Thursday, September 30, 1999



Lou and Betty Phelps in 1923 Star Car

copyright 1999 Mark Bellis WOODSTOCK, SEPT 30, 1999 - It took more than 32 years, but a Woodstock couple has completed a cross-Canada tour in a car built three-quarters of a century ago in Toronto.
"We were proud - there was a real feeling of accomplishment" said Betty and Lou Phelps, speaking pretty much in chorus on their rambling spread near Woodstock that has two stables filled with car parts, tools, road signs, a 1909 model T, an antique fire engine, and a 1923 Star that was the Phelps first classic car which they drove back from Newfoundland this summer to finish a trip started in 1967.
The Star was part of a convoy of vintage cars that started off from Victoria in 1967 to celebrate Canada's centennial. Betty, Lou and their three girls could only take 6 weeks off for the trip in 1967 and had to interrupt the trip in Montreal at the Expo 67 world fair.
Lou Phelps bought the car in the early 60s from a St. Thomas man whose wife told him to sell it after it cost him $ 500 to get the fenders repaired, a process which involved delicate soldering with lead and tin. Lou paid $ 700 for the whole car, which coincidently was the suggested retail price of a new Star in 1923.
Rebuilding the Star took a few years, but Lou said it was not hard finding parts, as the four cylinder Continental motor in the Star was used in many other agricultural and industrial applications and some are still in service today, as are the bearings and other parts. The clincher tires, resembling fat bicycle tires, are also still sold commercially. Lou and Betty had to make a new fabric roof, do some body work, and replace the original cast iron pistons with steel ones.
The Star was a "working man's car", Betty says. It was a bit more comfortable and expensive than the model T Ford that it was built to compete against, and had room for a farmer or mechanic, his wife in the front and a few kids in the back, which is exactly how Lou and Betty travelled part-way across Canada in 1967, with their three daughters as part of a convoy that started.
Lou, however, calls the Star a "Courtin' car", since the front passenger was wedged against the stick shift on a narrow bank seat. "You couldn't help touching the girl's leg!".
No sooner had the convoy started off with three dozen other vintage car enthusiasts in Victoria than a passer-by offered the Phelps' steel disk wheels from an old Star to replace the wooden spoked ones they feared might break in the Rockies.
The Star completed both legs of the journey across Canada without any major mechanical failure apart from a brush having to be replaced on the generator.
The Star could only make 12 mph going through the Rockies because it relied on a vacuum tank that forced the gas from the main tank to the engine and would start to lose the vacuum going up a slope at high altitudes. On flat terrain, cruising speed was 30 mph, but the Phelps' prefer to run during the daytime and be off the road by 4 pm to avoid sharing the road with fast drivers.
The Phelps' family camped with the other classic car drivers during the 1967 trip and their three daughters, ages 2, 6 and 11 made life-long friends with the other drivers children.
During the 1999 trip, the Phelps' stayed at bed and breakfasts and participated in classic car shows.
"We were proud - it was a real feeling of accomplishment after 32 year to be able to look back and say we did it.".
Betty and Lou and their children still drive the Star and their other antiques in rallies and car shows. Their son David, who was conceived on the 1967 trip ("Another centennial project!" Betty jokes) collects antique fire engines and their daughter Patricia is a curator at Annadale, a 19th century mansion now a historical site in Tillsonburg.
The Star was built in Leaside, now part of Toronto, by Durant Motors, a company started by Billy Durant, a flamboyant Michigan entrepreneur who had founded General Motors at the start of this century, but lost control of it for the second time and was trying to recoup his fortune.
Durant went broke again, and finished his days running a bowling alley and diner in Flint, Michigan, the town that General Motors pretty much built. But so many Stars were sold that the Canadian branch plant was able to survive and became independent of Durant as the Dominion Motors Company. Run with a patriotic bent, It began building the Frontenac, a more luxurious car named after Count Frontenac, Governor-General of New France. The Frontenac was rolled out, literally to fanfare, at the 1931 CNE. The roll-out featured actors dressed as the Count and 17th Century French courtiers. But the Frontenac did not sell well during the depression and the company ceased production in the early Thirties.
There were about 500 Frontenacs built - Gord Curl of Guelph owns a 6-70 which still runs and is interested in speaking to anyone who has information or memoribilia about the Leaside Plant and the cars that were built there. His phone is 519-823-5837. Curl is the Eastern Canada representative of the Durant Motors Automobile Club, which includes owners of Durants, De Vauxs, Rugbys, Flints as well as the Stars and Frontenacs. The club is headed by:
Lance Haynes ,
4672 Mount Gaywas Drive
San Diego, CA 92117-3927
Durant Motors Automobile Club

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