In 1953 my grandfather David Shale lined up his Austin Healey 100/4 on the grid at Goodwood for the first time. In 2017, classic car enthusiast Richard Murphy hopes to replicate that scene.
Shale, who proposed to my grandmother in it, was a racing driver in the 1950s. He drove a variety of sports cars, including Austin Healeys, Jaguars and Aston Martins, going up against opponents such as Stirling Moss and John Dalton. He never courted the press, though, which is why he is only well known now in certain motor racing circles.
Retiring after a number of successful years in the sport, he then became a professional skeet shooter, and died in 2012, aged 81.
Two years ago, Murphy was looking for a new project car to work on – specifically an Austin Healey from between 1953 and 1956 – and heard about an early 100/4, one of the first few right-hand-drive models, which had done some racing in the past and was up for sale.
Murphy went to see the car and, having decided it appeared to be in reasonably good condition, bought it. It was only when he got it home and started disassembling it, though, that he realised just how much it had been through.
‘There were bits that had been cut out. It had had a clutch conversion from a mechanical clutch to a hydraulic clutch and in the process a great hole had been hacked in the bulkhead,’ he said.
It was at this point that Murphy began to research the 100/4’s racing history by looking up the number plate, DNH 828, on the internet and in his collection of books, and soon found a mention of the car.
‘There’s a book that talks about the first reference I can find to a genuinely private Austin Healey competition entry,’ said Murphy. ‘It’s that of David Shale’s car, DNH 828. I happened to have a whole host of Goodwood motor race programmes and I was able to identify it. It came in third in its first outing.’
But as he continued to take the car apart, Murphy found more and more problems. He deduced that it had been tinkered with by generations of amateur welders and consequently needed major work on its body.
DNH 828’s chassis was sent to the Midlands to be dipped in an acid tank, removing all the corrosion from the previous decades, but this revealed even more holes in the inner body panels. Murphy was now left with a multitude of 100/4 parts needing to be repaired. To have the car fully restored, he sent it to Bill Rawles Classic Cars in Medstead, Hampshire.
‘Bill Rawles is a really good restorer,’ said Murphy. ‘He’s incredibly knowledgeable about Austin Healeys, having worked on them for 25 years and raced them.’
Rawles has had DNH 828 for two years now. So far, the inner body structure has been repaired with a mixture of original and new parts.
‘The whole idea is to actually have at the end as much of the original car as possible,’ said Murphy. The inner structure of the car is nearing completion, after which the wings will be attached. While this is happening, the engine is being rebuilt to M-specification – a series of racing modifications introduced by Donald Healey. DNH 828 was one of the first, if not the very first, of the 100s to undergo these alterations. In addition, both the gearbox and overdrive have been rebuilt and are waiting to go back in the car.
Murphy is expecting the completed car within the next few months. He has no intention of racing it or displaying it to the public, but he is hoping to be able to sit DNH 828 on the grid at Goodwood, just as it did more than 60 years ago.
For my mother and I, it will be an entirely new sight. For my grandmother, it will be an opportunity to happily reminisce about the golden age of motoring – and perhaps the day that Shale popped the question.