Published on: April 7, 2017 | Last Updated: April 7, 2017 6:00 AM CST
Although the winner was in Edmonton, it turned out this 67-X would spend most of its life in Regina.
The 67-X began as an Oldmobile Toronado and was customized by George Barris, best known for creating the Batmobile, the Munster Koach, and dozens of other TV and movie cars. He also built many of the concept cars for Detroit’s Big Three automakers.
“It was a project that I personally enjoyed,” Barris told me when I interviewed him about the 67-X in 2002 (he passed away in 2015 at the age of 89) by phone from his office in California.
The Toronado was the first front-wheel drive car built in North America since the 1937 Cord. The luxurious, stylish and innovative Toronado was named Motor Trend magazine’s Car of the Year — a great starting point when Barris was hired by Esso to create the 67-X.
“It was not a concept car for glamour or movies or TV, but a family-oriented car,” Barris told me. “That’s why we made it longer, and the car was equipped with all kinds of accessories for a family of five.”
A new section was added to stretch the overall length from 5816 millimetres to 6121 mm. The original sheet metal was removed from the front and back, and replaced with fibreglass panels that gave the 67-X its exotic, futuristic style.
The interior was redone with a wrap-around seat in the back, a cooler and a flip-up table. The front passenger’s seat swivelled around to face the passengers in the back.
This creation fit in perfectly with the theme of the marketing campaign by Esso “family, safety and automotive traveling” because car trips that previously were considered too far, suddenly became popular in the summer of ’67. That’s because many Canadians were making road trips to Montreal to take in Expo 67. For many, it was their first chance to explore other parts of Canada.
With each gas purchase at an Esso station, a customer received a ticket with four pull-up flaps. Some of them revealed instant prizes of cameras or colour TV sets. A chance to win a 67-X came by lifting the fourth tab to reveal a safe driving tip. If a person collected all five safe driving tips, they could enter their name to win a 67-X. Winners of the four cars also were given free gas, oil maintenance and insurance for the first year.
“I remember badgering my dad to buy more gas at Esso so he could get more entries for the contest,” recalls Sean Prpick of Regina, who was nine years old that summer.
“The thing that excited us most was the fact the 67-X was designed and built by man who, with no exaggeration, was insanely popular with kids about my age around the world, George Barris,” he says.
The winner’s name was announced before a huge national TV audience, during intermission of game four of the Stanley Cup finals between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens. The Leafs were leading the heavily favoured Canadiens two games to one. (The Leafs went on to lose that game, but took the next two and won the Stanley Cup.)
The name drawn for the first 67-X was Cliff Hackett of Edmonton.
“With its wildly sculptured body-lines, the car sat simmering in the floodlights on a giant low-boy truck. It looked like a $50,000 automobile,” reported the Edmonton Journal. “The car certainly has a wild appearance and a luxury interior. It is also eye catching.”
The Hackett family took several trips in the 67-X, including one trip to Disneyland.
After owning the 67-X for more than a year and travelling 38,000 km, the Hacketts decided to sell the car in the fall of 1968. By then the free gas, oil, maintenance and insurance had expired.
The 67-X was bought by Nick Tarnovesky, who operated a Shell service station on Victoria Avenue East in Regina and bought and sold cars.
One evening he drove the 67-X over to a neighbor’s place, Ray Korpus, who happened to be an antique car buff. After thinking about it overnight, Korpus bought the 67-X.
Most of the time the 67-X was kept it in storage, although it was often taken out and displayed at car shows in Regina. At one custom car show in Regina in 1985, George Barris came to town, along with the Batmobile. The Korpus family’s 67-X was also on display.
“The sleek, gold-tone auto was an eyecatcher at the World of Wheels show in the Agribition Building held on the weekend,” the Leader-Post reported.
Their oldest son, Roman, a preschooler when his parents bought the 67-X, fondly remembers going for rides in the car.
When other kids would ask him about this unusual car, he would tell them it was created by George Barris, the man who had built the Batmobile.
After being in Regina from 1968 to about 2005, this 67-X headed south.
Roman Korpus — who lives in Houston, Texas — acquired the 67-X and transported it from Regina to Houston. It hasn’t been driven much since then. It’s stored in a warehouse and waiting to be brought back to its original beauty.
“Mechanically everything is sound, except the carburetor. It needs to be rebuilt. It’s still got the original tires on it,” he says.
After this first 67-X was awarded in April 1967, a lot of Canadians continued to enter their names in hopes of winning one of the three other 67-X cars that would be handed out during the summer of ’67.
“Dad did his best, but we never won my dream machine — although several other regular Canadians did,” reflects Sean Prpick.
The other winners were in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. But the first 67-X that went to Alberta 50 years ago ended up spending most of its life in Regina — and remains in the Korpus family 49 years after it was bought by Ray Korpus.