2014 Induction - Jim and Barb Prowse

Jim Prowse remembers 1953.

He was 12 years old and vacationing at Rondeau Park on the shores of Lake Erie.   He had walked down the road to go to a little store and then he saw something that made his heart quiver, his palms perspire and eyes to bulge out.

No it wasn’t Barb – that was to come later.

It was a pair of “Hot Rods”.  Two very modified Model “A” Fords.  He still recalls several details about the cars but what he remembers the most was staring at them and dreaming about the day when he could own and drive something like that.

We fast forward a few years to the early days of High School.  Jim was in Grade 9 at H. Beal Technical High School in London, Ontario.  Like most of us he wasn’t really paying attention that day in class.

He was day dreaming about those Model A’s when the throaty sound of horsepower woke him up with a start.  Looking out the window, he saw a handful of hot rods racing down the street.  

The one that caught his eye was to become known as the T-Bird Deuce.  Man did it ever look and sound cool! 

He knew he just had to build one of these hot rods. The hook was set and Jim decided to pursue auto mechanics as a career, primarily so he could develop the skills to someday build a Hot Rod of his own.

Well, he did okay at school and after graduation he started his first job at an alignment shop. This lead to working in a Ford dealership and ultimately getting his Class A Inter-Provincial Auto Mechanics license. Interestingly, Jim was in the first mechanical graduating class at Fanshaw College in London. 

In the late 60’s Jim made a move to the parts department and eventually moved to running the body shop. His unique skill set and experience made him a natural to take over the London office for a major appraisal company. Then, after nearly 10 years working in the appraisal business, Jim and two partners set up their own company called London Collision Appraisal Service.

In this capacity, Jim started doing Antique, Classic and Special Interest appraisals and claims.

They sold the business in 2010 but Jim has remained active in the appraisal industry and is a member of PAVE, the Professional Association of Vehicle Estimators. He proudly maintains membership number 001.  

As well as things went professionally for Jim, his early years were not so easy.  He and his two sisters, Lynda and Ruth, were raised by a working mom.  How she coped and how hard she worked to raise three children on a telephone operators income still amazes Jim.  Somehow through all of the difficulties she managed to have a bay-and-half garage built next to their home so Jim could work on his cars indoors instead of in the driveway.  This picture shows that little garage.

Not only did it provide a workshop but it also became a place for car guys to hang out.   In fact, this unassuming shop hosted the first meetings of the group that would create Grand Bend Dragway.  

Jim was offered a partnership in the Dragway but had to decline as he simply did not have the funding.   Nine partners went ahead and Grand Bend Dragway opened on July 5, 1964.  

And it was a huge success with over 3,000 people paying $1.00 each to get in and lots of good cars on hand to provide non-stop action. 

The track could not afford the Chrondek Christmas Tree starting system so the races were “Flag Started” – and that starter was Jim Prowse. 

Finances may have kept him out of the ownership group but his enthusiasm and dedication put him in the spot light at the center of every race. He continued as the starter even after the Chrondek system replaced the flagman. 

At the about same time that the group was forming Grand Bend Dragway, Jim was falling for a pretty girl who was a teller where he banked. Jim would wait in her line just so he could talk to her.

Eventually he worked up the nerve to ask her out and was surprised that she said yes, even though she knew what his bank balance was!

That first date with a young Barb Cook was memorable and foretold the future as they went to the London Car Show where Jim had an unfinished coupe on display. 

Barb would also become a regular at Grand Bend helping Jim in his role as starter. All went well and they were married in 1967 and honeymooned in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  The young couple became a family with the birth of son Christopher James in 1971.  

Barb’s professional career went from banking to working in Municipal Affairs for the Landlord and Tenant Board.  Sounds like a fun job.

Throughout all these years Jim was into car clubs as a way to meet other likeminded enthusiasts and to source parts and expertise. 

He was a member of the Flying Spinners and the Coachmen before becoming a founding member of the Southern Ontario Street Rod Association in the early 1970’s. 

SOSRA was unique in the day due the fact that wives and girlfriends took an active role in the club.

Over the years, both Jim and Barb have held various executive positions in the club including stretches as newsletter editors, treasurer, vice president and multiple terms for Barb as president.

They both worked diligently on those occasions when SOSRA hosted National and Regional events.

The club rewarded Jim and Barb with their highest honour, naming them both as “Life Members” in 1992.

Back in the late 60’s Jim left drag racing to focus on what he loved most………street rodding.

During that time Jim and Barb were regular participants in any and all street rodding events in the London area.

They displayed various vehicles at the London Autorama car show for years before joining the host club, the London Auto Modifiers.

Jim was sponsored by Hall of Fame Alumni Roy Bogart when he joined the Modifiers.

The Modifiers lay claim as being the oldest continuing running car club in Ontario and the Prowses have been active members for over 35 years.

The Modifiers own their own club house with a well equipped shop. Jim has made good use of these facilities, building numerous cars there over the years.

A list of their vehicles is long and impressive and includes T Buckets, Deuce Coupes and Roadsters, Model A’s, a 34 Cabriolet, the odd Chevy and Corvette, a 50 Olds Club Coupe and many more.

Perhaps the best known was their 1948 Cadillac Sedanette that graced the 1988 BASF/R-M calendar as the March feature car that year.  

Interestingly the Caddy was the only “modified” car in a calendar that is supposed to be dedicated to restorations.  The Caddy was a true resto-rod and the louvers on the hood should have been a clue!

Their current rides are a flamed ’32 Ford 3 window highboy for Jim and a “barn Fresh” 1948 Ford pickup for Barb.

No story illustrates just exactly what kind of a guy Jim Prowse is then this one.

Remember back to that car that woke him up in high school ………the T- Bird Deuce?

Well that car has a long and storied history with numerous owners over the years. One of those was John Willoughby who sold the car to Danny Ritchie so he could get serious about drag racing.

Well, Danny Ritchie was physically handicapped but really wanted to take the car to Indy for the Nationals. Unfortunately, he had no way to get it there, but with Jim Prowse as a friend there’s always a solution.

Jim was driving a factory equipped dual quad 1958 Corvette Roadster at the time which was pretty nice ride in itself, but the deuce had to get to Indy.  So, Jim cut a slot in the rear valance of the Vette, welded a tongue to the rear cross member and flat towed the T-Bird Deuce to Indianapolis, Indiana.

All this to help Danny live his dream – what a nice guy!

The Prowse’s were also amongst the small group that founded the Canadian Street Rod Association.  CSRA came into being one Sunday morning at the first ever Canadian Street Rod Nationals hosted by the Southern Ontario Street Rod Association in London, Ontario. 

Jim and Barb became charter members of CSRA and supported the organization for years.

They have travelled extensively to car events in the United States and are great ambassadors for street rodding and Canada.

They have car friends everywhere, and both of them exude a positive, optimistic attitude that is downright contagious.  Simply stated, they are fun people to spend time with.

It has not always been easy to be positive.  Life has thrown the old curve ball now and again.

In 1998 Jim underwent triple bypass surgery but he is once again healthy, with a full zipper to show for it.

In 2005 Barb was diagnosed with breast cancer – and she beat it.  To date she is a 3 time cancer survivor and she is active in Dragon Boat Racing Competition for physical exercise and support, and to promote cancer awareness.

When we asked the Prowse’s if we could share this difficult part of their lives, Jim answer was simply this: “health and medical challenges – and successes – are part of life and part of our story, go ahead.”

In his typical, upbeat fashion he implied that their success in getting past these personal struggles may help someone else who may be dealing with similar types of problems.

And that if they could help someone through tough times then that’s swell!

Today Jim and Barb continue to be very active in street rodding and with the Southern Ontario Street Rods.  They have taken it upon themselves to keep everyone aware of the car events and activities that are going on in the area.  

Together, they have become the pivotal point of weekly activities year round.  Jim picks an event or two and sends word out via email of where and when to meet and off they go.

In the offseason, they organize shop tours, car show and swap meets dates. And every event includes something for everyone.  Good food, good times and good company.

The Canadian Street Rodding Hall of Fame is very proud and happy to welcome two people who exemplify street rodders at their best, Jim and Barb Prowse.  Congratulations.

Come up and receive your award from Jim Cowan.