“You know a lot about them cars, don’t ya?” I shall never forget the first time I met Mr. Kayward Bonnar. He had just uttered those words with an astute look on his face as I had noticed the shell of an ‘E-body’ Mopar hanging from the rafters and giddy with excitement having correctly identified the remains of a ‘73 Plymouth Barracuda.
That day I came away with not only a new exhaust pipe for the wagon, but also a wealth of knowledge about Kayward and his son, Joe’s other life as very accomplished drag racers.
Now, I have raced a lot of motorcycles in my time before moving to Cape Breton and consider myself a bit of a risk taker. But the high-octane world that Kayward and Joe Bonnar inhabit is a higher level of automotive enlightenment. Their 2000+ horsepower monster machines are regular winners of the drag races that take place in and around Nova Scotia and the vehicles are constructed at their shop in North Sydney.
The shop itself is an interesting location. Based at the junction where Seaview Drive ends and Commercial Street begins. Its look evokes the historic automotive spirit of the heavy rock and roll days of the ‘70s. Cruise down Seaview, you can’t miss it. Kayward tells me it used to be a service station that opened its doors in 1958 and one of the original car lifts is still in operation.
Apart from drag racing, the Bonnars are formidable mechanics. Along with their ever-cheerful assistant Conner, they can diagnose and fix vehicles at the speed of lightning.
But its not all this that makes them worthy of mention in these pages; they are true mascots of the term ‘Hot Rod Island.’ I have personally borne witness to their antics when they have hot rodded a ‘74 Ford Econoline van for a few travellers from British Columbia when their 302 V8 engine gave up the ghost somewhere along the Cabot Trail. Another time a bunch of American surfers needed their vans’ brakes and axles changed. If it wasn’t for the Bonnars diagnosing and repairing the issue, they would have been under the ocean instead of over it. Evenings at the shop are the best time ever.
After most of the work is done a bunch of automotive folks descend down and the Bonnars usher in their daily court of automotive and island life banter. I have had the pleasure of entertaining the crowd on a few occasions with my art and a meager collection of artefacts from the Second World War. Kayward himself is quite the enthusiast when it comes to the war and has a few relics tucked away in the back of the shop, produced when the stories call for the close examination of these historic objects.
As the evening court adjourns, I find myself cruising back down Seaview. The wagons interior lights projecting that unearthly green glow on the dashboard, and I shake my head in disbelief asking, “where else can you find a 73 Barracuda hanging from the rafters, but on Hot Rod Island?”