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March 3rd 2012
The Story of Annabelle

A Standard Vanguard?! Oh man, Doug, what have you bought this time? These words, spoken by my long-suffering, ever tolerant wife Shauna, rang in my ears as I stood in the driveway contemplating my new purchase. There she sat in all her unrealized potential, a 1956 Standard Vanguard Phase III, redolent in her faded turquoise paint, her interior a heady mix of cracked leather and mouse droppings. What indeed? And so began a three year odyssey...

I have always been a fan of old cars. Recently returning to my interest in English cars after an ill-starred foray into the world of Studebakers, I had found myself with a modest wedge of cash and an empty bay in my garage. I live in the quiet backwater of Wetaskiwin, best known for being the home of Stan Reynolds, who's impressive collection of all things mechanized had been the driving force behind the establishment of the famed Reynolds-Alberta Museum. (http://history.alberta.ca/reynolds/ ).

What is lesser known is that not all of Mr. Reynolds' collection wound up in the museum. In an adjacent field there remained literally hundreds of cars. Obscure makes abounded, with long-forgotten marquees as Hupmobile, Graham-Paige, Willys-Overland and Humber lurking amongst the weeds, waiting for an enthusiastic or na´ve enthusiast to rescue them from their fate.

It was here that I first set eyes on the Vanguard. Having long been an enthusiastic reader of Practical Classics magazine, I had long known of the Standard-Triumph connection. I fell in love at first sight, and my mind was filled with visions of a four-doored TR3. She looked solid, seemed reasonably complete, and the engine turned freely. A deal was quickly struck, and for $375 the turquoise vixen was mine.

There are many pitfalls when buying long-abandoned vehicles. Aside from the permanent affixing of rose-colored glasses to my nose, the main pitfall I encountered was one location. The Vanguard had long been a resident of a vaguely boggy field, and her immediate environs were shared with a particularly vampiric offshoot of the mosquito family. As a result, my inspection was not as thorough as it may have been; had my rosy spectacles not been affixed I may, for instance, have questioned the effects of it's long imprisonment in the boggy ground and how the nether regions may appear.

After reassuring my wife of my sanity, I proceeded to treat my new purchase a proper washing, after which I decided to hop behind the wheel to indulge in a bit of daydreaming. CRUNCH* Hold on, what's that about? Gee, are those floormats supposed to sag like a hammock? My dear daughter Yvonne, who had been looking on with the bored interest that only a teenage girl can muster, popped her gum. She then pointed vaguely earthward and pronounced, "So, am I supposed to be able to see your feet from underneath the car?", before wandering away, calling out "Mom-eeee!!! Daddikins bought a Fred Flintstone car again..."



Upon extracting myself (and my feet) from the car, I decided that a deeper inspection may be prudent. Grabbing my ball peen hammer, I began to tap my way around the lower extremeties. Seldom did I hear the reassuring "ting" of solid metal; much more often the depressing leaden "crunch" was the reply to my explorations. The rockers proved most troubling, however; despite looking reasonably solid, it appears that a master of filler had been at the pinnacle of his craft, artfully filling the void with a combination of body putty and copies of the Edmonton Journal dated the first week of August 1968. With heavy heart, I decided that some planning was in order, and walked away.

Over the next few weeks, I doggedly began my resurrection of the patient. Over the summer I managed to remove the worst of the interior, free the wheels so the car could be moved, and had begun building cardboard templates to fabricate the floor pans. One crisp September afternoon, I once again felt a shadow fall over me and my ears once again were regaled with the sounds of popping gum. I chose to ignore the distraction; two months on, the remarks about Fred Flintstone still rankled. After several more juicy pops, my dear daughter opened the conversation with: "So... you're really gonna try and fix this thing." My reply: "Yes dear, these cars are very rare; I've never seen another, and have never heard of another for sale." Another pause for a pop: "Pfft. I know where there's one. I saw it on my way to work when I cut up the back alley. Way better than this one, just a different grille thingie. And it's for sale, I asked."

My immediate thought was that she'd seen an early Rambler American, which does have a passing resemblance to the Vanguard. "Nope, it's got that funny checkmark thingie down the side, just like yours. And it says Vanguard on the back, and I looked underneath; the floors have, y'know, metal in them and everything. It's behind the old people place on main, and oh yeah, you're welcome." With that, she was off again, twirling her hair, and popping her gum.

Curiosity piqued, I jumped into my other classic, 1968 AMC Ambassador, and headed for a drive. Now, "old people place" could mean only one spot, the senior's lodge called Madyson Manor. A quick tuck around the back, and I almost drove into a tree; my dear, delightful, gum-addicted daughter was right! With my Practical Classics buyers guide in hand, I recognized it as being a late model Vignale, which explained the different "grille thingie". I immediately spun into the parking lot and went in to speak with the caretakers. Yes, the Vanguard was available, and would I like to take a closer look?





Would I ever! The caretaker told me a bit of the history. The car, "Annabelle", had belonged to a long-term resident of the manor, who had bequeathed the name to her. Upon her passing, she left it to be used for the betterment of the residents. A very close inspection revealed a very sound car; careful tapping and application of a magnet found only one localized rust spot the size of a paperback book in the front passenger footwell. I asked if it ran, and was tossed the keys and told to go ahead and see. Quickly transferring the battery from my AMC, I briefly turned the key to see if it would spin. Spun like a charm; as a bonus, all the electrics seemed to work as well. Looking in the trunk, I was greeted with several spare rims, the original trunk mat, and the tools still snapped into place. The interior was clean as well, with only some localized seat damage evident.

When I enquired about the price, I was told it was to be sold by sealed bid, with the proceeds going towards a pool table for the residents. The sale was to be conducted by the owner's niece, and would I care to write out a bid? I was at a crossroads. This car was good as I could hope for. I loved the lines, I could see the patina was just right, but how much? Were there other bidders? How much was too much?

I decided to go for broke; I loved the car, I wanted it, I had to have it. So I said to the caretaker, "What's a pool table worth nowadays?" He replied, "Oh, we were thinking a used one would be about $2500". My mind was made up. I wrote out a bid for $3000, and said "Buy them some extra cues as well". His eyes popped, and promised to submit the bid; he told me I'd know by the weekend. I was in a cold sweat myself; the $3000 represented all the money I had left from the Studebakers; would it be enough, and did I go over the top?

Never have three days dragged so much. Finally, Friday afternoon my cell rang. "Yeah, it's Keith at the Manor. Annabelle is all yours; when can you pay and pick her up?" Quickly checking my watch, I had 17 minutes till the bank closed. "Today, in less than half an hour!" Without waiting on a reply, I leapt into the Ambassador and sped to town. I made it in just as the tellers were starting to pull the gates closed. Making it easy, I took the entire amount in cash, then headed the three blocks to make my purchase. Keith had a bill of sale waiting for me; all that was required was my payment and signature. This was duly completed, and I called a tow truck to deliver her home. Things were looking up!

I was once again met by my loving wife, who met me and the tow truck with hands firmly placed on hips. She did not appear happy. Apparently my dear daughter had, despite my admonitions to the contrary, filled her mommy dearest in on my latest purchase. "All right Douglas. First you bought one that had no floors. Now you blow all your money on this one! Read my lips: No more cars!!! Finish this one, or sell it, but no more in unless one goes out. Capiche?" With that, she turned heel and left.

This did not discourage me at all; I knew I had a keeper here! Within an hour I'd drained the oil (but not changed the filter as Canadian Tire didn't have one) and jerry rigged a temporary gas can. A few minutes later, I had her driving around the yard, sans brakes. Annabelle was unusual in that she had an automatic transmission; I'd never seen or heard of this being offered.



Considering the condition of the car, I made the decision to farm out the mechanical resurrection to Miles Import Car Center in Edmonton. Ken was very interested in the unique challenge, having never seen one in all his years. For my part, I joined the Standard Vanguard Club of NSW, Australia. They are a wonderful bunch of guys, who were more than happy to help the "mad Canuck" in his restoration.

The mechanical overhaul took around two years in fits and starts, depending largely on the arrival of the needed parts from Oz. A front brake drum was especially difficult; the one on the Phase III is a full inch smaller, and they are even rare overseas. Another enormous expense was the windshield; they are unavailable except by special order. In the end, I had to buy two, for a cost of over $1000. The transmission was another problem; if parts were hard to find when she was laid up in 1975, they were almost impossible to find. I won't even mention the final cost; suffice it to say for the money I could have bought a very nice TR7 coupe that I was admiring on Ebay!

The body, by comparison, was a doddle. The patch in the floors was less than $500; the only other thing I did was a complete clean and hand polish. The interior was much the same; I had the local upholstery shop simply restitch the pleats and replace a small section of dry rotted fabric along the top of the rear seat. Total time invested was less than three days. The front carpets and mats were badly worn, but new ones were sourced from a Buick Park Avenue Ultra; they fit like they were tailor made, and cost a mere $15 at Pick 'n' Pull. Necessity is the mother of invention...



Upon completion, I happily began to drive her. I was curious about her earlier life, and after some urging, the Manor caretaker put me in touch with Leslie, who was the niece of the owner, and as it turned out, the last driver of Annabelle before I bought her. She gave me as much of the history as she knew, including the fact that had bought the car new. Apparently she had immigrated to Canada in 1962, and wanted to buy a car; it had to be British, and it had to be an automatic.





She approached the Edmonton Import Car Centre (who's decal is still visible on the trunk) who put out a tender to all the English manufacturers that they represented. The only one to reply was Standard, which is how this very late 4 cylinder car came to be built. She was delivered in spring of 1962, and was enjoyed until being passed to Leslie around 1972. It was Leslie who told of accidentally knocking the transmission into reverse while at highway speed, and how Annabelle was parked in the carport replaced with a Mustang convertible when no one could be found to repair the damaged transmission.



Leslie was overjoyed to see how Annabelle looked, and was thrilled with the brief drive we had together. When I asked about the white glove and numerous matchbooks from the Kit-Kat Club I had found when repairing the seat, she told of how her aunt, who never married, had dated a trombone player, who was in the house band at the Kit-Kat Club. She was pleased to pose for a photo, which I proudly display at shows.

Since being recommissioned, I've added nearly 3,000 trouble free miles to Annabelle. I deeply enjoy meeting people at the shows, and I love to let young enthusiasts sit behind the wheel of the "smiley car", and take her for a pretend spin. Although undoubtedly rare, I will continue to show, and above all else enjoy, this unique time capsule.

Doug Frechette




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