On November 6, 2012, we lost James (Jim) Irving McGowan.
McGOWAN, James Irving April 27, 1934 – November 6, 2012 In loving Memory A loving husband, father, grandfather and friend to many. Jim will be greatly missed. Survived by wife Mary of 55 years, children; Rick (Katie), Michael (Camille) Carrie and Joanne. Grandchildren Jeffrey, Bradley, Danielle, Dave and great-grandchildren Sadie and Bradyn. Siblings Valarie, Leanne and Gregg. A celebration of life to be held at Capital City Yacht Club, 10630 Blue Heron Road, North Saanich on Saturday, November 17th, 2012 from 1:00-4:00 p.m.
I’m sure you’ll be interested in this article written by Alyn Edwards for The Vancouver Sun in December 2010:
Jim McGowan purchased his partly built 1932 Ford roadster hot rod in a very difficult situation. It was 1952, and two members of the newly formed British Columbia Custom Car Association had drowned during a club outing to Cultus Lake.The car was being sold by the family of one of the victims, for $250.
The car culture was really taking hold in the early 1950s in Vancouver, with enthusiasts banding together in clubs, hot rods and custom cars cruising the streets, and teenagers showing off their cool cars at King’s Burgers and the Aristocrat drive-in restaurant on Kingsway.
McGowan became part of that scene. He worked to complete the hot rod in the backyard of his family home off Nanaimo Street.
The roadster body had already been “channelled” by being lowered over the chassis. McGowan used an A-frame swing in his father’s backyard to drop in a more powerful Ford flathead V-8 engine. He chopped the windshield and added custom touches to the car, such as chrome headers and exhaust pipes. His hot rod was painted red and called Apache for the manufacturer’s name for its shade of red. The hot rod was an instant hit when it was entered in Vancouver’s first Motorama custom car show in 1953. The next year, photographs of the Vancouver car were featured in a 1954 edition of Hot Rod magazine.
McGowan was born in Toronto and moved to Vancouver with his father in 1948. His first car was a 1936 Ford two-door sedan. Then he began customizing a bulbous 1942 Chrysler sedan by lowering the car, adding fender skirts and installing a split manifold for dual exhausts. But by 1952, what he really wanted was a low-slung, hopped-up hot rod. Fellow BC Custom Car Club member Andy Anderson told McGowan to buy the partly built Ford roadster — and hot-rod history would soon be made. The Apache made a big impact in Toronto after McGowan drove it across Canada to visit his mother.
The cut-down red roadster attracted so much attention among Toronto’s young car crowd that McGowan was invited to drive down to Watkins Glen, N.Y., to watch some of the first car races on the newly constructed track there.
In 1957, the Apache carried McGowan and his bride Mary on their Vancouver Island honeymoon, which carried on down Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.
“I built a small trailer and pulled it with the hot rod,” McGowan says while working in the shop at his home in Sidney, near the Victoria ferry terminal.
After several years of use, he had installed a Desoto hemi V-8 engine in his hot rod and entered it in many custom-car shows in the 1950s and 1960s. This earned the Vancouver hot rod top honours at shows in Seattle and Tacoma, as well as at the 1958 Pacific International Motorama show and a similar show in Victoria. Best in class, best roadster, best competition street rod and best engineering were some of the accolades this “deuce” roadster earned.
The Apache was shown four times at the famous L.A. Roadster Show, and an increasing number of magazines featured the car, including Hot Rod Magazine Annual as well as Rod and Custom.
McGowan and his wife drove the roadster to shows all over the Pacific Northwest, rolling up mile after mile of enjoyment. It became one of the best known hot rods of all time. But disaster was right around the corner.
In the 1960s, McGowan was operating the BA service station in Vancouver, on Marine Drive at Fraser Street. After doing some work on the car in the service bays, he rolled it outside to put some gas in it before firing the engine. A spark from a jumper wire that popped off while he was cranking the engine ignited fumes from some spilled gasoline. Suddenly his treasured hot rod was engulfed in flames. “There was a lot of damage,” he recalls. “The fire melted the hood and the front fenders, which were made of aluminum, and burned out the interior. Now with four children, he put the severely damaged hot rod in storage in a neighbour’s garage, where it stayed for nearly two decades.
He found some time to work on the car in the 1980s. He took out the hemi engine and had the body straightened out before installing a contemporary small-block Ford engine to get the famous hot rod road-worthy. “At that time, I discovered there was an amazing number of guys still interested in hot rods, and I got right back into it,” he said.
By the mid ’90s, driving long distances in an open hot rod with no side windows was wearing a bit thin. So McGowan put his experience and talents to work to build a 1934 Ford Tudor sedan street rod with a contemporary fuel-injected Ford engine coupled to a five-speed transmission. He and Mary have been all over the continent with this reliable ride, pulling a matching Boler travel trailer.
In 2007, the Apache was displayed at the historical Northwest Deuce Days celebration held in Victoria to mark the 75th anniversary of the 1932 Ford — the most copied car in history and the basis for hot rod culture. There were more than 800 special interest cars in attendance, half of them 1932 Fords. The Apache was given the award for being the most historic hot rod.
Today, it still looks as contemporary as it did when it first hit the streets of Vancouver in the early 1950s, and McGowan continues to be the proud owner.
Alyn Edwards is a classic-car enthusiast and partner in Peak Communicators, a Vancouver-based public relations company. email@example.com