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Not Your Typical Sunday Driver

In May 2017, I made a presentation to members of the Baby Point Heritage Foundation at the Baby Point Clubhouse about their “notable neighbour” Clara. When this photo of Clara outside of her home at 23 Valleyview Gardens was shown on the screen attendees were fascinated:

One person exclaimed “Wow is that a Model T?” That question piqued my curiosity and I turned to some car experts. First I consulted with Al Rams, President of Islington Chrysler, who contacted Bill D. and Murray Hall knowledgeable antique car experts.

From Bill who passed it on to Murray:

Not much to go on when you have only the side and rear to look at.


And here’s Murray’s answer:

I have a large reference library of antique car books and I love the challenge of trying to identify mystery cars. In identifying this car, I used the book " Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805 - 1942".

The big clue was the fact that the doors open from the front and not the rear. Very few cars in the 20's had this feature. Hudson and Essex did however. So after checking the reference books, I can safely say that it is a 1927 Essex. There is a picture in the one book that shows a 1927 Essex with an identical tail light in the middle of the spare tire. Most cars had the tail light mounted on the left rear fender or on both fenders. The spare tire cover hole is not a round circle but has 6 sides identical to what is found on an Essex hubcap. 1927 and 1928 Essex cars are virtually the same but in checking pictures of both, the door handle on the 1928 car is closer to the belt line than on a 1927. Therefore, I’ve pinned it down to being a 1927.

I looked through my rosters for the two main Canadian car clubs but there are no 1927 Essex cars listed. Therefore, it makes them a rare car today. However, there are probably a few in the USA. The closest that I came was a 1929 Essex sedan that belonged to a fellow in Mississauga, Ontario.

I hope this helps.

Yes, Murray, your information puts Clara’s painting expeditions in perspective. We know from Clara’s husband, Fred’s diary, that Clara made numerous car trips in all types of conditions for weeks at a time:

Feb. 11, 1941 – Clara off for Haliburton

Mar, 3, 1941 - Clara phoned from Haliburton

And Clara made these trips not with Fred but with her colleague, painter Mary Louise Elliott Orr.

Clara and Mary drove to Amherst, Nova Scotia:

Aug. 14, 1938 – Getting Clara’s things ready for the trip with Mrs. Elliott

Aug. 22, 1938 – Letter from Clara at Amherst, sent her a letter, previous letter, pkg of paints

Google Maps in 2018 estimates this 1,597.8 km trip from Toronto to Amherst on the Trans Canada Highway to take 15 hours, 15 minutes. I wonder how many hours it took in 1938?

To get a better idea of what it was like for these two women to undertake these road trips I contacted Les M. Les is a man of many interests and many collections. One being his collection of Cara’s paintings. But he is also a former owner of an antique Overland car. Les’ description:

Cars back then required regular maintenance but the systems were simple and the cars were designed for rough roads – they ploughed through snow and mud easily with narrow tires and large wheels. They often had no heater (an accessory) or radio and most relied on hand signals in those days. Fuel pumps came in 1926 which was a huge improvement – prior to that, you had to lift the hood and turn on the fuel with a faucet and it would just start dripping – when you got to the destination you had to remember to turn off the fuel or it would all be on the ground by the time you returned to the car – and dangerous as the fuel tank had to be above the engine in front of the driver – my Overland had the fuel tank behind the dashboard (above my lap)!!!!!! Imagine an accident with fuel running into the passenger compartment!

The Essex was an upper middle class car and probably quite reliable for the period – but all cars were much less reliable than now – tires went flat regularly – all with tubes – everyone knew how to change a tire – and the cars still had cranks at that time if the battery failed – lots of broken fingers from cranks that backfired. Windshield wipers were a joke – some were hand powered – you could just sweep the handle above the window and it would sweep the outer wiper – but there was hardly any traffic and speeds were 20-25 mph in most cases.

Combine these complications with poor or non-existent road markings, scanty traffic lights, limited maps (The First Official Road Map of Ontario was issued in 1923), spotty accommodations and few gas stations.

Oct. 8, 1940 – Mrs. Elliott & niece Mary Thompson took me on a picnic to see Clara in her sketching ground

Clara was a woman before her time: not your typical Sunday driver!


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