Cow­boy cruiser

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - AUTOS - By Bren­dan McAleer

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.

PHO­TOS BY BREN­DAN MCALEER / POST­MEDIA NET­WORK INC.

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