Alyn Edwards/Special to the News
The 1926 Cadillac Custom Imperial Suburban Limousine purchased new at Victoria’s Begg Motors for $6,904.35 by the descendants of coal magnate Robert Dunsmuir is once again dignifying local streets and avenues. The magnificent custom aluminum-bodied seven passenger limo that cost a king’s ransom and transported the Dunsmuirs to tea and other social events in B.C.’s capital city had a very colourful life.
With the start of WWII, the big limousine was requisitioned for an ambulance. The door post on one side was removed to allow a stretcher to be placed inside.
When it was returned to the Nanaimo Colliery Company, the Dunsmuir family of Victoria that owned the coal mines no longer had any use for the old limo. They gave it to chauffeur Percy T. Fallick.
In time, the car ended up in a salvage yard in Prince George with the engine in the back seat. The old limo was rescued by a local enthusiast who had the engine rebuilt.
Eventually, the car came into the possession of one of Vancouver’s most flamboyant characters of the 1960’s. Vancouver businessman George Patey had been very involved in show business and became world famous through his purchase of the bricks from the Chicago garage where the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre took place. The Al Capone hit on the rival Bugs Moran gang saw seven people lined up against the wall and shot on February 14, 1929.
George Patey knew the massacre getaway car was a Cadillac similar to the Dunsmuir limo. Patey had the old Cadillac painted in bright colours and upholstery redone in wild fabrics and had the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre wall reconstructed in the men’s room of his new Gastown night club called the Banjo Palace. The wall behind the urinal was then covered with plexiglass on which Patey painted targets to be aimed at.
When Patey closed his night club in 1976, the Cadillac limo was sold. It was eventually purchased by the BC Transportation Museum in Cloverdale for $6,500 – just short of the original cost of the car.
All assets were sold when the museum closed in the late 1980’s with the limo going to the Nanaimo Heritage Initiative connected to the Malaspina College history department. With the dissolution of the heritage initiative in 2002, the car was taken over by the Nanaimo Chapter of the Vintage Car Club of Canada. The car needed to be restored and it was eventually sold to the owner of a restoration shop in Gibsons.
Victoria resident Dale Mackie was working for a tour business in Victoria with his restored 1954 Cadillac limousine when he heard about the Dunsmuir car being offered for sale on the internet. He bought it.
It was his intention to fix the car up and use it to convey tourists around Victoria with points of interest to include the mansions and castles left behind by the Dunsmuir family.
Over a 21-month period, the former welding and fabrication shop operator completely disassembled the car and painstakingly rebuilt it to new condition. Dale and restorer John Pietroniro worked six days a week on the car. The aluminum body was in surprisingly good condition and only needed some minor smoothing.
But the wood frame over which the body was constructed was rotted and needed replacing. The original floor boards were in such good condition they could be re-used. Workers at the factory had engraved numbers in the wood for recording body style 6355 and model 6700. It was a custom-built body by Fisher.
The restored limo has been painted in blue with black top and fenders. The interior is blue fabric with plush royal blue carpeting. This was among the most luxurious cars of the era with rear fold down jump seats for extra passengers, silk window shades, a curved roll up division window and windshield for added ventilation.
The only original part that has eluded Dale is the Stentor phone that passengers used to direct the chauffeur. The limo has been appraised at $140,000.
As an experienced tour guide, Dale Mackie developed a keen interest in the family that was once the wealthiest in Western Canada and owned homes like Craigdorroch Castle built on a hill overlooking Victoria in the 1800’s. Knowing how historic the Dunsmuir family’s Cadillac limo is, he decided not to use it for tours.
The amazing piece of Victoria history will be on display along with up to 300 special interest vehicles at the Oak Bay Collector Car Festival that runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 10.
“Each year, I look for an outstanding heartwarming feature vehicle to take centre stage at our event,” says organizer Ken Agate. “The Dunsmuir family limousine will be placed in the prime position.”
For more information on the show that attracts approximately 15,000 people visit bletheringplace.com online.
Alyn Edwards is a classic car enthusiast and partner in Peak Communicators, a Vancouver-based public relations company.