Replica part vintage car, part display
Aug 02, 2012 06:00 am |
By Rob Alexander
| Rocky Mountain Outlook
Tucked into the corner of the Whyte Museum’s permanent gallery as part of its new Gateway exhibition sits a vintage 1931 Chevy touring car, complete with glossy deep blue paint and glistening chrome.
On first glance, it looks like the owner of the beautifully restored vintage car mistook the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies for a parking garage, but behind the car’s glossy exterior sits a cleverly designed interactive museum display.
Gateway is the Whyte’s new permanent exhibition. Gateway fills the 4,000 square foot gallery with nearly 300 artifacts and numerous images as it tells 15 primary stories about the Rocky Mountains.
And this car turned interactive display, designed by David and Jodi Benediktson of Coyote Works, a custom fabrication company based in Cochrane, tells the story of the age of the automobile and the role Jim Brewster played in developing Banff’s tourism industry. Jim Brewster was the first to introduce touring cars, and later buses, to Banff.
With historical accuracy as their guiding principle, the Benediktsons began to research the many different types of vehicles the Brewsters used, including sedans, simple four-seater cars, horse and carriages and buses, and began to realize they had a challenge on their hands.
“It was incredible the array of vehicles that (Jim Brewster) had, so picking a vehicle became really hard and as a design element we had to take into account the museum’s limitations,” David Benediktson said, adding that included a small footprint in the museum.
Their first idea was to use a touring bus built by the U.S.-based White Motor Co. and used in Banff by Brewster in the 1940s. Despite the bus being “super cool” and “really sexy,” as Benediktson described it, they found that trying to fit one into the Whyte Museum was not practical.
Once they ruled out the White bus, the Benediktsons had to begin searching for a new vehicle.
“We didn’t want to buy a full working vehicle and chop it up for the project,” Benediktson said. “And when people heard about what we were doing, some people that were hardcore collectors didn’t want to give parts up because they were more valuable on the market for a Ford or Chevy.”
They spent about six months searching for the appropriate vehicle and enough parts to build the display, finally finding a body of a 1931 Chevy and enough parts to get started.
“We really wanted a rich vehicle. With that era and those Chevys, you could get the spare tire on the side and you could find the chrome bits,” he said.
But even then, with the body and some parts in hand, the Benediktsons hit their next snag: they didn’t have enough bits and pieces to complete the car.
As a result, they had to fabricate parts or heavily machine ones from different vehicles, including running boards, two-thirds of the bottom quarter panels, much of the roof, steering wheel, seats and hubcaps.
“My partner Jody found aftermarket hubcaps that were reproductions for a Ford. I had to machine the Ford logo off. Just making a hub cab that worked had to be three-quarters of a day of physical work in the shop, let alone three weeks online trying to find stuff,” he said.
All told, it took about four months to finish the car.
To get the ’31 Chevy into the building, the Benediktsons had to design it so they could take the frame and body apart and remove the engine compartment and the bumpers.
“To get it to fit, we had to take almost all of the body panels off and then have it separated in half and then weave it in there and then rebuild it in place,” he said, adding the install was a two-day affair.
“Most cars aren’t designed to come apart. They are not designed to fit into an elevator. We had to take that into consideration.”
The Brewster touring car is not the only replica or reproduction in the Whyte Museum. Gateway also features a replica Bell 47 helicopter, built by Fred and Dixie McCall, which is easily the most prominent part of the exhibition, complete with its tail and rear rotor extending “through” the wall to hang in the main hallway. A scaled-down snow shed, like those used on the Canadian Pacific Railway line in the Rogers’ Pass sits on the far side of the gallery.
“We wanted to make the display feel like an artifact in itself,” Benediktson said. “It was really important to us that when you walk in you look at it, is that an artifact or is that a display?”