WHAT’S the point of having 435 horsepower in the most traffic-congested city in North America? Short answer: none. So let’s leave town.
Wake up early, pack a lunch, point this big V-8 at a piece of road and pull the trigger. All that’s needed is a decent excuse to do so. Look at that! Canada’s oldest Ford dealership is celebrating its 100th year in business. That’ll work.
But you can’t take the easy route and just run straight up the Coquihalla; that’d be no fun. Instead we’ll take the old routes, shooting up the Fraser Canyon, out through the narrow river valleys, East through the grasslands, and into the heart of the Okanagan.
Some time just before 7 a.m., we are about to plunge into one of the seven tunnels of the Fraser Canyon, strung out like a line of sausages between the tiny towns of Yale and Boston Bar. Roll your window down. It’s time to clear the cobwebs.
Ford of Canada celebrated its centenary back in 2004, and you only need visit a booth at any of the major car shows to see how it’s faring these days. For the enthusiasts, there are two hot hatchbacks and the all-wheel-drive Focus RS on the way. They’ve got a series of plug-in hybrids. They’ve got a turbocharged V-6 fitted to a full-sized pickup truck, crossovers in abundance, and a made-in-Canada supercar with the upcoming Ford GT. With the Lincoln Continental concept shown in New York, Ford even seems to have a general idea what to do with their luxury brand.
Dual-clutch gearboxes, hybrid technology, turbocharging — these are just some of the things our five-litre Mustang doesn’t have. It is 75 per cent nose. It is the colour of SpongeBob’s backside. It has a manual transmission and an old-fashioned sugar ‘n’ trans-fat V-8 engine. We should probably have taken something more modern on this down the hard-packed gravel, the occasional passing SuperDuty diesel pickup doesn’t look surprised to see us. This new Mustang might have an independent rear suspension and satnav, but it has plenty in common with the project Fox-body 5.0 that’s likely tucked away in one of the garages we pass.
Gravel turns to badly patched pavement turns to the main road again, and soon we’re running fast, east along the Okanagan Highway, and down into Vernon. We pass through several small unincorporated towns, but mostly farms and orchards. There are all kinds of historical nuggets to be mined here if you’re taking the slow route. For instance, Westwold was the retirement home of the last of the Caribou Camels, Bactrian beasts imported at the height of the Gold Rush. I believe there was some trouble with them eating people’s hats.
We pass the northern tip of Lake Okanagan, and come rumbling into Vernon just before 1 p.m. Watkin Ford has been in business here for 100 years, making it the oldest continuously operating Ford dealership in Canada. Back in the cattle-ranching days, occasionally a cow would come in as a down payment.
These days, the dealership is in the hands of the Blankley family, who’ve run the place for three generations. They have a celebration of their history planned for the fall.
After snapping a quick picture, we’re heading back to the city. This was less a pilgrimage than an excuse to get out and explore, to go for a drive and soak up part of our province. Back to stop-and-go and the clogged masses of rush-hour metro Vancouver.
We leave behind winding back roads and lonely landscapes, historical landmarks and the path less travelled.
We’ll be back.