With its teardrop shape, the Spirit of Tomorrow draws as many onlookers now as it did when Basil (Barney) Oldfield first drove it into town from his Prospect Lake workshop in 1942.
The car made its latest appearance last week as caretaker Tim Lindsay, the nephew-in-law of Oldfield, stationed the car outside the Crystal Gardens for the Tectoria conference.
“If you stop for gas somewhere, you can’t get anything done, people just come from everywhere,” said Lindsay, who acts as a caretaker and tour manager for the iconic vehicle and its website, spiritoftomorrow.com.
Due to the snow, Lindsay was unsure how he would get the vehicle downtown from where he keeps it in his Brentwood Bay garage. Lindsay recently bought a new trailer for it but, with the battery charged, he ended up driving the Spirit of Tomorrow downtown last Friday morning.
“It drives great, it’s quick,” he said.
Oldfield was already an innovative welder who was relied on for big jobs in the area. It was top-secret at the time, but Lindsay has it on good authority that Oldfield was regularly brought up for maintenance and repairs on the rotating dome that contained the Plaskett telescope at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory.
It’s believed the rotating base of the observatory inspired Oldfield to build the rotating roundhouse which he lived in off of West Saanich Road, and which still exists (and still works).
Oldfield died of cancer in the 1970s and his family kept his belongings undisturbed. They came across several news clippings, including the 1939 clipping which quite likely inspired his frame.
As the story goes, Oldfield whittled an original hand-held model from a piece of wood into the shape he wanted, Lindsay said.
“He went down to Tod Creek and used the [flowing] creek water as his wind tunnel, to see how the eddies would work behind it. He kept reworking the shape until he got it perfect. Then he extrapolated the measurements, built the body by hand out of aluminum, using flat aluminum sheets, and hammered it over rollers and dyes to make that shape.”
Built between 1938 and 1942 by Oldfield and his friend John Norton, the Spirit of Tomorrow was based on a news article.
“We like to keep the story alive of what Basil accomplished, things such as this car, the roundhouse in Saanich and the logging trucks he built for his friends, the Butler Brothers [logging].”