In “The Red Green Show”, Steve Smith’s title character saved some of his more innovative (see: cockamamie) schemes for his ‘Possum Van’, which he would unceremoniously convert to a snowplow or air boat or something else, using a few dozen metres of duct tape and comedic lack of safety precaution.
In real life, Smith indeed is a lifelong gear head, but these days his tastes run a bit finer than the junky grey 1985 Dodge van he abused on his show.
The proof will be on display this weekend at the Toronto Classic Car Auction in Mississauga, where one of the gems of his collection will be auctioned, a limited edition 2008 Bentley Arnage Concours sedan.
Now, to be clear, he’s not exactly sitting on a hangar-sized garage filled with vintage autos.
“I’m not Jay Leno,” the 69-year-old quips in an interview from Florida, where he keeps most of his cars.
Instead, Smith’s fascination with cars is a function of the same attributes he invested in the beloved Red Green character, a lifelong love of making old things work and then using them.
“I grew up in a different era, where you bought an old car when you turned sixteen and you kept it on the road yourself. You did valve jobs in the driveway and what ever it took.,” he says.
His first car was a ’52 Pontiac that Smith bought with his brother in 1961. They paid $50 for it, which seems like a sum Red Green would be comfortable with. Smith says it wasn’t exactly a bargain, however.
I go through phases. In 2001 I bought a brand new Viper. I decided at that point I was a very old young guy,” he says. In 2009 I got rid of the Viper and got the Bentley, because I was no longer an old young guy, I figured I was a young old guy.—Steve Smith
“A nine year old car wasn’t worth more than 50 dollars in those days. They don’t build them like they used to and there’s a good reason for that. I just thought it was great that you could just open the hood and see things you recognized.“
Through the years he sold that Pontiac, but bought others to replace it. Since the huge success of the show, which ran for 15 years, mostly on CBC and PBS, his increased buying power has allowed him to set his sights higher.
Along with the Bentley sedan, one of only 40 of its type built for the North American market, his current gems are a 1929 Oldsmobile and a 1947 Lincoln Continental convertible.
“I go through phases. In 2001 I bought a brand new Viper. I decided at that point I was a very old young guy,” he says. In 2009 I got rid of the Viper and got the Bentley, because I was no longer an old young guy, I figured I was a young old guy.”
He won’t guess what the Bentley will fetch, but it was originally listed at $270,000 when it was new, so it should be a significant chunk of change. But Smith isn’t looking to bank the money.
“My attitude is have fun as long as you can. I would definitely buy something else,” he says.
The Red Green Show finished its run in 2006, and Smith took an unsuccessful stab at retirement. In recent years, he’s written books and toured a one-man show, with himself as Red Green. He’ll be doing another one next year.
Ask him to explain his love of old cars, and you can start to forget that you’re speaking with Smith rather than the character.
“Every (old) car looks radically different, whereas most cars today look the same, “ he says.
“On top of that, I like things I can fix. I don’t feel obligated to have to phone somebody when something breaks. That includes everything in my house. I try to fix it first until it’s beyond me then I’ll call a guy.”
Of course, Red Green would never “call a guy”. He’d figure out a shortcut, though maybe not one that’s well thought out.
And, just because the question has to be asked, does Smith ever use duct tape in his tinkering?
“I do, actually,” he says with a laugh. “Duct tape won’t get you through a year, but it’ll get you home.”
The Toronto Classic Car Auction will run Friday to Sunday at the International Centre in Mississauga.