It had been some time since I’d owned a sports car, my tastes having migrated towards cheap open vintage machinery. Around 1970 I’d had a very poor specimen of a TR2, and a Lotus Elan that, it transpired, had been rebuilt from a semi write-off: it still went well enough, but was betrayed by its handling.
Back in the 1960s I’d shared a flat with a friend in the King’s Road who had a rotting Healey 3000. For all the talk of mini skirts, free love and the Beatles, the Healey seemed to do him few social favours; it was left to a rogue on another floor of our block to swing with the chicks (I believe that was the jargon of the time) in his bright red, hand-painted Mk1 3.8 Jag.
So, in the absence of better things to do, most weekends the Healey owner would thunder down the A303 to visit his family in Devon. I often accompanied him, being careful to remember to climb over the sides and not open the doors, which could not be closed again without first jacking up the middle of the car. How it kept going I don’t know. However, I was deeply impressed, though reluctant to pay £250 for a similar car.
Plainly, though, that red Healey had burned itself into my soul. At the end of 1983, the first auction catalogue that I compiled for Christie’s, after the sad demise of Michael Sedgwick, contained a red 1960 3000. In truth, I did not realise that I wanted it because I had recently acquired a DB6 that appeared to satisfy my sporting urges, even if it had one serious drawback – a roof. However, fate decreed otherwise and inserted a gremlin into my description of the Healey. I knew perfectly well it was a Mk1 yet, inexplicably, I’d written Mk2. I met the owner at the sale, expressed sincere regrets for my cock-up and assured him that if as a result it didn’t sell, then I would buy the car. The sale got under way, and I decided to bid up to what he’d told me he was wanting, and then drop out. This I did and was very surprised to have it knocked down to me at about £4000, £500 less than anticipated. I steeled myself to buy the car as promised and was surprised to be greeted by the owner. ‘Congratulations,’ he said, ‘you’ve bought the car – I dropped the reserve.’
EX 8500 (the registration must have been worth a quarter of the price of the car) had plainly had much money spent on its restoration, but had a hood that was so tight that it tended to pull on its front mountings in damp weather, and crack the screen. Its shock absorbers were shot too. These shortcomings rectified, I had a very enjoyable year’s driving, and particularly rated the car’s ability to dawdle down country lanes in top at about 500rpm yet pull smoothly up to any speed required. An early fault with the front suspension was identified over the phone by Southern Carburettors at Crawley, who correctly predicted that I would find the front anti-roll bar attachment points reversed. An annoying tendency to need tappet adjustments every 500 miles was eventually explained by the fact that the oil feed had been hammered so small (to improve recorded oil pressure?) that it had blocked itself, leaving the valve gear to run almost dry.
Since then, the Healey has behaved well enough to have spared me the need for a modern car in summer. I don’t enquire too deeply about fuel consumption, but have recently fitted an overdrive, which must improve matters, as the engine was always too busy on motorways.
Anders Clausager at the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust cannot find anything interesting in the records about my Healey, except to confirm its date from a batch that largely went to America. He cannot explain the EX 8500 registration, which as he points out, is a Great Yarmouth issue of 1954. Does anyone happen to know this car or the significance of its registration?
Just for a change I seem to have bought a car when it was actually increasing in value. In four years it has more than doubled, but that doesn’t mean I can envisage any circumstances that would move me to sell it. The only really irritating feature is the poor ground clearance of its exhaust system. I actually like its Spartan weather equipment; why do people want to pay thousands more for a Mk3 and its wind-up windows and properly retracting hood? To me the primitive hood storage and side-screens are all part of the rugged fun of owning a Big Healey, and I certainly don’t want namby-pamby wood on the dashboard.
There’s a kudos to Healey ownership. Some flash cars produce frosty reactions, and my primitive tourers inspire condolence rather than envy, but the Healey always raises a smile, and wherever I park I get genuinely interested enquiries. Most motorists seem to have good knowledge of the 3000 and have often had first-hand experience of them. There seems to be more genuine goodwill surrounding Healeys than any other car I’ve encountered, and the lovely burble of its exhaust seems to make more friends wherever it goes. I had scarcely switched off outside the Yarcombe Inn when a man leapt out of the bar. He said the worst thing he had ever done was to sell his Healey and as he’d never been able to afford another I could have his spare gearbox. Hence my overdrive.
Rugged fun? Since writing the above, I have been caught in a summer rainstorm in EX 8500. It reminds me of the sense in taking a degree in meteorology before owning a Healey. My amateur Michael Fish eyes failed to predict the onset of precipitation, so I became a temporarily tropical fish. The problem is two-fold (well, it’s a lot more folds than that if you are compelled to have dealings with the lousy hood). On the one hand, it is vital to remain in the open air for as long as possible; on a hot day, the heat piped back via the big transmission tunnel is bad enough, but for the passenger it’s worse, as several feet of hot exhaust pipe pass directly beneath the nearside seat. But against the need for cooling cockpit air, must be balanced the time needed to erect the hood as rain threatens. At least five minutes is the norm, even if all goes well.
And on this occasion it didn’t go well. I grabbed the hood from the boot, only to find that I’d failed to stow the hoodsticks. These, like the side-screens, are a confounded nuisance, as there is no sensible home for them in the car. Love it? Of course I do.