MISSPELLINGS, CAR CLUB, & EARLY REMEMBRANCES
by Bruce Erfer
Story begins July 27th, 1973, Riverside, California with a trip to the barber. Haircut was $4, his Healey was $375 (see bill of sale and note that the car sold was an Austin Heally). The car turned out to be the better deal as I had it a lot longer than I had my hair. Immediately after the purchase of the 1961 BN-7, I purchased the workshop manual (see photo and note AH spelling). As my AH came without a trunk lid (it was later that I learned it came without a boot lid) nor front badges (even in 1973 you didn't get much of a car for $375), I now realized the spelling on the bill of sale was incorrect and "Healy" was proper--after all, like the internet, books are always correct.
I believe it was literally days before I was accosted by a stranger in an AH (I knew then that there were at least two in existence) telling me that a Healey Club was being formed and I needed to join. I immediately noticed his Austin-Healey script badge and found yet another spelling. Apparently there was a name/spelling change at some point--like Datsun to Nissan. Knowing absolutely nothing about AHs (including proper spelling) and even less about cars in general, I thought this "club" idea might be a good way to learn a few things, as my AH needed a lot of help. Upon arriving home I googled Austin-Healey, hoping to find some clarity on these spelling variances. Unfortunately all I got was error messages; that's when I called Al Gore to ask him to invent the internet.
During the club formation I quickly met other members in the Riverside area. They actually did repair and restoration work on their own Healeys, and quickly inspired me to try to tackle the issues with my recent purchase. But first I needed to buy tools, and more tools, and a finger nail brush….but I rebuilt the front brake calipers, replaced a very bent king pin, a rear leaf spring, an overdrive solenoid, got some new tires and actually had a driveable car. Got a deck lid (with hinges and painted yellow--see photo) from a wrecking yard in Hollywood (very famous for its junk yards), and began with the body work, which was actually more of sculpting with bondo. Still having only seen a few Healeys in person, I do not believe I had ever seen a two-tone paint job, with the exception of that wonderful grainy black and white photo on the front cover of my Austin Healy Workshop Manual. The paint scheme of old English white over a Volvo navy blue was accomplished by a local shop for only $190, and I now had what I thought was the most beautiful car in the world.
And soon thereafter I attended my first Club event, a pool party. I no longer owned the most beautiful car in the world…not even close. I saw Healeys with V-8s, Healeys with hardtops, Healeys with amazing interiors and paint jobs. And the people had this one thing, the Austin-Healey, in common--and that's what makes a club.
Some may still remember me arriving at a California Healey Week meet with a cork shoved into the hole in the bottom of the radiator. It replaced the welded stop-cock that decided to fall off a few days before when I tried to open it…and how I hated to pull the radiator. I believe the cork was from a 1974 Pinot. No doubt a synthetic cork would have worked better--but at least it was before screw tops! And speaking of aluminum, in the early days when wire wheel splines would fail, a Coors can, sans top and bottom, would fit perfectly over the splined hub of the car. Pound the wheel back on, and you're good as new. Of course you could only do this west of the Rockies. I've always wanted to know who, and under what circumstance this fix was concocted.
These were the innocent days, when challenges were taken a little less seriously and outcomes were more easily accepted. Originality was rarely a goal--get it back on the road so you could get to work on Monday! Fun was popping a cork into the bottom of the radiator and taking off for a 500 mile trip (and probably carrying a spare bottle of wine rather than a spare cork). These were the days when the award for the oldest driver to our annual meet went to a 53 year old (documented 1979). Today, a 53 year old driver could compete for the youngest award. As we continue to "mature", there is only one thing that remains constant, and that is our beloved cars.