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David Butts of Birch Grove, with a 1947 Ford he bought 60 years ago at age 15. Butts, a member of the Cape Breton Antique and Custom Car Club, said he’d never be able to part with this car as he’s had it his entire life.
Bill Corbett of Lingan, president of the Cape Breton Antique and Custom Car Club, and his wife Sheila, pose with Sheila’s 1965 Mustang convertible they purchased in 2003 after a 20-year wait to find a car like it. Sheila said was worth the wait. Bill also has a 1957 Mustang Fastback.
A car show on Main Street in Sydney Mines in 1986, depicting Bill Corbett’s former 1957 Chev Bel Air Four-door hard top, which he ended up selling in 1990.
David Butts of Birch Grove and his wife Wilma in front of one of three garages on their property storing their five antique cars.
David Butts of Birch Grove and his wife Wilma in their a 1928 Model A Roaster with a rumble seat. Butts, a mechanic, has restored and repaired antique vehicles his entire life.
One of three garages owned by David Butts of Birch Grove, this one is the main one full of memorabilia related to antique and custom cars.
It’s a hunt for treasure on wheels that could take decades – and sometimes does.
"Absolutely,” said Bill Corbett of Lingan, president of the Cape Breton Antique & Custom Car Club. “People will wait and watch for years for the right car.”
Bill and his wife Sheila did, for 20 years.
Sheila originally had been searching for a 57’ T-Bird convertible. It was 1983, a call came on a Friday from a man involved in the hobby, who had found one for her. Two days later he called back.
“He had decided to keep it,” she said. “I was broken-hearted.”
However, he promised to keep his eye out for the type of car she was looking for. Twenty years passed before he called back and said he found one. Sheila and Bill bought the 1965 Mustang convertible sight unseen. Sheila said they were shocked over the condition it was in but knew it would be nice and rust free as it was from California.
It was worth the wait.
“Just look at it,” Sheila said, pointing to a photo. “It’s a beautiful little car.”
Bill said the search can take longer, some people simply wait to find the exact colour, engine or body style.
“They’ll be waiting to find the right one or maybe until someone who has the one they want decides to sell it.”
HOW IT STARTED FOR THE LINGAN COUPLE
Bill and Sheila Corbett met in August 1970 and married in March 1971. Sheila, originally of Sydney Mines, grew up in a household that loved older cars. She was 16 when her father bought a 1954 Ford.
“Dad bought it for the girls, there were three of us,” she said. “It wasn’t in any condition to take to a car show, but we loved it.”
Sheila and Bill bonded instantly but not from cars, but rather a friend. Sheila and Bill worked across the street from each other in Sydney Mines. A friend of Sheila’s worked with Bill and introduced them. Cars became a mutual love.
“Sheila was just as interested in them as I was,” Bill said.
The Cape Breton Antique and Custom Car Club was formed in 1979. When Bill, currently president, joined in 1982 there were 26 members. Now there are 245.
Cruise-in nights are held from May into late fall, rotating between communities. On Sundays the club meets at the Mayflower Mall for a run.
“We don’t know where we’re going until we get there,” Bill said.
Members just pack a lunch. Recently afternoon drives included St. Peter’s. Another Sunday, Mira Park. Fourteen members attended.
“Everyone took a sandwich with them, we had homemade baked beans, sweets and stuff like that,” he said.
Cars are stored during winter but the club still meets monthly.
DAVID BUTTS AND HIS 1947 FORD
It was an exciting time for David Butts 60 years ago when he bought a 1947 Ford. It was 1959, he was still in school, working the pumps at a service station on Union Street in Glace Bay on the weekends.
David, 76, said the car came in from a car parts salesman in New Waterford that needed parts their service station had. The station traded and David bought the car from the station.
“I was 15, I didn’t have a license to buy it,” he said. “My mother put it in her name.”
The next day he went back to work and the boss asked for the money for it. Butts said he’d have the funds the following week. The car was $150. There were issues with the motor and transmission.
“We had to push it out of the garage so we could get it on the street and take it home.”
David fixed it up by himself in any spare time he had.
Once the car was ready, Butts would drive it up and down the street even before he got his license.
WILL NEVER LET GO
David married his wife Wilma 53 years ago. They took the 1947 Ford on their honey moon up through Moncton and Prince Edward Island.
After 60 years, it’s one vehicle he’d never part with.
“After having it so long, the wife will have to sell if after I’m gone,” he said laughing.
“That’s all I can say.”
The Butts currently have five antique cars including a 1946 Mercury truck, a 1949 Anglia built in England, 1934 Ford Coupe and a 1928 Model A Roaster.
David modernized all the gear and comforts in his vehicles. He said although his wife isn’t into antique cars like he is, she loves the truck which has power steering and brakes.
“It’s so nice to drive,” he said.
A mechanic by trade, David has pulled many old cars out of the woods over the years and restored them and has done lots of work on antique cars for other people.
“I’m 76 now so I’ve given it up,” he said.
David also experienced the hunt and the wait. Years ago he found 1934 Ford Coupe and was hoping for a sweet deal, it was actually inside a bake shop in St. Peter’s. The owners were no longer in business. They had opened up the front rolling doors and the car was being stored at the back of the shop.
“You couldn’t even smell the bread anymore.”
David knew about the car for years and every year would go back and try and buy it.
He thought the owner wanted too much money, so he would go back the following year and offer a little bit less or a little bit more.
Finally 40 years ago the owner said he was going to sell it but to someone else.
David wasn’t happy.
“I was pretty pissed off,” he said. “I said ‘I’ve been after you for years to buy this car and you wouldn’t sell it and now you find someone else. That’s pretty mean.’” The man said if Butts offered a little more money he’d be willing to sell t to hm.
“He said, ‘$5 more will do,’” David said. “I’ve had it for 40 years. I fixed it all up.”
The cars catch attention – always. When sitting in the Mayflower Mall parking lot, David said people will first walk all around it looking. Finally they’ll come to the window.
“I don’t mind,” he said. “I’ll tell them everything they want to know.”
The most common questions? “How much I want for it. If it’s for sale,” he said laughing.
Not just anyone can buy one of his cars, he said. David put a larger engine in his 1949 Anglia.
“A man was here wanting to buy the Anglia for his young fellow and I turned him down. With the bigger engine he wouldn’t be able to handle it.”
THE CAPE BRETON ANTIQUE AND CUSTOM CAR CLUB
David and Wilma are two of the original founding members of the Cape Breton Antique and Custom Car Club, started in 1979. November marks the 40th anniversary of the club and they’ve held various events including a recent dinner.
The club also has a website that includes cars and parts for sale maintained by their club’s vice president, David MacDougall.
However, some people don’t want to sell their car locally as after driving it for so long they don’t want to see it anymore.
“They’d rather send it to Ontario or New Brunswick, somewhere where they’re not going to see it again.”
The website also includes pictures of the members cars. Some might have five but each of the 245 members post one photo.
“Their favourite one is the one that goes on the website.”
Bill said this year he and Sheila were at 53 events related to antique and custom cars including meetings, runs to various communities and car shows in Cape Breton and other provinces in 2019.
“There are so many shows there’s no reason not to go.”
“The Gabarus show is unbelievable, there’s a lunch and everything, all we have to do is show up,” he said. In Iona they have five members in their club. “It’s great there, that’s the place to be.”