A lot of you know that while I’ve had hundreds of American cars over the years (and love our early numbers Mustang test vehicle – a shame it’s too far gone to bring back), I’ve always had a soft spot for English cars. As I’m getting used to blogging, I thought it would be fun for me to share with you a few stories about the latest cars parked in the Strohacker garage. My ’63 Austin Healey is right up there at the top as far as stories go. My son and I have covered many miles in it and it loves to be driven. None of the usual English car “gremlins” as long as it is exercised regularly (they need love and attention!).
We found the car in 1999 in northern California inside a warehouse where it had been sitting on jackstands for 15 years. It was a true California car (yes I know you hear it all the time, but this one actually is!) with its original black and yellow plates and it’s tags and inspection sticker dated from ’84. Cosmetically, it was in pretty rough shape – torn seats and padded dash, the convertible top was in tatters and the paint was pretty far gone. Structurally, the body and chassis were incredibly sound. No rust, at all. There was a bit of bondo at the bottom of the front shroud where someone had backed into the car, but other than that, no structural work to be done!
The odometer read 75k, and we felt this was accurate. The car ran great, was fast as hell compared to the other Healeys I’ve driven and aside from a big puff of blue smoke at startup didn’t seem to have any other issues. Once we got the car back to Pennsylvania, we sorted everything as best we could and drove it around “beater style” for a few months (I’ve always loved seeing time warp cars on the road even if they don’t look the best!) before fixing up the body and having it painted. (trust me our best friends were the welder, sandpaper, and a spray gun!) We also had a new interior put in. Then we tackled installing new valve seals (blue smoke problem solved) and updated the wire wheels to 72 spoke for a bit more safety through the turns. Not sure if you’ve ever experienced this but in the old days the sound of spokes breaking on wire wheels as you put the car through its paces on a twisty road isn’t exactly inspiring!
We’ve put about 25k miles on the car since and it continues to run well. The six cylinder Healeys have such a great exhaust note, and the stainless exhaust we put on only makes it better, a real treat in tunnels and underpasses! Even though my muscle car friends out there can absolutely blow the doors off of me at a red light, I can keep up in the turns and have a decent amount of torque – starting off in 3rd gear from a dead stop is never trouble. I often think it would be fun to get another one and drop in a narrow 289 V8 – lots of people have done it and the Healey rear end is robust enough to handle the extra power. (not to mention it’d be fun to surprise some traditional muscle cars with this setup!)
Next up for this car may be some engine mods for a bit more power – perhaps a rebuild, port/polish the head, bigger carbs and bit of tweaking with the header and exhaust. I’m also inclined to put taller tires on, as the ground clearance is pretty terrible – any Healey owner who says they haven’t torn at least one exhaust system off of their ride are either lying or haven’t been driving their car enough!
Next time I’ll tell you about the 1967 Austin Mini Countryman I completely restored many years ago – a unique car that was ahead of its time and continues to impress me. Stay tuned!
I hope you get to spend lots of time in the garage, and keep in touch – we want to know what you’re working on!