Driving Miss Gracie local car legend

Gary and Steve Rose give thumbs up to Grandma Gracie’s original 1955 Desoto Fireflite at Thursday night’s car and chat.

Mark Clairmont | MuskokaTODAY.com

GRAVENHURST — Driving Miss Daisy was a popular American film.

Driving Miss Gracie was a local legend.

Grace Brown was the wife of Jack Brown, of the famous Brown’s Beverages pop business in Gravenhurst.

And though she couldn’t drive, she owned one of the best cars in town.

A gorgeous brown (of course) 1955 Desoto.

“A Fireflite. Make sure you say a Fireflite,” says her grandson, Gary Rose.

Yes, indeed it is a Fireflite.

“With a 291 real Hemi engine.”

And it will be at this Saturday’s 25th Annual Gravenhurst Chamber of Commerce Car Show at Gull Lake Rotary Park.

Rose’s brother, Steve, brings it every year.

It’s one of three prized classic family vehicles he owns — including a black Caddy the Canadian Tire employee drives around town in the summer.

The Fireflite is all original, including the steering wheel and the seats which have been covered up since the day Jack Brown bought it for his wife Grace, who never learned to drive it.

But this Desoto — yes, the Fireflite — is particularly unique.

Jack Brown bought it for Grace, brand new.

“It was on a turntable at the CNE,” boasts Gary.

“Paid $3,500 for it — cash.”

And the family still has it — the Roses, that is.

It’s sat in the Rose family garage off Bay on Mary Street for 62 years as of this August.

And there’s only 34,000 miles on it. That’s less than 2,000 miles a year driven on it for more than six decades.

You see, Grace just couldn’t learn to master the technique driving her new car; so she never got her licence.

Odd in family that relied on trucks to deliver their pop all over Muskoka and Central Ontario.

Fortunately, her two sisters-in-law who could.

Hence, Driving Miss Gracie was left up to Muriel Rose and Dorothy Swerbrick.

Oh, to imagine the stories those ladies had in their Fireflite on Friday nights.

Forget Thelma and Louise, lookout for the Brown Girls and the stories they could tell of rip, roaring around town in the Brown mobile.

There’ll be hundreds of cars and trucks at this weekend’s Car Show, and this is just one of the dozens of stories that any of the backseats could tell.

And talking about seats, the Desoto — oops, sorry, Fireflite — has never had anyone sit in them.

This old Ford Roadster may have been this week’s oldest car.

How dat, you ask?

Well, they’ve been covered up since Day 1.

It’s that pristine.

Everything is original, even the wooden steering wheel.

“It doesn’t have a crack in it,” Gary says, sounding like a car salesman that he’s not.

The satellite salesman and former radio/TV/electronics man is the driving force behind Thursday night’s weekly informal car and chat show in the parking lot in front of Home Hardare, Giant Tiger and McDonalds in Gravenhurst.

For 14 years now he and Steve have brought the Desoto Fireflite a dozen blocks or so (maybe a couple kilometres) from home for the show. (They’ll do the same Saturday.)

Gary and his wife bring some CDs and speakers, people donate a few prizes (like the can of spray and shine shoved under his arm last week as he was being interviewed).

They sell some raffle tickets and donate mostly to local charities (but this year’s cause is Ronald McDonald House and Sick Kids Hospital).

They do it in collaboration with the same show in Bracebridge Monday nights, run by Fred “Flat Bed” Nixon, who also helps Gary.

It’s usually $3,000 to $4,000 they collected between May 24 and the barbecue potluck and mini concert they wrap up with the week after Labour Day.

It’s all very casual, grab a drink and stand around talking automobiles.

The weekly show has been a town tradition since the early 1990s, when Ron Chiasson began gathering friends and fans of fixer-ups at various parking lots after hours at the YIG grocery store and Canadian Tire.

After a short lull, Rose and Nixon resurrected the regular occurrences back in 2004.

They get 40 cars on average and up to 60 in the summer.

It’s very casual.

Usually it’s about 25 cars facing each other in a row.

With the owners and admirers looking under each other’s hoods and asking: “What’s she got under the hood?”

Or: “Bet she goes like stink!”

Mostly, they just stand around in the setting sun for a couple of hours, shoot the breeze, and talk shop. The serious ones compare notes.

A few will go into McDonalds for coffee, or their wives will browse Tiger.

“It’s nice for everyone,” says Gary, “including the businesses.”

Hot stuff, this Corvette hidden behind a red hot Streetroadster.

That’s the thing about cars and trucks.

They’re unifying.

Everyone’s had one or the other.

Some even own them — and drive them.

And they all have stories.

Drop by either car show Thursday or Saturday and see the Desoto — and hear the stories.

It’s a fun way to spend a few hours.

Ask Gary or Steve how you open the doors on the Fireflite.

Acadia Muffler owner and car show founder Ron Chiasson, brought his 1932 Ford out Thursday night at the south end.
It’s often a family affair Thursday nights for car buffs.
It’s not just old cars that are classic cars.
Brian Ferguson had his pride and joy out. Is it a Thunderbird convertible?
And how about this beautiful old blue GMC pickup.