1961 Austin-Healey 3000 M60 Home      Restorations Gallery

The alternate text is still a work in progress. But, seriously in progress.

Through this car, this magnificent beast, I had one of the most exciting, exhausting, and freezing experiences of my life. But OK, who wouldn't want a road trip with a great friend you just met, a dead of winter road trip from Central Texas to New Jersey, and back? To rescue an Austin-Healey, a car that has stirred my blood since at least 1965?

The friend and I had met only a few weeks before at a Horseless Carriage Club meeting. We discovered we both had the Model A bug, and in fact both had exactly the same make and model: 1930 Fordors. After the meeting, he asked if I would be up to a trip to Jersey to get a Healey for sale there. It was advertised as a complete, solid car with minimal rust. I said yes, indeed I would be up to such a trip, just "give me a call when you're ready." It wasn't long, maybe two weeks.

We headed north on a typically chilly winter day driving his Mazda. It was our plan to make the round trip as quickly as we were able, which eventually caused me to realize that I thought of time as being composed of days and nights, the one for driving and the other for sleeping. It turned out that my pal could drink gallons of scalding coffee, drive endless hours, catch a couple hours sleep in the car, and be off again.

We hit serious winter in Tennessee, serious snowing, blowing, and freezing winter. My friend, I discovered, had antifreeze in his veins and apparently had at one time developed an immunity to cold. I remember the cold, but not how much and how bitterly I may have complained about the cold. He just gave me his coat and kept on going. I shivered in the heated Mazda, wearing his coat over mine, and tried not to yield to the cold utterly as I felt it would shame me for all eternity if I did.

I don't recall much about Tennessee on the trip up except snow. At the time, I thought it was lovely. Either it truly was lovely, or I was already delusional.

We passed through Hershey, Pennsylvania pretty late. I thought of the Rolls Royce club owners' offices nearby and the time I had thought of applying for an admin job there. How sweet would that have been? Rolls Royce and the Hershey Swap Meet.

The next memory I have of the trip was New Jersey and even more snow. I always had thought of New Jersey as a wasteland of factories, all rough businesses and industries, but no, not so! Even with everything buried under feet of snow it was clear that the state would be beautiful in any weather. Granted, we had not yet seen the Healey and I may have unknowingly been feeling charitable.

To this day I cannot recall in which town the car was stored. I do remember the shock of discovering it stashed away amongst many other automobiles with legendary names, all of them wearing coats of dirt and snow despite the sagging wooden shed in which they were kept. I was gobsmacked to see the shapes of classics I had only seen in books before, and appalled to see the sorry state into which they had fallen. Nearly thirty five years later it continues to pain me.

The owner was there to greet us and supervise our digging out of the Austin-Healey. His attitude set my teeth on edge, I admit, and pushed me into my shock at the condition of the car. The aluminum hood and trunk were fine, but the rest was mostly held together by rust. There were no floorboards. The top was a frozen heap of material we did our best to snap on to the body and the windscreen. In the end, a combination of snaps, ropes, and straps had to do for a top. The side curtains were there, thank God, though ill fitting. Once pushed out of the shed it looked like the heroic survivor of some great calamity. A stirring survivor even so.

Then I remembered there were no floorboards. I told my buddy that no money had changed hands, that the Healey was a bedraggled ruin far from the description in the advertisement. I believe there began to be a bit of desperation in my appeals to reason, but all for naught. The yellow, crumbling Healey, he declared, would be "no problem". For him, nothing ever was. His fingers coax beautiful music from the cello, but he never thought he might ruin his career if he didn't come to recognize the problems we mortals did. I wish we could give the chips a try, but I wished to remain unfrozen more.

That massive, gorgeous motor was all there and turned over for us. The fuel pump, however, ticked away, letting us know there would be no start back to Texas until it was repaired. Purchase a new one? No, for to do so would require a comfortable (to me) delay in our journey home. Instead he crawled under the back and encouraged it with a few taps of a wrench. Voila! Well, no. The engine protested vigorously then died. Spark? Juice? A jump start soon got it running. I was wearing cowboy boots as I recall, and it fell to me to push the car through the snow. Once it seemed willing to keep going, off he went.

Somewhere in Pennsylvania I took the wheel and, taking care to where I put my feet, the pure joy of driving an Austin-Healey kicked in despite the condition of the car, the weather, and a bowling contest on the only radio station the Healey's radio received. Listening to it was like listening to a golf tourney, the same hushed tones of the commentators, the launch and rush of the ball down the alley, and the crash of pins amidst the gasps and groans of the audience.

The tires were all bald as a pool ball and edgy on the snow and ice. When we had a layover in Philadelphia, four replacements were mounted. Then, in West Virginia a rod bearing gave out, leaving us at the side of the highway pondering our options as the freezing cold of the snow and passing vehicles slowly tightened its grip on us. Well, on me. My pal was happy as a clam because he felt we could fix the problem if we could find a place indoors to work on the Healey, and a supply of wood chips or perhaps sawdust at hand.

We differed on whether the chips mixed with epoxy and shaped with a sharp-edged tool of some sort could be used to sculpt a rod bearing, or to locate a tow hitch and pull 'er home. Coffee frozen in the Thermos had me convinced. The nearest hitch rental was Washington, D.C. so I stayed with the Austin-Healey while he reluctantly drove off to get it. To this day we wonder if, given a place and materials, wood chips and epoxy could be a short term fix to get us home.

The rest of the trip was uneventful and I was exhausted. Elliott was ready to get to work on the Healey as soon as we had it pushed up the driveway. The guy is amazing and all these years later I remember that trip as the bonding that made our friendship survive time and distance. We often reminisce about that adventure, though he sold the Healey many years and unrestored miles ago. He and his wife are cellists and have travelled extensively to entertain and to teach. She was, and is, always ready for an adventure. I kind of looked forward to those overseas stays because during them I had the pleasure of babysitting his Model A and Healey.

This photo was taken one sunny afternoon in the driveway of a house I used to own. My old '47 DeSoto, an early Toyota, and Elliott grinning as he brandishes some part from underneath the Healey. Likely we were working to get it ready to leave for Tennessee. I sure did miss it after it was gone. Oh, and what was he doing? Not sure, but I do know he mended an exhaust leak with a beer can well enough to pass Texas' state inspection. Whatta guy!

There are many pleasant memories of time spent working on the car (one classic being his mending the exhaust with a soda can) and I am lucky to have had those long hours late into the night. But foremost of them is taking my girlfriend out on a date in the Healey, on a broiling hot Texas summer day, and her reluctance about the missing floor pans. It was the first of many, many times I was a happy witness to her courage, and her patience with me. I mean, despite the asphalt flying by below her feet, she still married me. I do wish I had snapped a photo, though!



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