CSRHoF

2015 Induction - Larry Sawchuk

Larry Sawchuk was born in 1950 and raised in what is now Mississauga, Ontario. He was one of 5 children in a busy household along with brothers Ray, Dave, Russell and sister Gayle. Things were chaotic at times but young Larry, under the influence of big brother Dave, grew up building model cars and dreaming about real ones. The model car building may have ignited his love of all things automotive, but he remembers what fed the fire for street rodding. He distinctly recalls his first ride in a real street rod with Ron “Mouse” Staughton and his primered Model A roadster when he was just 13 years old. To make it a perfect night they even got pulled over by the local constabulary for “no fenders”.

He never got over the thrill of that ride and even today his eyes light up when he tells the story and you can hear the passion and excitement in his voice.

Larry's family's business was a drive-in restaurant in nearby Clarkson called the Tastee Freeze and right next door was Sid's Sunoco. Sid's sponsored Bill Lyons stock car and was the local hang out for all the car guys. For a car crazy kid working at the family's restaurant and delivering food to the crowd at Sid's was like living at Mel's Diner in American Graffitti. Cars and lots of them were everywhere, and there was lots of action too. On many weekends young Larry could be seen running out the back door of the restaurant with a bottle of bleach so the guys could really “light 'em up”.

While attending Port Credit High School Larry purchased a 1960 Morris Mini Minor for $10.00 and towed it home. He spent many hours on the little car getting it back on the road. It became his daily transportation back and forth to high school and to work. Being a car guy, he just couldn't leave the Morris alone and constantly made changes and improvements learning as he went.

 He chopped the top, made his own fiberglass hood with a Grumpy Jenkins style scoop, upgraded the engine from to 1100cc and added twin carbs. And of course mag wheels and big tires. Larry and some school chums formed the Mini-Drivers Club of Ontario in which he was active for many years. At a young age Larry was starting to demonstrate his leadership and organizational skills.

 After graduation from high school Larry started working for Nick Rampling at his body shop doing prep work with the idea of becoming a paint and body man.  But, things don't always do as planned, he grabbed an opportunity at a much better paying job at Caterpiller of Canada. There, Larry's work ethic, diligence and smarts lead him to a 23 year career from that entry level job as a janitor to line management positions in plant design and ultimately  Plant Supervisor in Garner, North Carolina.

 In 1972, the salary with his new job at Caterpiller enabled him to expand his passion for cars. He bought a 1970 Dodge Charger 383 Magnum and within a week he was making changes. Adding headers, intake and carb, wheels, big and little tires and more. Enough to capture the attention of the car crowd at the local Harveys. He swapped that car for a '59 Vette and bought a 74 Vette as well. He upgraded and modified both of these cars and enjoyed them but his heart was set on having a real street rod.

 So, he made plans to build a T Roadster. He bought an old altered drag car for the steel body and started to assemble and prep parts and components to build his T bucket including a fully chromed Jaguar rear suspension system.

 But life threw a curve at Larry. He met the other love of his life “Lee” and very quickly Lee and  her two boys, Chris and Ross and later daughter Claudia became the focus of his life. So, in 1975 he hauled all the parts for the T project to the Waterdown Swap Meet and sold everything.

Larry and Lee got married in 1976, he still had the Corvettes and continued to tinker with them and attend events but it wasn't enough. He wanted a real street rod.  Lee shared his interest in cars as well so in 1980 they approached Bob McJannett of Performance Improvements about buying one of his cars. A deal was made and they became the owners of a 1923 Ford T Bucket.

Larry did his thing taking the car apart and making changes and improvements annually. Including  a complete drive train swap and another chrome Jag rear. Not only was there a lot going on in the garage things were getting busier in the house as well with the birth of daughter Leanne. For the next 12 years Larry and Lee attended numerous car shows in the T with little Leanne sandwiched between the two of them on the front seat.

In 1982 Larry joined the Tachmen Car Club in Georgetown and soon after started and organized their cruise night at the local Burger King, an event that ran successfully for years.

A few years later he joined the Brampton Street Rods. Larry and Lee were very active in the Brampton Street Rods and Larry was President for 6 of those years. The Brampton Street Rods hosted the Canadian Street Rod Nationals in 1992 and 1996 and successfully hosted the famous Cops and Rodders events in Brampton. Larry was a key component in the success of many of those events.

Larry's career with Caterpiller took him to Garner, North Carolina a town just outside of Raleigh. With this relocation  he sold the street rod and left the Brampton club. He stayed in touch with his Canadian friends and even sent articles on street rodding in the Carolinas for the CSRA magazine.

A couple of years later, while on a trip from Garner to Florida Larry and Lee stumbled on a really neat Model A sedan that was for sale. Larry really liked it as did Lee but he didn't think he was ready for another street rod, so they said no and continued south. But, with Lees encouragement  they soon turned around and went back and bought it. The Model A stayed in their family until they returned to Canada in 1995.

In 1996 they sold the Model A and purchased a 1933 Willys Pro Street coupe with a 383 Chrysler big block. A few modifications were required to make the car a little more comfortable and a Mullins trailer was necessary just to carry the things needed for a weekend away. It was a neat, very quick car but it just wasn't  practical for long distance cruising so Larry sold it at the NSRA event in Kalamazoo in the fall of 1997.

Soon after, Larry went looking for another car and found a 1938 Chev Sedan at a show in Lockport NY. Turned out it was owned by fellow Canadians Wayne and Marion Lundy from Welland, Ontario. After buying the car they made some changes with a new motor, wiring and interior updates. They enjoyed the car for 8 years and even made the top 10 at the CSRA Canats in Sarnia.

By this time Larry and Lee were pretty well burned out and decided to take a break from street rodding. They were building a new house and other things in life were taking their focus so they sold the car, Larry worked on his golf game and spent long hours at work on the job. Eventually making a lifestyle change and relocating to Wasaga Beach and eventually working part time at the Carquest store in Stayner, Ontario where he continues to help street rodders and car guys every day. The passion for street rods never went away totally. And it started to burn bright again in 2009. Larry really wanted to build a car from scratch but he realized that wasn't going to happen as he did not have the facilities to do the job.

So, once again he went looking. He found what he wanted in Chicago, Illinois. A 1939 Ford  Coast to Coast  Cabriolet  that they drive and enjoy today as members of the Wasaga Beach Cruisers Car Club. Larry and Lee have been members of that club since 2003 and Larry chaired their major event  for 10 years using his leadership, organizational skills and attention to detail to build the event  into one of the premier car shows of the summer.

Larry has also been on the judging team for the car shows held at the International Center in Toronto for over 24 years going back to Dizzy Dean Murray and the Motion Shows. He currently heads up the 10 member  judging team for Gary Challice. At that event in 2012 he received the Bob Fitzsimmons Award and was named Street Rodder of the Year. This was added to a large collection of trophies and plaques and mementos won by his cars over the years in Canada and the United States.  

His passion for all things automotive has proved to be contagious as Lee has become an enthusiastic street rodder often getting everything ready so that she and Larry can head to the local cruise nights as quickly as he gets home from work. It has also spread to both sons, Chris and Ross who are seriously into street rods as well.

It's not all about cars though as 35 years ago Larry donned a Santa Claus suit to surprise his daughter LeAnne one Christmas. He has been playing Santa all those years since.  Not only for the family and the car club but he has taken his act into the community and goes to places like senior citizen homes to spread a little Christmas cheer and make people laugh and have fun. And no one has more fun than Larry himself. He wears the biggest smile. He truly loves life, his family and street rods.

Larry Sawchuk, a man deservedly inducted into the Canadian Street Rodding Hall of Fame.