No matter where you’re reading this post, stop for a second and take a look around. Spot a pattern? Chances are, if you’re like most humans, you’ve accumulated a few trinkets over time. As he writes this, your author is staring down the barrel of several die-cast cars and a handful of glued-together models he hammered together as a teenager. Most of them have been languishing on various shelves since Jesus was a cowboy but, as Marie Kondo is fond of saying, they spark joy.
Now, multiply this affliction by a factor of 10. No, wait – by a factor of 100. It is only then can one appreciate the scale of automotive memorabilia on display in Brad Smith’s private collection. A former car dealer and towering mountain of a man, he’s retired to rural Nova Scotia where a 9,000-square-foot garage stuffed with a lifetime of souvenirs and mementos awaits his attention.
Vintage fuel pumps stand cheek-to-jowl with rare advertising art and an eye-popping row of motorcycles. Scale models of cars, trucks, and tractors line the floor like sawdust. When was the last time you saw promotional ashtrays from brands like Goodyear and General Tire? How about a couch made from the box of a ’90s Silverado or a jukebox with the eyes of a ’50s pickup? And is that a diner booth crafted from an actual full-size ’57 Chevy? The product filling this space is mindboggling.
Oh, did we mention it’s all for sale?
“It’s time,” said Smith, his gravelly voice emanating from somewhere deep within a beard that’d make the members of ZZ Top blush. “You never know what’s around the bend and I’d like to free up space for working on stuff.” Gearheads generally accept that no matter how big of a shop they have, it’s entirely possible to fill it to the point of bursting, even at this scale.
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“I’ve got 9,000 square feet of garage and I can’t even get a hot rod in here,” he chuckles while explaining why he’s selling off his collection. It’s true. We visited Smith and his shop in early February, about a week after he made it publicly known that everything must go. A substantial chunk of items found buyers in those intervening seven days, yet what remained on the day we shot these photos still beggars belief. Smith says that, until a few days prior, one couldn’t even walk through his garage. We believe him.
But how did he get started? Where did all this come from?
“I gave up drinking, so what else was I going to spend my money on?” he says, laughing heartily. “The collection really got going in 1984 during my car-selling days out west. People would sometimes ask to buy my items, but I generally refused. My intent was for people to look at what I had on display and get enjoyment out of seeing it.”
Then, the kicker. “If they happened to buy a car while they were there, so much the better.” Smart man. It apparently worked too; Smith said that, at his peak, his place was selling in excess of 500 vehicles annually. That’s almost two a day, assuming he was closed on Sundays and holidays. Given the work ethic on display, he probably wasn’t.
Collecting is in his blood. Smith told us about his mother, a person who had a knack for amassing teapots and teacups. They lined her house like the old Sears kitchen department, Smith said, describing the time she was invited to a community dinner only to find – to her horror – that tea was being served in Styrofoam cups. In jig time, she sourced enough “proper” teacups from her collection that not only were the guests drinking from fine china but so were the next day’s clean-up crew as well.
Smith bought the Nova Scotia land on which his garage sits more than two decades ago. He maintained a home elsewhere while building a modest house and the enormous shop you see in these photos before finally moving here full time a couple of years ago. Given the grin on his face and the animation in his voice, the contentment in this decision is clear.
Still, when one has created a paradox in which there is a warehouse amount of space but no actual, y’know, room, something’s got to give. Those beautiful fuel pumps that formed a centrepiece of the collection were sold to a gearhead in the Halifax region – though the typically Atlantic Canadian weather patterns meant the buyer couldn’t pick them up for a few days thanks to an incoming nor’easter. The ’57 Chevy dining booth went to a brave soul who’s opening a restaurant in the middle of a global pandemic. Friends, neighbours, and local hot-rodders nabbed some other large items. And your author opened his own wallet, snagging a few of the more interesting diecast models that would likely be of little interest to anyone else but caused my eyes to pop wide as saucers when seeing them. Nostalgia is a helluva drug.
“It was the thrill of the hunt, it really was,” Smith said as he wipes dust off a service station display stand your author hasn’t seen since the 1980s. “You meet such a variety of people when travelling all over the country to visit the car auctions and sales. That’s one of the real joys.”