BRINGING A TURNPIKE CRUISER TO THE SOCKEYE RUN
Harry Robertson is bringing one of his rare 1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruisers to the Sockeye Run Car Show, Sunday June 11th. Harry was a longtime Richmond resident, who retired to Vernon eight years ago. While in Richmond, he was a member of the Lions Club. Dave and Anne Boyce are credited with starting Richmond’s oldest and biggest car show, and chaired it for the first three years. Harry Robertson was the chairperson for the years four and five. Randy Scherk took over after that and is still chairperson for this year, the 27th annual event.
Harry Robertson and his Big M Mercury’s
Harry Robertson is fascinated with the big Mercury’s of the 1950’s, especially the 1957 Mercury and Monarch series called the “Big M”, when the Ford Motor Co. sponsored the popular Ed Sullivan Show on TV.
Harry’s interest has spanned the spectrum of lovingly restoring Mercurys (he has owned 50 over the years, and presently owns two) to driving them in demolition derbies at Callister Park in the 1960’s when you had to have the biggest, strongest car of all!
ICBC bestowed a huge honor on Harry, by placing Harry’s restoration project of a 1957 Monarch Turnpike Cruiser on the front cover of the 2000 calendar. Over 400,000 copies were distributed.
After the photo shoot for the calendar, Harry turned his attention to getting that car ready for its debut at the annual Vancouver Motorsport Show at the Pacific Coliseum. In a bit of irony, the Coliseum is located directly across Renfrew Street from Callister Park, the scene of 48 demolition events over five years, from 1966 through 1970.
Another recognition for Harry’s automotive workmanship came his way when the Ford Motor Company celebrated their 100th anniversary in 2003. They wanted 100 cars and a car from every year. There was a car from 1903 and for every year of production since that came to Dearborn Michigan. Harry brought his beautiful Monarch to represent 1957. Only one hundred and eighty five Turnpike Cruisers were built in Canada and only six are known to exist today. Harry met Bill Ford and enjoyed the reception and celebration.
Harry Robertson saw a 1957 Mercury Turnpike for the first time at a Prince George car dealership when he got out of the army in 1956. He was impressed with the appearance and size and that impression is still with him sixty one years later.
From 1967 through 1987, over a span of twenty one years, Harry entered 159 cars in demolition derbies. He has 129 trophies, which is a testament to how good a driver he actually was. The size of his cars ranged from a Morris Oxford, in a small car demolition derby, to a big Lincoln for a heavy weight match. One of his memory highlights is a race in which his car rolled over, but he still won the event. Another highlight is when he had one of the twenty nine Mercurys, all entered in one giant event, which is an all time record.
Harry entered eight Mercurys of his 159 demolition cars. Most of his cars were 1953 Chevs, when they were plentiful, and later 1963 Fords when they were cheap to buy and strong enough for the competition.
When fellow racer, Angelo DeMitri got married in 1989, Ron Blizzard and Harry Robertson wereat the wedding and all three drove older Mercury cars. All three had been top drivers at Callister Park and later at the PNE’s World’s Largest Demolition Derby series from 1972 through 1987. They decided right then and there to form a car club for Mercury owners and they did. It had ninety three members at one time. The name of the club you ask? The Big M Car Club, of course!
Harry and his wife, Loreen, have been married almost fifty years. They lived in Richmond for over thirty years before they retired to Vernon eight years ago. They have a daughter Dianne and a son Steve (from Loreen’s previous marriage) and together a son Lance. Dianne and her late husband Gary, had two daughters, who have had three children, making Harry and Loreen Great Grandparents.
Loreen is a car enthusiast also, and goes to most of the car events with Harry. She was the proud editor of the Big M Car Club newsletter for many years.
When Harry needed a part for his original black 1957 Mercury, he phoned a supplier in Detroit. The person he spoke to told him about a car owner in Michigan who had a Mercury for sale and was only the second owner. Harry said no, he had more than enough cars (five or six at that time) and besides that, this car was 2,000 miles away. The sales agent persisted, but Harry resisted.
Eventually, after four phone calls, it was mentioned in an off hand remark, that the car was Canadian and Harry was Canadian. Canadian? Harry’s interest immediately picked up. Yes, the car was originally from Ontario and from the original owner. Harry asked the agent if it was a Monarch. It was, and the seed was planted.
Harry and his friend and workmate, Doug Smith, who was a drag racer at Mission Raceway, both took a week off work. They used Doug’s truck and race car trailer and were on their way in the middle of winter to bring back a car, sight unseen.
The car was exactly what Harry wanted. He brought the car home and spent the next several years and $20,000 restoring it to perfection. This story doesn’t end here. After it was on the road, curiosity got the better of Harry and he decided to check on the original registration to see if he indeed was the third owner of a forty four year old car. He was!
In fact, the original owner purchased the car from Brown Bros. Ford in Vancouver, before moving to Ontario. Harry has travelled 4,500 miles to find an unusual car that had been in the same city as him for many years and only six miles away. It is like his demolition derby experience at Callister Park and at the PNE Fair and then in his first custom automotive show at the same facility. How ironic.
Harry has copies of the Ed Sullivan Show Mercury commercials on VCR tape, he has die cast Mercury cars and plastic Mercury model kits. Harry has even gone the route of having scale model craftsman, Jack Johnson, replicate three of his 1957 Mercury and Monarch cars in exact detail of his real cars only in 1/24th scale.
In 1957 the car manufacturers and dealers liked to display the latest, prestigious models in the show room on turntables. Harry made his own turntable. Not for his big toy, but his small toy. He had taken the center out of a duplicate air cleaner and installed an old record player turntable in it. He put a die cast Mercury model on it to rotate during car shows.
Harry is a self taught car restoration expert. He learned this craft rebuilding cars for demolition derbies and used that experience to build some of the finest cars in the province. One of his cars earned Harry 992 points, out of 1,000 at a Vintage car event. Almost perfect.