Old cars. Jim Mckelvey says his pastime of building and restoring them has not only kept him sane, but has given him something to work on and to be proud of.
Not wanting to hazard a guess as to how many cars he’s owned, Jim said the last time he counted he got to 148 and knew there were still some he was missing.
The second oldest of nine children, Jim recalls growing up in Surrey, where he got up early each morning just so he could back his dad’s car out of the garage. When he turned 12 years old his dad gave him a car to work on and at the age of 13 he bought a car of his own for $100. At 14, in his bedroom, he rebuilt his first engine.
“It just grew from there,” Jim said. “I’ve always had at least two cars all my life, one that was a driver and one that I was working on.”
Luckily for Jim, he met and married a girl who understood his passion.
“We’ve been married for 52 years,” explained Jim. “She’s always been pro cars. She has never had a problem with what I do with old cars, which is the reason I’ve been able to do it.”
Together the couple had two children, a boy and a girl.
The family moved to Summerland in 1976.
Jim did not always have the time or the money he would have liked, to spend on his cars. At one time he was working four part-time jobs. He was a sherriff, a guard and dispatcher for the RCMP and working for the Ambulance Service. He was also a volunteer firefighter and with the auxiliary police. Eventually he became a full-time dispatcher and even though he retired nine years ago he remains a casual dispatcher one or two days per week, which earns him enough to pay for his hobby.
After retirement, Jim built himself a workshop.
“The main things I wanted in the shop were a bathroom, a beer fridge and a hoist. I got all three,” he said.
Although Jim takes cars completely apart and puts them back together again, he lets someone else rebuild the engines and transmissions.
“I don’t do body work, I don’t do painting and I’m not a mechanic,” he said.
Jim has passed his passion for old cars on to his son Steve, who today has six cars of his own.
“When Steve got to be 16 he really wanted a hot rod,” explained Jim. “I had the makings and parts to build a 27 Model T Roadster pickup, so I gave him all of the parts and told him if he wanted a hot rod he would have to put his own money and time into it and that I would certainly help him. He’s been into old cars ever since.”
Steve Mckelvey said that he had definitely inherited his love of cars from his father. The best part of the hobby for him is the fact that it was something that he and his father could do together.
“It’s a great way for families to connect,” he said. He added that his father is very well respected among his peers, because of the length of time and the amount of experience he has in the business.
It is rare though for someone of Steve’s generation to have this kind of interest in old cars.
“Unfortunately the future of old cars is going downhill,” Jim said. “If you go to any event and you look at all the guys sitting around behind their cars, every one of them has grey hair. You don’t see young people sitting behind old cars.”
In the future Jim plans on turning his old 1948 Ford into a “racer” and once again enjoying the feeling of drag racing, which he has done in the past. He is also almost finished working on a 1949 Mercury two-door sedan.
“This car here is not ever going to be sold,” Jim said. “This is the one I’m building for myself and it will be here when I pass.”
About his hobby he said,
“It’s so gratifying. It’s just the fun of building a car and then driving it later. It’s a really good life.”