Ian Brown always loved cars, learning how to work on them with his late brother. But although he was an enthusiastic member of Motor City, cars had to wait while Ian fulfilled another dream: he was one of a long line of pipe band drummers in his family. He was good enough that in 1986, he played in the World Championships in Scotland.
“I play the snare drum,” he said. “I started with the pipe band in Oshawa Legion Branch 43. My grandfather taught most of the drummers at that time in the band. My pipe band history goes back to my great-great-grandfather and I’ve inherited it.”
He started playing in 1971, and over the years played with several bands, including those in Port Hope, Oshawa and Newmarket. That last band took him to the world event. “It was our first time over, and we tied for 15th out of 60 or so bands, and that’s a huge deal,” he said. “At the same time we played in the Northern Ireland Championships. We were in Newcastle, just outside of Belfast. We were going to catch the shuttle bus and there was an armoured Jeep there, because of all the religious problems they were having. Three days after we left Newcastle the IRA blew out three of the stores in downtown Newcastle and killed a police officer. That’s how scary it is.”
Ian was born in Scotland, and since his father was in the military, he moved to Hong Kong in 1953 where he lived for a year. “We did it all by boat and I remember it like it was yesterday. We left from Southampton through the Suez Canal, around India and right to Hong Kong. I remember the Rock of Gibraltar and the coconuts piled up on the dock on the Suez Canal. Then we went back to Southampton for a day and then to Canada, and I arrived in March of 1955. Why Canada? It was the land of opportunity as far as my mother and grandparents were concerned.”
Now retired, he worked as a typesetter for 22 years – “there’s nothing like it,” he says of this favourite job – and then with Lear Corporation, making seats for General Motors for 23 years. He married his wife Cheryl in 1965 and they have two children, Lori and Kelly, and six grandchildren.
He gave credit to his late brother, a mechanic, for his interest in cars. “I’ve always dabbled in the mechanical end of it, but I’m not a mechanic,” Ian said. “I’m a shade-tree mechanic. My brother built race cars and I was always on the periphery. I helped him balance three motors, and that’s what kept me interested while I played pipe band. I used to on the Ontario circuit and we played from Sarnia to Montreal and everywhere in between every summer, so everything else took a back seat.”
His brother was a drag racer and Ian worked with him on the cars. “His last car was a 1974 Vega, named the Mad Mechanic. He was certifiably crazy but so smart car-wise. He was brilliant.”
Ian’s cars included a 1962 Acadian, which had a 194-cid six-cylinder engine “until I blew that up. I loved that car, and what was available was a 235-cid Pontiac. I was going from an automatic to a standard, so we did that with the car two feet off the ground. We didn’t have hoists back then; you crawled underneath.”
The Acadian was followed by a 1958 Chevrolet, 1965 Ford Fairlane, and a 1958 Hillman “that was a gas saver until I blew the motor out. Try to find another motor and replace it as a shade-tree mechanic! You sure learn a lot when you start playing around with English stuff.” He had a 1969 Barracuda and then, around 1987, a 1975 Malibu. “I was working at Canada Bank Note on the midnight shift, and coming back I blew the upper rad hose on the Gardiner (Expressway) at 6:30 in the morning. I ended up parking in the O.P.P. parking lot and they asked what the hell I was doing there, so I had to go to Canadian Tire on Yonge Street and ask them to replace the rad. It was $800 before I got home. That was two weeks’ pay, but what are you going to do when you’re stranded?”
Then he bought a 1951 Chevrolet dubbed the “Peach Bomb,” in 2001. “I just liked the big back fenders, the way they stuck out appealed to me,” he says. “And how many 1951s do you see? You don’t see many at all, so I thought, let’s get something and make it unique. It was a pinky colour and was running as well as could be expected; the guy never really took care of it. I had it repainted in peach and put pearl in the paint. All the trim is hand-rubbed or hand-filed and that took hours. Guys paint the trim now, but I didn’t want to do that. You take the chrome or the stainless and small files, and you keep rubbing until you take the top finish off, leaving a grain in there, and then you put it back on the car and clear-coat it. It’s hard on the fingers.”
The car is filled with neat little custom touches, including 1958 Oldsmobile taillights turned upside down, a dash inlay made of aircraft aluminum, and little slide-out rear ashtrays “that took me a year to find,” Ian says.
His relationship to the club is actually “relative”: his wife and Gary Challice’s wife are sisters. “I knew Gary was in the club but I wasn’t ready to get back into joining something yet, because I’d played pipe band for so long, making that commitment,” Ian said. “But then I was finally ready to get back into an organization of some sort, and it had to be cars. Motorcycles don’t catch my interest, and I didn’t want Lions or Kiwanis. I need to be doing something as opposed to being in a straight service club.”