By David and Judy Caswell
How many people do you know whose car went around the world? I mean literally around the world? My Austin Healey did, and this is the story.
It started back in 1956 when I was transferred to a squadron based in Port Lyautey, Morocco. The squadron was comprised of only about twenty officers, one of whom was a wealthy individual named Sid. Sid was probably the most unforgettable person I’ve ever met. Nothing phased him. When he wanted something, nothing got in his way. In Morocco, we Americans were only allowed to have one car. His wife’s birthday was coming up and Sid decided that a nice, new car would do just fine. After much dealing with the local and Moroccan authorities, he received permission to have a second car by putting up a great deal of money in a bond. He would get the money back when he and the car left the country of Morocco. That car he bought was a white Austin Healey 3000!
My wife, Judy, was enthralled with the car (we had a run-of-the-mill two door Ford) and decided when we could afford it, we’d get an Austin Healey of our very own. This feeling was reinforced when we had two ensigns assigned to the outfit, each of whom had 1956 Healeys. There were also a TR-2 and a Jaguar owned by other officers in the squadron. Remember that this was the 1950’s and foreign car ownership was not the norm. We had the luck to use one of the Healeys for a couple of weeks when the owner went on leave.
Fast forward to 1960. Our family had expanded to four and we were living in Sanford, Florida. I was in the Mediterranean deployed on the carrier USS Forrestal. I purchased a white BT7 four seater Austin Healey 3000 from a company based in Lichenstein. The car was shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to Jacksonville, Florida and picked up in September 1960. It spent the next three years in the Sanford area where it survived one hurricane and two trips to Rhode Island.
In April of 1963, we drove north again, this time Judy driving the Healey with our younger daughter Leslie, and me driving our other car with older daughter Sue. I had orders to the French Rivera and our Healey was to be shipped there from Newark, New Jersey. Our other car was a little Nash Metropolitan and it had never been more than five miles from home in almost five years. It was my feeling that if we had car trouble on the drive, it would be the Metropolitan. As it turned out, for the first and only time, the Healey had a problem.
Judy said the engine had just quit. The car started fine for me, so we continued the trip. As we approached Washington, it was rush hour and the car quit again. Using the Metropolitan, I towed the Healey to the nearest service station. Once there, the car started again and we made it to Washington, where we spent the night with Judy’s sister. The next day, we started out again and made it the rest of the way to Newark without incident. I couldn’t find out what the problem was because of time constraints in getting the car to New Jersey. We were now down to one car–the Nash Metropolitan. It was quite a trip to Rhode Island and Maine with two adults, two young children, and luggage. We left the Metropolitan in Rhode Island for my brother to use. The Healey made the trip to France in good shape minus the radio and heater bottom (to which the radio was attached) that was stolen.
Once in France, most of the driving was local and there appeared to be no problem. We had a French mechanic look at things and he told Judy the problem was the fuel. He said it was contaminated and he had drained the tank. He then strained the gas through an old felt hat and told her that everything was now fine! But of course, it wasn’t. The next time the problem popped up was when Judy was driving to Paris. I had to go there for a meeting and she was to meet me when I arrived from Rhodes. About halfway to Paris, the car quit again and a local mechanic decided to take it for a test ride. When he returned, he said he had fixed the problem, it was the “bobbin,” he said. That turned out to be the coil, and he had replaced it. After a bit more troubleshooting, it turned out the points in the fuel pump would not work when they got hot. Once the real problem was fixed, we had no more trouble with the car.
I was next transferred to Rota, Spain and that was quite an experience. It necessitated a long drive from one country to another in a small sports car with two adults, two young girls, and luggage. To make matters worse, our younger daughter was prone to carsickness on winding roads and very few roads were straight in those days. She wanted to sit in Judy’s lap when she felt bad. To take her mind off things, we would count all the gullies with water in them as went through the Pyrenees Mountains. She did not make it all the way without illness, so we were very glad to get through the mountains and into Spain.
We settled down in Puerto de Santa Maria for the next three years. I was only in Spain sporadically. When I was home, I did the necessary work on the car, such as using a Budweiser beer can to patch the header pipe until a replacement arrived from Gibraltar. Beer cans were made of steel back in those days. Our Spanish landlord, who became a good friend, could never understand why an American Jefe (boss) would do all the work on his own car.
In 1966 the car was ready for another sea voyage. We were transferred to Monterey, California where I was to attend the Naval Postgraduate School. The Healey was shipped from Cadiz, Spain to Oakland which took approximately four months. Again, the car made the trip in good shape except for the top which was cut open in order to steal the radio (with the attached heater bottom, again). I guess they didn’t try to open the doors which, of course, have no locks. Once in Monterey, the car was driven only locally for over two years and the only weird event was skidding into a deer and pushing in the right front fender just forward of the windshield. Luckily the damage was minor except for the deer, which immediately assumed room temperature.
In 1969 another transfer, this time for duty at the Pentagon, which resulted in us moving to Springfield, Virginia. I drove the Healey and had Sue with me, and Judy and Leslie were in our Mustang. One thing that stands out during that trip was leaving the mountains heading East on Route 80. There was the straight stretch of road for fifty miles or so approaching Salt Lake City and the view was unbelievable. We came to a small town with a sign that read “Population 8.” The “8” was crossed out and “7” was put in by hand.
Our 1960 Austin Healey reached a milestone, and it only took nine years! Once we reached Virginia, its trip around the world was complete!
I left the Pentagon for a year in Newport, Rhode Island where I attended the Naval War College. After which we went back to California for a tour of duty in San Diego and then on to Monterey for three years as a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School. The drive back west was completed with the top down all the way. The only problem was a severe rainstorm in the midwest where we wanted to pull in under an overpass, but we couldn’t find one that wasn’t already filled with other cars (not convertibles) trying to get out of the heavy rain.
By the way, the population of that small town was still seven.
The first time our girls were allowed to drive the Healey was on their last day of high school. That one day, they were given permission to take the car instead of the school bus. The Healey, the girls, Judy, and I all survived both graduation days.
Our next move was back to the east coast with orders to the Energy Research Development Administration (which later became the Department of Energy). Since there was only Judy and I, we stored the Healey at our home in Carmel Valley for two years. I then retired from the Navy and we came back to California to stay. I didn’t stay retired long and was hired by a civilian company doing contract work for the Army.
Working twelve hours a day as an engineer and spending weekends writing test plans and reports left me no time to get involved with our Healey except to get the rusted panels on the door bottoms and front of the rear fenders repaired. It was during this period my involvement with Moss Motors began and I have nothing but good things to say on this matter. I still have my Customer Service card from the 1980’s!
Finally, after retiring a second time (I figured it was time!) I started bringing the Healey back to life! I stripped the interior, put on a new stainless steel exhaust system, master cylinders, had the radiator re-cored, instruments refurbished, cosmetic work, etc. I was halfway through replacing the wiring harness when I had a stroke. I had hoped to recover enough to complete the job but I realized after a year, I was going to need professional help to finish the restoration. Thanks to On the Road Again Classics of Morgan Hill, California the Healey was brought back to life. Now our fifty-seven-year-old sports car not only looks like new but runs like new.