When people say a car is a “member of the family,” they usually just mean it’s a treasured possession. But Doug Stapleton’s 1947 Ford truly is part of the family. He and his wife Cathy took their honeymoon in it, and their sons Corey and Dustin both came home from the hospital in it when they were born.
He bought the car in 1973, got married in 1975, and his sons followed in 1978 and 1981, but all of that is predated by his relationship with Motor City. He started attending meetings in 1969 and was voted in as a member in 1970. He still owns the 1947 Ford, along with a 1950 Ford coupe that he’s working to build.
“I was nine years old when my dad let me drive his 1959 Buick LeSabre,” Doug says. “I just seemed to like cars. My dad had a 1950 Ford and when I was four or five years old, I got attached to it. My brother talked him into trading it and I was mad as hell when I saw the new car sitting in the garage. I wanted the old car back.”
He still lives on his family’s farm in Orono where he grew up. By trade he is an automotive technician and millwright, although he works as a maintenance supervisor at Ontario Power Generation in Darlington.
The club was considering working at the Speedsport show in Toronto around the time that he joined. “Gary Challice came to a meeting one night and said, ‘Do we want to make money? I’ve got a possible job, but it’s going to be a lot of work.’ Bruce Robertson, the promoter, had approached the car club about working the show. I think we made $500 at the first show. That was huge money to us back then, but it wouldn’t work out to a buck an hour,” he says, because the work initially began on Wednesday night and wrapped up long after midnight on Sunday.
“Doing Speedsport was part of being a club member,” he says. “It was ‘all hands on board’ when Speedsport came along, because you needed everybody working, right from setup to tear down and move out. Whatever needed to be done, placing cars, setting up barriers and taping them to the floor, manning the back gate.
“When you’ve got celebrities that you’ve only seen on TV and now you’re dealing with them, like Lou Ferrigno, Scott Baio, Batman and Robin, Don Garlitts, Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth – oh, she was gorgeous! – it was exciting. By Sunday it was work, but leading up to it and during the show, it wasn’t work. We’d stay at the Seaway Towers and it was always eight to a room. Aren’t box springs meant to be slept on? On Sunday, Bruce was giving away trophies right until eleven o’clock and it was three in the morning before we’d get out of there and then have to go to work the next morning.”
He’d first attended the show as a spectator around 1967, little dreaming that one day he’d be a vital component behind the scene when the show moved into the Automotive Building on Toronto’s Exhibition grounds. “That was a big job on Friday,” he says. “There was no elevator, and all the cars on the mezzanine went up by forklift. The cars were so long we couldn’t get the stop barrier up, and the owner of the car would have to ride the forklift up with his foot on the brake.” The cars came down the same way, “and one year Bruce forgot to order the forklift for Sunday night. He had to make some emergency calls, and the guy finally got there at one o’clock in the morning. That was a late night.”
He initially found out about Motor City through his friend John Grady, who was a member. “We were hanging around town, and he invited Glenn Millson and me down one day at noon from high school, when the car club had the building that was the old fire hall on the corner of King Street and Town Line. They had two bays downstairs. Bob Clarke’s Anglia was in one, and Roy Begner’s T was in the other. Just as I joined the club, they moved to the clubhouse down on Bloor Street.”
Doug was still living at home, going to high school and driving a 1966 Ranchero that, at the time, was still new enough to just be transportation. “I wanted to join the club because of my interest in cars,” he says. “There were seven members when I joined. John Grady had a lot of influence on me back then. He had a 1956 wagon and was working on a 1946 Ford coupe. I didn’t join the club because I was getting a car; I got a car because I joined the club. The first car I bought was a 1934 Chev. Who knew they had so much wood in them?”
His organizational skills have kept him on the executive board over the years. “I like to think I bring leadership and some enthusiasm to it,” he says. “It’s the same as any group, you have the core group of people who do the bulk of the work, and another group is there for support, to do what’s needed when they’re asked.”
He takes great pride in Motor City and how the members always handle themselves professionally, whether it’s at Autofest, a car show, or just a few guys going out to a cruise night. “I have an early memory that always sticks in my mind that really had a lasting effect on me,” he says. “We’d gone down to Orono Park and the club had rented the pool. I was nineteen years old and when we were leaving the park, I had to pull a ‘look at me’ and I laid rubber. We were going to a restaurant after that, and Bob Clarke and Roy Begner stopped me and said, ‘That’s not how a Motor City Car Club member acts.’ And that’s something I never forgot. That moulded me to the way I’ve acted since then.”