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That Healey Thingie

That Healey Thingie


Did I ever fess up to having a love affair with European classic car styling and road racing machines and Sophia Loren? Yep, shore did, and I got heavy into all but any kind of association with Sophia. I think it may have been a misplaced DNA thingie.

Back right after WW II, there was a photo in Time or Life or Post, or some such magazine that really snapped my garter. It was a swoopy coupe that I later learned was a French design (Sophia was an Italian design, who came later, but no matter). Comparing that Coupe to my more possible Model A Yankee version was like comparing Sophia to, well, my 5th grade homeroom teacher. Not even on the same planet.

That same attraction to the swoopy automotive designs coming from European countries during the very early 1950s  latched on to my central nervous system in a big way. I came later to realize that power and appearance were not necessarily soul mates. Thus it was that when the time was ripe, I became a Tea Bagger. Yep, big time. I bought a brand spanking new 1955 Austin Healey roadster from across the pond.

Actually, I hadn’t intended to buy a Healey. I was trying to get a new Ford Thunderbird. Kinda similar, I guess. I was stationed in Mississippi, the supposed T-Bird was in central Texas, and I was headed to Montana. So, I bummed a ride to Dallas and Greyhounded to the car dealer, only to find he couldn’t get the Bird. So I settled for the new 4 cylinder Healey. Turned out to be a bitchin deal. I drove it through rest of pilot training in Phoenix, then drove back to Montana and thence to shipping port in New York. I was taking coal to Newcastle by bringing the AH to Germany.

As it turned out, the car could do a solid 112mph all day, every day. Obviously I entered every kind of driving event I could find, and learned that my friend’s 300SL would blow me in the weeds on a long open road, same with another friend’s Ferrari. But on a short, winding track or a crooked hill climb, I could put them down. Well, that is after a bit of engine tweaking. That Austin banger was, well, an Austin. And the electrics were typical English POS. But it had a stout gearbox with overdrive. Second over and third over were superb extra legs.

At that time there were a bajillion Healeys and MGs and TR3s around, owned by other officers and wise enlisted men, so at any given competition it was a madhouse. I sent off a letter to buddy Racer Brown in Los Angeles, who ground a cam, and I had some higher CR pistons made up, had the flywheel cut a bit—ordinary street racer stuff in So Cal. Found a local German mechanic who would assemble me a runner from an extra Austin four I had located, and after paying a whopping 80 bucks for the engine balance-blueprint-clean up and install, I was off to my first race at a newly recommisiond road race course Hockinheim, down toward Bavaria.

The AH was fast, damned fast (later timed it at 135mph), and it still had the bottom end grunt. Ended up putting Donald Healey and his new next generation AH’s on the trailer at one race, and back then there was no distinction made between hot and stock. So all those other sporty types were no match either. So, I shipped the car back to the states. However, I had learned that an Austin Healey twice seater sports car is no gizmo for a preggy wife. It did serve purpose when I took my wife for a friendly little cobblestone jaunt one day, which tended to rattle the belly a bit and produce a son. I think that may have rattled the little brain too much, as well.

The Healey had an underslung rear suspension arrangement of semi elleptics and a dead axle, so that it tended to handle very much like a track roadster. It also had the required English assortment of water leaks to the interior and burned leg next to the trans tunnel. But it was a helluva fun car. 

Ended up selling the car in New Jersey on arrival back in the land of the Big PX, replacing it with a near new Buick woodie wagon. Which I ended up taking to So Cal when I joined the staff of Hot Rod magazine. When it rained all the wood would swell and the tailgate door would stick. When it got hot, the wood settled back into a cacophony of squeaks. Don’t ever want another Buick Woodie, would like the AH back.

Did I mention I had the aluminium bodied nose revamped to look like a Ferrari, and raised the in-da-weeds exhaust to exit under the driver door? I don’t want another stocker English car, either, not even that really sexy Jag 120 roadster. The Limey’s simply do not know how to build cars.