A PassePar—What?

🕔Jul 28, 2006

When Stewart Young of Kitimat first saw the aged machine he knew it was a treasure. Just what kind of treasure he didn’t know until he dusted off the emblem on the side of the old red machine.

Sitting in a friend’s old woodshed, hidden in the firewood pile and covered in decades of dust, was a rare piece of Canada’s manufacturing past: a PasseParTout.

A PassePar—who? A PasseParTout! The PasseParTout (pronounced pass-par-too) was an all-season, all-terrain vehicle manufactured in Canada from1970 to 1980. The name, chosen by Quebec schoolchildren in a contest, literally translates as “goes everywhere.”

The 900-pound machine moves about on two 12-inch-wide tracks and operates on a 2-cycle gasoline engine. It is a true track machine steered by disengaging tracks, like a tank or a bulldozer. With a low center of gravity, the PasseParTout can go up very steep inclines and is a capable beast on all terrains.

There were many models manufactured, each one learning from previous weaknesses and producing a better machine. (Early models, for instance, had a tendency to catch fire.)

Stewart’s PasseParTout is a model 400, made in Canada in 1973. This one can hold three people: the driver, and two passengers sitting knee-to-knee on the small foamy back seats. It has a windshield, headlights, taillights, a hitch—“it looks like a mini tank,” says Stewart. Being one of the earlier models, the machine runs a bit smoky, but Stewart says, “it’s all part of the charm.”

Stewart bought the PasseParTout from his friend for some gasoline and a bag of tobacco. She was also able to give him the original sales receipt, the owner’s manual and two keys complete with a “PasseParTout” emblem keychain.

“She was happy to see it go. It wasn’t serving ay purpose there, just taking up room in the woodshed,” says Stewart. The PasseParTout was loaded onto a trailer and brought to his home in Kitimat. “It had been stored under cover, and the machine was still in really good shape.”

He cleaned it all up, took out the old gas, and hooked up the battery out of his 1957 Chevrolet. Stewart was surprised when the machine started on the first try. He saw the PasseParTout as a mechanical project to take apart and put back together, “hopefully with not too many spare parts.”

Stewart did not yet know the story of the machine’s history in Canada, so he set to researching. A friend from Quebec told him that they had been made in Quebec in the 1970’s. Internet research led Stewart to the former designer and owner of PasseParTout, Mr. Bob Cantin.

According to Bob, the design of the machine reflects its intended military use in Vietnam. But the war started to de-escalate, and the demand for a military track vehicle was gone. This left the Valcartier Company with the tools and materials to produce them, but no military market. The mini-tank was then marketed to the general populous of North America, stocked in snowmobile shops and lawn-and-garden centers across the country.

1970 saw PasseParTout dealerships set up across Canada. “It was a young, blossoming market,” says Cantin. It was promoted as an “all-season vehicle,” or ASV, before the current term “all-terrain vehicle” (ATV) came into our vocabulary. “It would work in the snow, but when the snow melted it would also run on the ground.”

The Canadian-made machine was marketed at trade shows and heavily promoted around North America. Mines and farms used them to pull machinery and traverse the soft earth; for warehouses and docks it was a power vehicle to haul heavy gear. Models were available with roof racks, trailers, snowplow blades, canopies and rock guards.

“It was a versatile machine and ran really well for lots of people,” says Cantin. From the publications of the day, it seemed like every farmer, miner and outdoor explorer navigated the earth in one of these vehicles.

The PasseParTout was produced outside Quebec City until 1977, when Cantin moved the entire 88,000 square foot operation to Edmonton, Alberta. He says they pre-built a bunch of PasseParTouts, then disassembled the plant in Quebec and shipped all 1500 tons of machinery out to Alberta by rail and truck. The plant was re-assembled there and production resumed.

Demand for the PasseParTout grew in the United States. US Government Agencies such as the Department of Wildlife bought many of the Canadian-made machines. “America had a lot more people and a lot more uses for them,” according to Cantin.

Then came an offer to produce the PasseParTout in the United States. In 1980, Mr. Vernon Crocket III bought the license and moved production to Michigan. “They made a new generation of machine,” says Cantin.

Crocket died in 1983. “They were a multinational firm building high-tech stuff,” Cantin continues, “but when Vernon died the other managers just dropped it, so that was the end of the PasseParTout.”

Cantin stockpiled parts for the PasseParTout, and is generally the archives for the curious writer and determined PasseParTout reviver. As for Stewart’s old machine, “it isn’t one of the good ones,” says Cantin. “The model 400, on a scale of one to ten, would be a four.”

But that hasn’t deterred Stewart from spending some of his retirement days working under the shelter of a pine tree, taking apart the tracks, examining the ball bearings, figuring out how the machine worked and how to get it to work again. He has rebuilt the undercarriage, taken apart all the bogey wheels, put in new bearings and had new parts made. “It turns better and runs cleaner now,” he says.

Stewart is happy he found the PasseParTout. “It’s a piece of Canadian history”.