At the end of his life in 2011, Jacques Ostiguy was a much-accomplished but little-known French-Canadian car designer and professor. But in the late ’60s, he was simply a young design student living in California and attending the prestigious Art Center college in Pasadena.
In a 2009 interview for the Canada Science and Technology Museum, Ostiguy recalled the first time he flew out to Los Angeles in 1969 and was chauffeured around in a plain, black Chevrolet he was told cost some $17,000 (that’s 1969 dollars, about $100,000 today).
Wait, what? Ostiguy’s father was a military man, and so his ride from the Los Angeles airport was with the Canadian consul-general in L.A., a family friend named Mr. McIntyre.
“[In the diplomatic corps parking garage is] a row of gleaming Rolls-Royces and Cadillacs with various flags – some of places you’d consider third-world countries – and then we come to the Canadian embassy car, a black ‘67 Chevy Biscayne with a Canadian flag,” explained Ostiguy.
Ostiguy, not the type of guy to hold his tongue, asked McIntyre why the Canadian consulate’s staff car looked essentially like a taxi cab, and was told, “Jacques, do not knock this Chevy. It’s the most expensive Chevy in the world.”
McIntyre went on: “When we arrived in Los Angeles, the consulate didn’t have a car or limousine for official functions, so we notified external affairs, and they said they would see to it immediately. External affairs contacted consulates that had closed down, and one of them was in central Africa, and there was a Chevy there, and they proceeded to patriate that Chevy back to Canada.”
“It arrived at the port of Montreal, though of course ferrying it over cost quite a bit of money, and because the car already had 80,000 miles on it, they had to replace the engine and transmission, which cost the government something like $1,000.
“Then the car was sent to [GM headquarters in] Oshawa to get a new interior because it had been completely gutted by maggots, so the car had to be quarantined to get rid of the bugs and so the seats and instrument panel could be replaced with new-old stock parts. At this point the car is shipped by mistake to New York, where it is lost and found, and eventually sent back to Canada.
“Then it is driven down to Vancouver by somebody from external affairs, all the way from Montreal to Vancouver, and of course he’s charging for hotels and so on. On the way to Vancouver the car breaks down, and it turns out there is something wrong with the electrical system, so they have to revise the ignition.
(pictured: the Kazakhstan embassy’s limo, probably, one of them cheap Cadillac deals)
“The car eventually ends up in Vancouver, and is driven across to the States and to Los Angeles, where unfortunately the car fails [Californian] emissions standards, so they have to revise the emissions system. All-in-all this is a $17,000 Chevy, and it’s worth more than the two Cadillacs parked behind us.”
Ostiguy recalls the plethora of Cadillacs and Lincolns that populated Los Angeles at the time and could, apparently, be bought for a song. But why get a new luxury car on the cheap when there’s a perfectly, er, sort of good two-year-old Chevrolet already in the fleet in Africa?
For the full story on the, ahem, eccentric Jacques Ostiguy, check out Autofocus.ca.
(top image of ‘68 Biscayne not completely representative of storied car)