Chris Allen has a simple motto by which he lives: “If I can take it apart, I can put it together.” It has served him well over the cars he has owned, including his first one that was a surprise gift.
“I’ve been driving since I was 15, and have had a love of cars since that age,” he says. He was living in his hometown of Sarnia at that time when his aunt’s roommate moved to Calgary. “She left me her 1971 Vega,” he says. “I hardly knew her. My grandmother came over and gave me this piece of paper, a lady signing her 1971 Vega over to me and I still don’t know why. I thought it was great.”
The car needed some work, and Chris took on the project. “I have no formal training whatsoever,” he says. “No one in my family is mechanically inclined. My dad can’t even change a battery. But I love taking things apart. I think anybody can do it if they put their mind to it.”
The Vega needed a new clutch, among other things, and Chris fixed it up and drove it for about a year before he was actually able to legally drive. “I got my licence the second day after my sixteenth birthday, so they knew I was driving without a licence. And my dad was a police officer! I used to drive the Vega around town without a licence and insurance, but it wasn’t as serious an offense as today. I always had to carry a 9/16ths, because if you put it into reverse you couldn’t get it to go forward. You had to get under the car to shift it with the wrench.”
Once he got his licence, Chris sold the Vega and bought a 1970 Mustang. It was the beginning of a string of cars, including a 1971 MGB and a 1971 Firebird 400 Esprit that he planned to take on a move to Calgary, except that it burned in a parking lot before he could leave with it. Once out west, he bought a 1969 Camaro. “I was going to bracket raced it but I was transferred to Edmonton, and the guy I was going to build it with bought me out,” he says. “I’d always dreamed of bracket racing, but I’ve had nothing else in the way of muscle cars since my street rod. My dream is to find another 1969 Camaro one day, or buy a new Camaro, and I’ll probably turn it almost pro-street. I would love one of those crazy high-horsepower vehicles that you drive once in a while and you know has the power to go.”
He got into older cars with the purchase of a 1936 Plymouth coupe that he bought some eleven years ago in Ottawa. The owner wasn’t keen on selling, “but I bugged him for I don’t know how many years to sell it,” he says. “I called this guy faithfully every year and finally agreed to sell it, and I went with Frank Ageuci to Cornwall and picked it up and brought it back.”
Frank is his brother-in-law and through him, Chris got a summer job at General Motors that turned into his career. He was transferred first to Calgary and then to Edmonton; from there he went to Oshawa, and then to Ottawa where he was district manager for AC Delco for five years. He’s now back in Oshawa and presumably to stay.
Michelle, his wife of more than 25 years, “is a year older than I am, so she was driving my cars before I was,” Chris says. She ran a call centre at Minacs, where she supervised more than 400 employees, and is now retired. They have two sons, Brad and Brent.
His interest in street rods peaked when he went to shows in Louisville and York with Frank and Dave Repol. “I always wanted one because I saw Frank’s 1925 Dodge,” Chris says. “I thought I had to have one of these cars, something I can build myself.” Through them, he met Mike Campbell, and Dave and Mike suggested he join Motor City. “It’s far more professional than I thought a car club would be,” he says. “When I first came and saw the three folks sitting at the front, the president, treasurer and secretary, it surprised me and impressed me a lot. I thought a car club was just pay your money and hang out and talk cars. It’s a place to meet, to learn from other people, and the meetings keep it very professional.”
A fan of racing, he’s been to Daytona twice to watch NASCAR. “It blows you away to see them in real life as opposed to television,” he says. He’s also a keen gardener, looking after an acre and a half of property. “We have lots of gardens and a pond, and that keeps me busy,” he says. “I work in an office all day on a computer, and I get a sense of accomplishment by doing my gardening and seeing results.”
That satisfaction is something he gets from the club as well. “I joined for the knowledge to work on cars, and I want to get more involved in the community events,” he says. “Because we’ve moved so many places with GM, we don’t have a lot of really good friends, and I wanted to settle in, establish some roots, meet people and enjoy things like Autofest. A lot of people compliment you on what a great show it was. I kind of like that.”