Butchart Gardens in Victoria, B.C. is one of the largest floral show gardens in the world, and has been in bloom for more than a century. It draws close to a million visitors every year. And it’s a National Historic Site of Canada.
The woman by the gate tried to relay some of this information to me but I was already rolling away by the time she handed me a map of the grounds. “Thanks!” I shouted to her as I got on the pedal of my Escape.
On any other day, I could see taking the time to appreciate the natural beauty of Butchart’s variety of flora and its rich, historical significance. But today was one of the Deuce Days I’d flown in for, and I was thinking about a whole different sort of history, the kind wrought in steel and sitting in the Gardens’ parking lot.
The Deuce Days event only goes down over a single weekend once every three or four years, but when it does, it turns quiet, laid-back Victoria, B.C. into the world’s largest gathering of 1932 Fords. The show – hosted this hyear July 22 to 24 – does make a little room for other brands and Blue Oval iron a year or two out from the big three-two, but the majority of the 1,100 cars in attendance are just from that one marque and that one year.
The visit to Butchart Gardens Friday afternoon, undertaken by just a few dozen hot rods, was a prelude to the main event Sunday morning. There’s no official start time on the Deuce Days webpage, but I overhear one show car owner complain that while they were told to begin rolling into Victoria’s downtown harbourfront around 500am, many rodders had started hard-parking their cars in the best spots at around 330 in the morning.
I arrive relatively late, at 700am, along one of the blocked-off streets in the city’s core, where a police officer is shouting over the rumble of an idling blown ’32 that he’ll have to come in another way. The black coupe slinks away, while the cop cups his ear, deafened.
The first cars I see, on the outskirts of the harbourfront, are those rare exceptions I mentioned—an Auburn boattail speedster replica, an original-looking patina’d Chevrolet, a ’29 Ford highboy.
But once I seize upon my first dozen proper Deuces, that’s about all I see for the next several hours.
Every flavour of hot rod you can imagine is lined up along the curb and on the front lawns of some local businesses. Rusty cut-up rat rods; traditional-style whitewall’d highboys; full-fendered billet-wheel ’90s show cars, all of them packed tightly together.
I’ve been a hot rod fanatic for more than a decade, but even I begin to realize the volume of ’32s is gradually becoming too much for me. I take a break at the show’s edge, where a pitchman is standing by a white MGA with what looks like a V16 squeezed between the fenders. In 10 minutes, I hear him explain to the swarm of gawkers at least 30 times that it’s actually his company’s engine dressup kit, that it mounts on top of a 350 Chev—“It’s like a set of fake tits!” he repeats too many times.
Seven hours later, I’m actually glad to see the 2017 Escape that Ford’s loaned me for the weekend—I’m not that big on newer cars, but at least the sheetmetal on this handsome crossover looks different from the two-box profile of Henry’s Deuce, which has burned itself into my retinas.
(That plus, as cool as the hot rods on display were, the Escape feels literally cool, with a cabin temp I can crank down to 15C, the coldest A/C I’ve seen.)
If the classic ’32 Ford is your thing, you may just want to check out Deuce Days in Victoria in another three years. Then again, maybe you won’t. It’s just about the only surefire way to get yourself absolutely sick of hopped-up pre-war Blue Oval machinery.