PEI

Why these homemade Cars characters on P.E.I. will never be for sale

Every so often, someone will try to purchase Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater from George Branton. And every time, the answer's the same: no sale.

Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater have been fixtures at Pooles Corner for a decade

Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater are back out at Pooles Corner after a winter in the barn. (Shane Ross/CBC)

Nobody can miss them while driving through the roundabout at Pooles Corner in eastern P.E.I. The life-size replicas of Cars characters Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater have been parked at George Branton's towing company for about 10 years now.

Every so often, someone will make an offer to purchase them. And every time, Branton says, the answer's the same.

"No price will buy them."

Branton, 73, worked on the cars with his grandson, Cody Dixon. A few years later, in 2016, Cody died of a rare blood disease at age 23.

"They're not for sale because my grandson helped me build them and no, I'll never sell them as long as I'm alive."

George Branton says it's fun to see the look on kids' faces when they see and hear the Cars characters. (Shane Ross/CBC)

It was Cody's idea to build the replicas. Branton had never seen or heard of the Cars movie, let alone its main characters.

"I didn't know what he was talking about, so he went to work and said, 'Pop, well, I'll get you the movie.' So he got me the movie and him and I sat and watched it and he said, 'Do you think we could build Tow Mater?' and I said, 'Oh yeah … sure we could build it. You help me build it and we'll go at it.'"

Branton built the life-size replica of Lightning McQueen with his grandson. (Shane Ross/CBC)

It took about 80 hours to bring Tow Mater to life. Branton found a 1975 International and put it on a Chevy frame. They put acid on it to make the new finish look old, then added the decals and other features.

Lightning McQueen was a little more complicated, taking about 200 hours to build.

Former P.E.I. stock car racer Jonathan Hicken gave them some of his old race car panels, and they cut them to fit. Community members helped with paint and other material, Branton said.

"It was a pleasure because everyone got together and everybody just jumped in."

Tow Mater beginning to take shape in Branton's garage a decade ago. (Submitted by George Branton)

They even put a cassette player in the vehicles to make it appear as if they can speak.

"It's pretty cool when you see the little kids — their eyeballs just about pop out," Branton said. "They say, 'Mom, Dad!  They're talking to me!"

The vehicles don't have engines so they can't be driven, but Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater have appeared in parades, and have travelled as far as Sydney, N.S., for a hospital fundraiser.

Former P.E.I. stock car racer Jonathan Hicken donated his old race car panels to help build Lightning McQueen. (Submitted by George Branton)

Mostly, they sit in Branton's parking lot. He just wants them to bring joy to children, keep Cody's memory alive, and perhaps even draw visitors to the Montague area.

"It just makes my day… to see little kids come in smiling and laughing and having a heck of a good time and taking pictures with them."

Lightning McQueen about to get its red paint job in Branton's garage back in the day. (Submitted by George Branton)

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