Vancouver’s Ambassador of Citroën
|driving.ca 11 Jun 2021 at 06:20|
Vancouver, BC – John Anthony MacGregor arrives the way he always does: with a burst of good humour and driving a Citroën. Six foot two and irrepressibly cheerful, he is bonhomie personified. The double chevrons of Citroën never had a better emissary.
“I like to see myself as the face of Citroën Autoclub Canada in Vancouver,” he says, “I don’t want us to just become part of the Seattle group. We’re unique.”
Johnny Mac, as all his friends know him — and he has many — has loved Citroëns since he was a small boy. He grew up in the Southlands area in Vancouver, in the 1960s and 1970s. His otherwise fairly conservative parents bred standard poodles, and often struck up friendships with the owners.
MacGregor remembers one owner vividly. “Vivian. She had a beehive hairdo, wore polka-dotted dresses, the whole thing. Her boyfriend worked for Citroën Canada, which was on Burrard. 1290 Burrard I think.”
I went and looked up the address in old newspaper records. Johnny Mac was spot on.
“My dad had an 1958 Pontiac station wagon. It smelled a bit like an old B.C. Ferry. When Vivian and her boyfriend came to visit in a DS, it was like seeing a rocket ship.”
It was the spark that would ignite a lifetime’s passion. MacGregor now has eight Citroëns himself, and is the club’s enthusiastic events manager. He even has a term for his love of all things Citroën — “Citroënthusiasm.”
Citroën Traction Avant Brendan McAleer
The very first Citroën to arrive in BC was also a most unlikely one. It was a 1934 P17 half-track, part of the disastrously absurd Bedaux Subarctic Expedition, which was led by a Frenchman who brought along both his wife and his mistress. The expedition included one packhorse dedicated entirely to carrying ladies’ boots. It was not successful.
However, in the late 1950s, Citroën gained a firmer foothold in the west. The company took out ads looking for dealers for the then-new DS sedan. The first dealership opened in Victoria in 1958, and the first in Vancouver in 1959. Attendees at the 1959 Pacific National Exhibition were invited to take a closer look at the likes of the quirky and clever little Citroën 2CV.
Citroëns were odd, but inspiring. No other car offered similar innovations, and few had as much character. Alas, désolé; by the mid-1970s, new Canadian safety laws meant that the 2CV and other small Citroëns couldn’t be sold here. The club wrote PM Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who responded, “Being something of an automobile buff myself, I appreciate the technological qualities of the Citroën, and sympathise with your feelings. However…”
Citroën DS John MacGregor
By 1974, 1290 Burrard was a Toyota dealership. And yet, the brand had earned loyal fans like Gary Cullen, and brothers John and Gary Long. Citroën might no longer sell new cars in Canada, but the passion for the breed had taken hold.
In the meantime, the MacGregor family had been swayed into buying their first Citroën, a 1967 DS21, purchased in 1970. “I grew up in that car,” says Johnny Mac. “We used to go out to the drive-in movie theatre and, this is the days before SUVs, we’d raise the suspension and just look over top of other cars.”
MacGregor bought his first Citroën after graduation, a 1970 DS wagon which he painted white and dubbed Columbia, after the space shuttle. But on a not-very-glamorous shuttle run back from the local dump, the brakes failed. He walked away from the crash, but the car was totalled. A beige Volvo followed.
“Boy, was that ever a step down.”
Citroën CX Brendan McAleer
The Volvo was only a temporary Swedish stopover, and soon, Johnny Mac would be back behind the wheel of a Citroën. He bumped into other Citroën owners at an event in Stanley Parkin the mid-1980s, and joined the club. His first event was in 1989, with the Whistler West Coast Weekend, a rally that included US owners driving up from Washington.
Obviously with pandemic restrictions, Citroën Autoclub Canada has been having trouble getting together of late. The annual Father’s Day Italian and French car show is usually their largest gathering, and 2021 marks its second cancellation in a row. Instead, MacGregor is putting together a socially-distanced cruise. “Maybe a Tour de Ladner,” he says.
Citroën DS Safari Brendan McAleer
Ordinarily, however, the club is very active. Founding member Chris Adshead set a precedent for group participation, and Citroën owners love to drive their cars. Why wouldn’t they? The comfort level of your average Citroën makes a beanbag chair feel like a church pew.
MacGregor is so well-known in Citroën circles that the actual French Consul to Vancouver always comes and gives him a hug when they see each other (back when we were allowed to do that sort of thing). He’s also one of the first to get a call if a nearby Citroën club member has a mechanical problem. When Helen Poon’s 2CV Charleston suffered a broken fuel line near the entrance to the Burrard street bridge, she didn’t bother with a tow truck. She just called Johnny.
Jean-Luc, pictured here, is Johnny Mac’s latest acquisition. It’s a 1986 CX GTi turbodiesel, with a five-speed manual and the correct Blaupunkt stereo still between the seats. The diesel engine is positively agricultural in note, but the drive is thoroughly modern, soft, supple, and torquey. You operate the turn signal rocker switch with your fingertip. The steering wheel has a huge “TURBO” script. It’s a Citroën. Things are weird. And also wonderful.
The other seven Citroëns each have their own names, and yes, Jean-Luc is named after Captain Picard from Star Trek. There’s Andre, the 1972 DS21 that MacGregor’s had the longest. There’s Monika, the 1975 2CV named in tribute to a beloved club member lost to cancer. There’s Paris, a last-of-breed 1957 Traction-Avant Commerciale.
And there’s all the parts required to keep these cars going. MacGregor’s partner Aki Ichikawa often wonders aloud why their storage area is always crammed with spare bits of Citroëns. “Because maybe I’d like to keep these cars running,” MacGregor says.
Citroën Traction Avant Brendan McAleer
Each Citroën is special. Each one has a story. By day, MacGregor is a Translink employee, driving a bus around with his characteristic good-natured charm.
On his days off, you’ll find him out and about in one of his wonderful French cars. And, if you stop him and ask him about it, he’ll be happy to tell you. Because John Anthony MacGregor loves Citroëns. And he wants you to love them too.