A Car-Spotter’s Guide to Victoria, B.C.

Brendan McAleer

When you think of the great car cities of the world, it’s all about the people. In Los Angeles, it’s the canyon-carvers and the customizers. In Detroit, it’s muscle and assembly-line grit. In Tokyo, it’s razor-focused passion for every detail. But in one sleepy little town off British Columbia’s coast, the car community comes from a weird demographic that is either filled to bursting with enthusiasm, or else doesn’t actually drive anywhere.

Victoria is B.C.’s capital, and for a long time its unofficial motto was “newly-wed or nearly dead.” Despite a history stretching back to colonial days of fur trading and the first gold rushes, people mostly came to Victoria to attend college or to retire. The weather can’t be beat—barely one-third the rain of nearby Vancouver—and that West Coast scenery is gorgeous. As a walkable city of fish-and-chips shops and museums, it draws in the tourists like crazy.

However, if you have even an ounce of gasoline running through your veins, Victoria is one of the best cities on the planet for spotting cars. Partly, it’s a rift in the space-time continuum, where you might see a 40-year-old Honda Civic street-parked but looking like it just rolled out of the showroom. Partly, there’s a raft of British enthusiast ex-pats. Partly, the place is dotted with hidden collections of eye-boggling vintage exotics. One of the premiere Mercedes 300SL restoration shops is here. And then there’s the strange and inexplicable, like a one-off 1940 streamliner trundling past in a cloud of V-8 thunder.

If you’re planning a visit (highly recommended, the fish and chips are totally worth it), you might want to know where to look and what to look for. Here’s a spotters’ guide to the secretly wonderful and weird car city that is Victoria.


Whether you’re getting off the ferry from Tsawwassen in B.C. or from Anacortes in Washington, you’ll first arrive on the Saanich peninsula. Most people drive straight south to Victoria proper, but if you stick around a bit, you might come across something wonderful.

Brendan McAleer

First, it’s well worth just going for a drive around Saanich’s roads, as they are wonderful. You’ll skip getting stuck in traffic on the highway, which clogs up after every ferry arrival due to the regular traffic lights, and you’ll also enjoy wriggling tarmac and great scenery.

Further, in terms of car-spotting, Saanich is big-game territory. Tucked away in workshops and barns around here are car collections that belong to people who sold city real estate over on the mainland and came to where there’s more storage room. There are also more than a few out-of-towners who keep their cars here for summer visits.

What you’re looking for is the Gullwings. Up until about five years ago, genial madman Rudi Koniczek oversaw a quarter century of restoring 300SLs to their former glory. He’s since retired and his former business moved from Saanich to right in the heart of Victoria, but there are still valuable classics dotted all through the peninsula. A chicken barn full of Ferrari Daytonas? It’s out there.

Also out there is stuff you’ve just never even heard of. Take “The Spirit of Tomorrow,” a one-off streamliner built in 1940 by a constantly inventive fellow named Basil Oldfield. It’s still in the same family, and they drive it regularly, so you never know when you might come across it.

Victoria Proper

Brendan McAleer

Once you’ve landed in the city itself, it’s time to keep your head on a swivel. Victoria has the lowest average yearly driving distance of any city in Canada, and for good reason. Because it’s an old colonial town, hemmed in by the ocean, it has only experienced sprawl in recent years, and most of that is to the westward side.

The proverbial “little old lady who only drove to church on Sunday” was basically the average Victoria driver for many years. Thus, you continually stumble across low-option econoboxes in near-concours condition. These aren’t exactly barn finds in terms of value, but it’s fun to walk down a road that looks like it’s still 1992.

Brendan McAleer

In the southwest corner of Victoria is Oak Bay, home to a golf course and lots of old money. Here, among dozens of oak trees (hence the name) you can sometimes come across vintage British steel of the Bentley or Rolls-Royce persuasion. But you never know what you might find: I stumbled over a street-parked Citroën 2CV and a Oldsmobile Cutlass out front of a mock-Tudor house. There’s also a regularly driven 1967 Mazda Cosmo in the neighborhood.

Driving west along the coast is scenic fun, and you’re also likely to spot the odd vintage car out for a bit of exercise. Japanese-market imports are common, especially the Mitsubishi Delica, which has nearly supplanted the VW Westfalia as the official car of coastal van-life around here. But there are Westies aplenty, too. And a Japanese-market Renault Avantime, because hey, why not?

Victoria has a distinctly English feel to it, thanks to the many postwar ex-pats who settled here, and the automotive scenery reflects this. So you’ll encounter a surprising amount of regular-grade British cars as you head into the city center. The Land Rovers you expect, but someone was using a rubber-bumper MGB as a commuter car, parked in the floatplane lot.

Museums and Shows

The Royal BC Museum is currently in flux about how best to update it, but it’s a fun visit if you’re passing through. There’s not much to spot here in terms of cars, but it’s worth at least sticking your head in the lobby to see if John Lennon’s Rolls-Royce is there (the museum owns it). If you’re really lucky, the museum also sometimes has on display the George Barris–designed Esso 67-X, an extended and customized Toronado built for the 1967 Montreal Expo.

But you don’t need to be lucky, if you time your Victoria visit correctly. July of 2025 is the next Northwest Deuce Days, a once-every-three-years gathering of 1932 Ford hot rods. This is not a small event, with close to 2000 hot rods of all kinds on hand, at least a third of which are Deuces. You can see everyone’s idea of what a customized ’32 Ford should look like, lined up all around the inner harbor.

Brendan McAleer

Or you can just check Facebook to see if the European Cars and Coffee YYJ group is having one of their Sunday meets. This is a great way to pull a car-spotter’s cheat, as while the number of cars in attendance often isn’t huge, the variety is staggering. You might see a Clio V6 parked next to that Avantime, then a DKW wagon and a Borgward Isabella and an MG TF and a Porsche 918.

It’s basically a condensed version of what Victoria’s all about. Come over for the usual tourist reasons—the restaurants, the museums, the walks along the water. Take a day drive out to Port Renfrew, along some spectacular roads, or head up Island and across to Tofino to see the breakers roll in.

Just keep your camera handy. If you love cars, Victoria’s going to surprise you with something when you least expect it.




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    Canada is an interesting place in general. Though I live less than 50 miles across a lake the speak different, they have some different cars. It is like the same but different.

    We see some of their cars filter in to the south and it is fun.

    I have a couple buddies from the great white north come and show an Acadian at a Pontiac show. We then explain things we don’t understand about each other’s country. This is not a political debate as much just getting what the news leaves out.

    I can’t speak to the car scene, but I can confirm that Victoria is a great destination. There’s a high speed ferry from downtown Seattle that drops off in the inner harbor. And, indeed, the fish and chips are amazing!

    When I moved to Victoria from Ontario 20-odd years ago, I was shocked at the number of “old” cars just being driven around like the appliances that they were made to be. Now, when I travel back east, I’m horrified at how many “new” cars are covered in rust and damage! I think I’ll stay here.

    PS: That 1971 Dart Swinger in the first picture block is just a few streets over from my house. Cool to see it featured here.

    Oh cool! I have it on good authority that the GMC Motorhome from Stripes is somewhere near Sidney. John Candy bought it after filming – let me know if you spot it!

    Lovely! I have seen most of the cars featured, sat in some, and even driven one or two. Victoria is both a car-lovers’ paradise (very little rust, because very little snow and ice) and a bit of a nightmare due to the relatively high cost of land — nothing like Vancouver, but still quite pricey. So storage comes at a premium, esp in the city of Victoria proper. And our provincial public auto insurance authority has some odd ideas about what constitutes a Collector car… though our insurance rates, once high, are now much lower than in California and many other places in the US. Thanks for this look at the car scene on the lower island!

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