Langford’s Len McIlwrick just hates to see old things go to waste.
This mindset extends to old stereo equipment (he believes a good stereo hasn’t been built since the early ‘80s), animals (he owns many of the rabbits run off the University of Victoria), plants (he has saved many from developments by replanting them on his boulevard) and property (his, which he has owned since 1990, is ripe for development, but he’s not planning to sell).
“What it really boils down to is I love bringing things back to life, or I love saving things,” said McIlwrick. “I’ve tried to save a couple of women, that didn’t work for me. That’s the one exception.”
Perhaps most of all, this spirit of ‘new doesn’t always mean better’ extends to cars.
In an enormous shop, a separate two-bay garage, a carport and throughout the driveway are cars, more than 15 by a quick count.
But the cars aren’t just junkers, parked and forgotten. Most are on the list for restoration, a hobby he picks away at mostly in the winter. Some are for parts for those restorations, such as the 1990s era Chevy truck he bought off a neighbour for its good transmission. The rest are either used regularly or are finished projects, gleaming with chrome and gloss.
The car obsession started in 1976 when McIlwrick traded in his 1973 Toyota Corolla straight across for a 1968 Camaro RS/SS with a 396 big-block engine.
“He was getting some heat from the parents and it was time to get rid of the speeding tickets,” McIlwrick said.
As he has done to many cars, McIlwrick restored the Camaro in the late ‘90s, finishing in 2000. He stripped it down, had the body repaired and painted, and then rebuilt it, perfecting and fixing as he went.
“It’s a fun, fun car to drive, let me tell you,” McIlwrick said. “I managed not to wrap it around a power pole in my first six months of owning it. You don’t step on it if you’ve got the wheel turned. You want to make sure you’re going straight.”
Other finished products include a 1969 Camaro Z/28 (with a stock 8-track deck) and a 1973 Avanti.
McIlwrick can’t explain the origins of his obsession with cars, but said the “collector gene” is in his bloodline and shows up in various family members. His father had no particular interest, and neither do his brothers, but his aunt, his great uncles and others are into collecting.
Over the years a fixation with old Packards grew for McIlwrick and he now focusses on restoring a series of the ill-fated, beautiful cars.
“I’ve always been interested in different or unusual vehicles,” McIlwrick said. “Once I read stuff (I thought) this is a neat car company.”
Packard was an American car company, with cars built out of Detroit from 1899 to 1958, when the company closed down due to poor sales. Despite fading away, Packard produced some unique vehicles with innovative designs, one of the factors which draws McIlwrick to the cars.
McIlwrick has a restored 1956 Packard Clipper and, perhaps the belle of the entire ball, a 1955 Packard Caribbean Convertible.
Each car takes about four to five years to restore, about 350 to 400 hours of work, with most done during the winters.
His current project is a 1965 Studebacker Wagonaire, an enormous station wagon-style vehicle McIlwrick plans to use as a work vehicle for his company, Coho Communications Ltd.
“Some people llke to drive cars, some people like to work on cars. I’m more of the work on cars sort of guy,” McIlwrick said. “Restoring cars has never been cheap but neither is golfing and all that.”
See the show
The Westhills Show and Shine is Sunday, Aug. 18 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Goldstream Ave.
The show will feature classic and muscle cars from 1975 and earlier, along with a barbecue, beverage garden and people’s choice awards.