One of the rarest cars in Canada — created for the Centennial in 1967 — is being put on a rare public showing at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria this week to help celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday.
The car is an Esso 67-X — one of four that were created by legendary Hollywood car customizer George Barris, who also built the Batmobile and dozens of other cars for TV shows and movies.
This is one of only three 67-Xs that are known to still exist. Trevor Weflen of Victoria bought this car on eBay in 2011 from a car dealership in St. Louis, Missouri.
“I think the 67-X is an important part of Canadian history,” Weflen says. “They were built just for Canada and caused quite a sensation when they came out.”
This particular 67-X was won by Walter Scales of Okanagan Landing, B.C. It was later owned by Frank Baker of Vancouver, who put it on display in front of his Attic restaurant for most of the 1970s. It’s believed it then had a few owners in the U.S., until appearing on eBay.
Imperial Oil in Canada hired Barris to create what would be considered the ultimate family travel vehicle. During the Centennial year, Canada hosted the world’s fair, Expo 67 in Montreal, and many Canadians took to the roads to travel there. Esso stations gave away instant prize cards for colour TVs and cameras, and by collecting five different safety tips on contest cards, customers could enter their name in a draw for one of the four 67-X cars.
“This vehicle is a flashback memory of Canada’s 100th birthday, half a century ago,” explains Lorne Hammond, Curator of Human History at the Royal BC Museum.
“We are a provincial museum but we are also proudly part of Canada’s story. This is just one of several tributes connecting our province with events across Canada in 1967 and today in 2017,” Hammond adds.
The 67-X will be on display at the Royal BC Museum from Feb. 14 to March 13.
To create the 67-X, George Barris took a new Oldsmobile Toronado — Motor Trend magazine’s Car of the Year in 1966 — cut it in half, and added in a new section that stretched the wheelbase from 3,022 millimetres to 3,403 mm. The overall length was increased from 5,816 mm to 6,121 mm.
The original sheet metal was removed from the front and back, and fibreglass panels were added to give the 67-X its distinctive style. Interior features included a front passenger seat that could be swiveled around to face the back seat, a built-in cooler, two radios with headphones and a pop-up table in the rear passenger compartment.
Barris built these four cars for Esso dealers to give away as prizes during the Centennial summer of 1967. The prize also included free gas, oil, repairs and insurance for one year.
Weflen remembers when the 67-X came out. “I was in the Air Force in Winnipeg. I remember seeing the brochures and the ads, and thought: ‘Man, that would be nice.’ ”
After eight years in the military, he returned to his home in Saskatoon and opened a custom car shop. He later got into the discount gas business, and then launched the Great Canadian Oil Change, which now has more than 70 locations.
But he couldn’t forget about the 67-X.
“I always thought they were a neat car. I had never seen a real one, but always in the back of my mind I thought it would be a nice car to have. I always wondered: ‘where did those cars go?’ and ‘why don’t we ever hear anything about them?’ Then I found this car.”
Weflen was looking for something to add to his car collection, which includes a 1934 Dodge, a 1956 Ford half-ton truck, a 1958 Edsel Bermuda station wagon, a 1967 Jaguar Mark II and a 1960 Dodge Polara D-500.
Weflen says his 67-X gets more attention than any of his other vehicles because it’s so rare.
“People always want to know what it is. There have been more than a few times when I’ve been driving and somebody will roll their window down and shout ‘What kind of car is it?’ ”
Very often car collectors want their treasures hidden away from public view — but Weflen is pleased to show off his 67-X at the Royal BC Museum.
“This way people get to see it. I think people will find the 67-X very interesting — and its role in Canadian history. It was built to celebrate Canada’s 100th birthday and now that we’re at the 150th, here’s something to show that was done just for Canada,” he says.
And the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria is very pleased to display the 67-X in its main foyer during the early part of Canada’s Sesquicentennial year. As Hammond says, “The idea of ‘win this car and explore Canada’ is an idea I love. It’s a wild, innovative machine if you love automobile design, and it is also the intangible idea that four Canadians hoped to win and did win one of these cars. It’s simply a fun way to enjoy our Canadian story looking back to 1967, to today and to the idea of what will the future bring.”