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Seniors & their vintage cars

Dennis Coates


You may have heard of Dennis Coates, a well-respected local lawyer since 1968, Queen’s Counsel, hockey team owner and supporter, pub owner, etc. What is probably not so well known is that Dennis has been a collector car owner for over 50 years, and that he is also the only surviving charter member of the Kamloops Chapter of the Vintage Car Club (VCCC), joining when the Chapter was inaugurated in 1972. In the ensuing years, Dennis amassed an impressive array of collector vehicles, but most of them have now been passed on and some are still being enjoyed by family members.

Dennis grew up on a farm in Osoyoos and purchased his first car, a 1930 Model A Ford pickup, for $50. Although only 14 years of age at the time, he learned to drive the Model A around the farm and on the local back roads. Around that time, Osoyoos did not have a high school and Dennis then bought a 1940 Ford 2-door sedan to drive to school in neighbouring Oliver, followed up by a 1950 Meteor. Upon finishing high school, he moved on to UBC, and obtained his Law degree in 1968. He had two job offers and ended up in Kamloops, starting his career with Rudi Morelli’s firm, specializing in corporate, commercial and hospitality legal matters, and he has been here ever since.

He had purchased his first collector car, a 1957 MGA, while attending UBC, and then traded up to a 1962 MGA roadster, which is the only car still left from his collection. This car has been restored by Dennis and is used regularly in the summer for pleasure drives, but surprisingly only has 62,000 miles on the odometer. The next cars acquired were an Austin Healey 100-6 roadster and then, one of his favourites, a 1952 MGYB 4-door sedan. The MGYB was an old car even when new, still with the typically British leather upholstery, walnut dashboard, freestanding headlights and tiny 4-cylinder engine. They were very rare to begin with and even more scarce in Canada, but that was one of his favourites. A 1951 MGTD roadster came along next and he restored that car himself. Other foreign cars acquired through the years included a 1958 Mercedes 220S sedan (now owned by his son) and two Jaguars, an XKE coupe and a 1957 MK VII sedan, or saloon, in English-speak. Dennis then tackled two other restoration projects including a 1930 Model A Ford cabriolet and a 1926 Model T Ford roadster pickup, which has been passed on to his grandson. Another 1926 Model T touring car was restored and used by the Calgary Centennials hockey team for promotions. And lastly, there was a 1947 Chrysler sedan that was dolled up as a period taxi and used to promote the pub of which Dennis was a part owner. A few years back Dennis owned some acreage near the Rivershore Golf Course and most of these cars were stored there, but that property has been sold along with all of the cars, except for the 1962 MGA roadster.

Dennis has a long-distance relationship with his partner, Lynda Johnston, who lives in Kelowna, but they also share a place at the Coast. Lynda is a retired schoolteacher, but is involved in the business world and Dennis had told me that she loves to go for drives with him in the MGA.

Although this column is intended to feature stories about vintage cars, it is difficult to talk about Dennis’ life without dwelling on his involvement with hockey. Many years ago he teamed up with Scotty Munro to purchase the Langley Lords and Vancouver Nats hockey teams from Nat Bailey of White Spot fame, and then brought the team to town as the Kamloops Chiefs. This team eventually moved to Seattle and then Dennis organized a local group to bring the New Westminster Bruins to Kamloops as the Junior Oilers, which morphed into the Kamloops Blazers. The Blazers were, of course, later sold to Tom Gaglardi and partners and the proceeds were placed under the care of the Kamloops Sport Society. Dennis is very proud that this society is able to distribute millions of dollars to local sporting causes and still retain more funds on hand for future donations than they started with.

At 78 years of age Dennis still works half time and tells me that he is never going to retire. Although he has downsized to living in a condo, he is looking forward to another summer of touring in his gorgeous little red MGA roadster.