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CHAPTER 7: THE TURBO MAN

“Hot Rods are sustainable, and sustainability is the future.”



Ian Conn is a man of few words, but the ones that he does utter are wise and full of hubris. “I had a shop out west man, but I missed Cape Breton.” His is a story that starts with the typical ‘move out west to make some money’ and move back ‘cause the Third just doesn’t let go of ya’ kinda thing. But once you dig further the real interesting bits start to show.

“I found an old marriage certificate.” Ian once told me; it highlighted a wedding that took place back in 1952 in the Indian subcontinent. “It belongs to my paternal grandfather.” 

“’Magine” I said, emulating the colloquial vernacular that I seem to have picked up hanging around Cape Breton, “that makes us practically brothers.” The eastern roots are not the only thing we have in common though. Ian is just as fanatical about the old autos as me.



“The truck came outta Alberta,” he states, pointing to the 1950 GMC that’s standing outside his shop. It’s an ‘Advanced Design’ GMC ‘Maple leaf.’ (A Chevy 6400 as designated by our neighbours to the south). A post war redesign of the medium and light duty trucks for the automobile hungry markets. It is quite an imposing looking beast, painted in Ian’s favourite ‘Tremclad Black’ and riding tall on military surplus multi directional tires, it looks like a no-nonsense machine which still can hold its own among today’s commercial wreckers.

“It’s come a long way from sitting in an Alberta junkyard to a small garage in the historic north end of Sydney,” Ian quips.

Just like Ian, the truck isn’t all that it seems. Underneath the voluptuous ‘50s hood is a turbocharged 250 Chevy inline 6. “The turbo is outta a Volvo, while the carburettor is an old Ford unit.” Looking at the turbo air intake on the truck, I let out a small shriek of delight, staring back at me is an old turbocharged Corvair intake from 65-66, a rare bit of kit. “I love turbos,” says Ian and this love for forcing hot exhaust air back down into an engine to produce more torque and horsepower is apparent in Ian’s entire fleet of automobiles. The gold 1976 Toyota Corona Mark 2 has a HX35 turbo from a Cummins as does his daily drive 1989 Dodge Ram.

Architecture is another passion that Ian and I share. He is currently restoring for himself a glebe house built in the late 1800s. “Gotta keep the old things going,” Ian remarks, and I agree. Old stuff is better built. It comes from a time when ‘use and throw’ was a sacrilegious statement. “I don’t look forward to the age of the electric automobile,” Ian utters. “The batteries are made of lithium which is a limited resource and the mining places a heavy strain on the global ecosystem. Sustainable fuels are where it’s at.” I nod my head in agreement.

Porche and Rolls Royce are both automotive giants investing in the sustainable fuel technology. Sure, it costs a lot at the moment, but as the economics of mass production take over it will end up being cheaper than the $1.50-$1.70 prices we here in the Third are used to. Made by the boffins in the labs it is basically a hydrocarbon fuel like gasoline, made from distilling hydrogen out of sea water and carbon emissions from the atmosphere. I know for a fact that Rowan Atkinson of Mr. Bean fame recently raced at the prestigious Goodwood races in the UK using sustainable fuel in his automobile and is delighted with the results.


Whatever the future holds, Ian isn’t going to let go of his turbos just yet. “We should drop a nice, turbocharged Cummins diesel in that wagon of yours,” is always the parting statement I hear when I hangout with Ian. I laugh and brush off the words. “I am in love with the old 318 cubic inch V8 in the Mothership,” I say. “But just ‘magine how much better it will be with a turbodiesel,” whispers the Turbo man.



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