By Ted Eayrs
I have owned English sports cars for more than 50 years now. Big Healeys, Sprites, MGs, TR3s, and Jaguars. I recently acquired a 1962 Austin Healey 3000 Mk II and am restoring it with the help of my friend William Staples. He and I have traded Healey survival stories over the years, but the best one is his. It was not only inventive, but it worked. After reading your story request, I had to get him to write it down.
I am very excited about the Healey I just purchased. I bought it from the widow of the original owner complete with the bill of sale, records, even unused parts. Better yet the car was last registered in 1986 and is very original. Still has the original paint, but in poor condition. I now call the Moss sales line on a weekly basis.
I met William 25 years ago through a friend, since both of us have horses and drive Four-in-Hand, that is four horses to a carriage. Since then we have worked together on everything from a TR3, two 1958 Jaguar 3.4s, a 1923 Model T and several ’50s Chevrolet trucks. William is a really good mechanic and I fuss around with the electrics and body work. Back in the day he used to help his older brother, who was racing Triumphs at Daytona Beach. His brother said the Triumphs could stay even on the oval, but on the flat track the Healeys would pass everything.
By William Staples
She was a student at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia. It was late October in 1966. I picked her up in the afternoon in my newly acquired 1960 Austin-Healey 3000 BN7. The purchase price was $300. The car was solid, but it had been driven hard and had a lot of miles on it. We were headed south to Nags Head, North Carolina, and the hope of a romantic weekend.
I took mainly back roads and, after skirting Richmond, I headed east. Nearing the town of Franklin, and driving at considerable speed, I saw in front of me a railroad grade crossing, the rails clearly visible above the roadway. I instantly calculated that the roughly three inches of clearance under the car would not be sufficient to prevent the destruction of my exhaust system.
I slammed on the brakes. Now, the brakes worked fine, it was just that the worn and aged splines on the left rear wheel let go with that grinding noise, familiar to all of us who drive with older wheels. We coasted to a stop. I managed to squeeze the hub tighter with my trusty Thor hammer, but five miles an hour was top speed. Seeing a gas station with a service bay, I crept in. They were just closing up for the day, but said they would try to help in the morning.
I asked if there were any hotels close by and the mechanic pointed down the street. While I was expecting some quaint Victorian establishment, the door opened to the seediest, dirtiest, smelliest hotel I had ever encountered. Unfortunately, we had no choice. It was so bad, not only were all romantic thoughts extinguished, we slept in our clothes.
The next morning we returned to the garage. It was clear that the mechanic had never seen an Austin-Healey before, and that the only wire wheels he had worked on were from a Model A Ford, and those were secured to the hub by four bolts. It seemed that I had run out of options, since it would take days to get parts to such a remote place. Then I had an idea. I asked the mechanic if he had an acetylene torch. He replied in the affirmative. I asked him if he could blow a hole through the wheel and the hub and out the other side. He proceeded to do that and I then asked him for a five-eighths bolt. I inserted the bolt through the hole and I was in business. The wheel wasn’t exactly balanced, but it worked. It was by this time too late to get to Nags Head, so we drove back to Fredericksburg and I dropped off my date at her dorm.
I fixed the Healey, but my hopes for a romantic weekend came to naught.