By Keith Daniel
Back in the latter half of the last century I restored my Austin-Healey. All new metal front to back on the bottom 12 inches. Went through the brakes, hoses, belts, starter and generator. Just an amateur restore, not a frame-off, but turned out pretty good. Got my friend with a body shop to paint it. The interior was in remarkably good shape for original thanks to vinyl in the last production year rather than leather, so no work needed there, other than carpet. Time for fun.
Since then I’ve been having a blast with it every summer and, surprisingly for an old Brit, in 25 years it has never let me down. Just as reliable as a Honda and twice as pretty or more. Three years ago, the SU fuel pump started getting lazy, and after sitting for a week or two I would have to bang on the floor in back to wake it up, so after 50+ years I upgraded to a new electronic one.
Guys would tell me about their complicated procedure in the spring to get going. Me, with no battery tender or anything else besides fresh fluids, I would turn the key and hit the road. Every few years, set the valves. That’s about it. My philosophy has always been “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” or “Don’t mess with success.” Or maybe “Lord Lucas knew what he was doing.”
A couple of years ago on the way to a weekend meet, the old girl started sputtering and missing. Considering that the points, plugs and condenser were all 25 years old, it seemed reasonable to think that they were near the end of their lifespan. (Sidenote: never even had to set the points in that time period.) No worries, I always carry spares. New ones didn’t fix it so I got to thinking, “Oh, who knows maybe it’s the 50-year-old coil.” That wasn’t it either. Turns out I just got a bad tank of gas. Unusual for sure in this day and age. And no, I didn’t put the old parts back in.
The last couple of hot summers proved that the valve seals were due, so end of season last year I dug into that job. The ones that were still in place would crack into pieces when I touched them.
Now, a little explanation is in order. With the first restoration, I never detailed the engine bay. Never power washed it, never nothing. Hey, I was busy working and raising kids. Well, one thing, probably 20 years ago when setting the valves, I painted the valve cover. In hindsight the contrast between the painted cover and the rest of the bay was shocking. But you know what they say: It’s only 50-year-old grease and grime once. I’m all about originality.
With the valve seals done I got to thinking, maybe it’s time. I’m retired now and the kids are in their 40s. I pushed the car outside and powerwashed the engine and went to work. Dug around and found the 20-year-old can of Healey green paint, which was still as good as new and barely used. Speaking of paint, I can’t help but wonder why someone from England, which is known for understated elegance, would combine green, red, yellow, and blue under the same bonnet. Nevertheless,with the paint and a few orders from Moss, the engine bay now looks not perfect, but respectable. And in factory correct colors.
I can’t help but wonder, though, if just maybe I painted over some of Donald Healeys fingerprints.
It’s only original once.