile on everyone’s face when they see it.“
Alyn Edwards is a classic car enthusiast and partner in Peak Communicators, a Vancouver-based public relations company. [email protected]