By Charles Frick
Daydreaming back to 2002… my son Chas, then nine, and I decided to attend the All British Field Meet in Portland, Oregon with my 1963 Sports 6/Vitesse. Although my car was missing its convertible top, we decided to risk it, given Oregon’s reputation for sunny summers. Accompanied by friend Andy Dunning in a 1950 Ford Prefect we set off. After a beautiful, albeit slow, drive across the mountains (a 1959 Prefect with sidevalve motor only pumps out 36 hp), we found ourselves at the gates of Portland International Raceway.
Driving in I was much surprised to have the ticket taker tell me he had a Sports 6 as well! Arguably, the Herald/Sports 6/Vitesse is an easy car to mistake for something else. Memories do get foggy over time, and I often hear statements like: “My Dad had one. He drove that old Sunbeam everywhere!” or, “Yours got them pro-pellers under the back for water drivin’, too?” We chatted briefly, and he mentioned that he had owned it for a couple of years and it was awaiting restoration in storage. It sounded like a “pur sang” Sports 6. I offered something like, “Get a move-on man and put it back on the road!” and wished him luck with his project.
Chas and I made our way in only to find a stunning (made all the more lovely by the presence of my well patinated car parked alongside) RHD Vitesse 6 parked on the field. Leon, the owner—a Brit ex-pat who had only recently imported this car into the US—was nowhere to be found and, as luck would have it, we missed each other the entire weekend. He did take a couple photos of my car unbeknownst to me, and we did eventually connect and became fast friends. Chas and I enjoyed the Field Meet and, again risking rain, made a dash afterward to Mt. St. Helens and then returned home. An epic and totally dry excursion!
Fast forward to September 2019. I again attended the ABFM, although Vitesse-less, driving a Moke this time. Chatting with friends, the subject of Sports 6/Vitesse came up and mention was made of a club member with a Sports 6 (or two!) that might be up for sale. A contact number was procured and a call placed. Lo and behold the owner was the gent I had spoken with 17 years prior. Yes, he did still have that car stored in a barn and, yes, he would sell it.
Excitement grew as we set a date one week later when I would dash over the mountain to Aurora, Oregon to visit said barn. A bit about Aurora: the Aurora Colony, a religious commune was founded in 1856 by William Keil, who named the settlement after his daughter. Voted one of the 10 best antiquing towns in America, it boosts a population of 1210 people (and about two million chickens, trust me). It’s located on a long straight stretch of “The 5,” close to Wilsonville.
The day arrived, especially wet and cool over the Santiam pass, from the sunny “rain shadow” high desert of Bend to the misty Willamette Valley. Thanks to my smart phone, our first stop was a brief encounter at a chicken farm. “Can I help ya? Nope, this here is a chicken farm. No furrin’ cars, jest chickens.” Nice going, Google maps.
A U-turn got me to the barn (“Jest turn left after the chicken coup”) with the slumbering Sports 6. I marveled at all the times I had driven by this exact spot while the 6 dozed just out of view. A bit of confusion with the keys (“I’m not sure these are the right ones,” said the owner, Bill) and after many tries, the barn door was heaved, aside.
Inside it was a jumble. A car trailer with late model Mustang squatted in the center aisle betwixt a ’75 VW Rabbit, a restored Big Healy and several Big Healey carcasses perched on sawhorses. The whole scene presided over by a Volvo PV544.
Ah, but back in a corner the prize sat. Under a fabric car cover very well seasoned by 17+ years of dust, errant chicken feathers and guano was “Red Barchetta.” Let me say it took me all of 15 seconds after lifting the cover to decide it had to be mine. An unmolested, genuine, 1963 Sports 6, rust-free essentially, still wearing all its original badging and unique features, with the 1600cc factory driveline intact. Yessir, I’ll take it! A deal was struck. The deal sweetened after a second trip to Tigard, Oregon confirmed the condition of a second Sports 6 Bill had purchased years later as a parts car.
Pick up day arrived a week later. Bill had arranged for the owner of the barn to meet us and move the trailer and Mustang. “Yeah… the guy that owns it is in Korea or someplace.” Hmmmm. That wasn’t re-assuring.
Bill and I waited anxiously as the appointed time arrived and passed—all the while formulating a plan for threading the needle through the gap between the “MIA owner” ‘Stang and the restored Healey. At last Tom, the barn owner arrived and yanked the trailered car out while I busied myself filling tires on my “new” Triumph. Thank heavens for portable work light/tire inflator/jump packs WITH built in USB charging ports!
Tom, it turns out has had over 3oo Austin-Healeys in his stint a restorer. that explains all the Healey detritus scattered about!
Out into its first mist in nearly 20 years rolled the Red Barchetta with four winded car guys pushing/trailing behind. A little persuasion from a come-a-long and she was stowed safely in my trailer. Back across the Pass again to unload and brace myself for yet another trip!
The next day it was off to a storage unit for the parts car. This event was a bit more complicated as all the tires were not only flat but shredded. Just to add a degree of difficulty, the steering rack had been disconnected from both the frame and the steering wheel. A bit of time with a jack and lug wrench got it rolling again on four inflated-but-may-pop tires. A pair of rack mounts (thank-you, Herald parts car) and a reconnect of the steering and woosh (well maybe more like oooof!) this one was snagged and secured in the trailer. Over the Pass and through the woods the second Sports 6 did go!
After a bit of fiddling, the “Red Barchetta” fired up and, with the addition of a new set of clutch hydraulics, managed to drive up and down my driveway—the first time under its own power in nearly 20 years. Mechanicals all seem to be serviceable and a bit of fussing ought to have it road ready before too long. For now, it sleeps again in our barn but this idleness is but a catnap after the previous long slumber of years gone by. MM