It’s been all the way to Australia – and back. Now this 1950s sports car with a fascinating history is getting some TLC in Portsmouth.
AN AUSTIN-HEALEY 100 with a remarkable history is getting back on the road thanks to a Portsmouth workshop after an epic journey across the world.
The 1953 four-cylinder 2,660cc roadster was bought new by the racing driver Sir Francis Samuelson after he saw the model at its unveiling at the 1952 London Motor Show as the Healey 100 and promptly ordered one.
Demand was so high for the iconic sports car, though, that it became impossible for the Warwick-based Donald Healey Motor Company to meet all the orders, but British Motor Corporation (BMC) boss Leonard Lord was so taken with the two-seater that he suggested that BMC’s Austin subsidiary could take over production. Thus was born the Austin-Healey marque.
The bodies were made by Jensen Motors and the mechanics fitted at Austin’s Longbridge plant – and this particular car was the sixth off the production line there.
Over the years, it finally ended up with Mike Hopkins – the owner of Waterlooville Motor Company – in the early 1980s, who ensured it was kept in immaculate condition.
It was unsurprising, then, that it proved a hit at car shows – ultimately leading to a request by the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu to put it on display there.
And it was there, in 1983, that Hopkins got to meet and have lunch with Donald Healey himself. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and to mark the occasion he took along a brass plaque with him for Healey to sign – which he did using a dentist’s pick!
The Waterlooville Motor Company, which carried out crash repairs and also used to restore old cars – was a real family affair but Hopkins eventually sold up and moved to Australia 15 years ago, taking the Ice Blue Austin-Healey with him and enjoying a retirement in Perth that involved regular rounds on the local golf course.
Sadly, he died of cancer last August at the age of 75 – a parade of Austin-Healeys formed part of the funeral cortege – and the car has now arrived back in England after a long sea voyage, with son Mark, who is a painter at the Apollo Motor Group in Portsmouth, taking ownership.
Mark said: ‘When this was in Australia it was the oldest Healey in the country and there’s a lot of them out there. It’s won a lot of trophies over the years for its originality.
‘I feel really proud to have it – now I just want to get out and drive it in the summer!’
Before that happens, though, it needs checking over and some TLC applied to the running parts – so he turned to Harrington Autos of Farlington, Portsmouth, whose bread and butter is modern cars but has also become widely respected for its work on older vehicles.
Steve Simmons, who is the joint partner with son Robert, said: ‘It’s nice that our customers like to get involved like that with the cars that they bring us. It’s really good. We’re getting a bit of a reputation for doing more and more of the older ones. We’ve done vehicles ranging from a Rolls-Royce to a World War II Jeep.
‘These are our customers that we see on a yearly basis and over the years they’ve come to trust us with their pride and joys. We don’t do full-on restorations, but we’ll keep them on the road. We can do most things to them.’
Customers come in and see the work that Harrington Autos is doing and, as Simmons says, ‘it sort of snowballs. We work on the ethos of look after the customer and they’ll come back, and it’s proven fruitful for us that we now get things like this Healey in, which is a pleasure to work on. Customers all admire it. It’s something a bit different – you don’t see it every day.
‘And that’s the way we work. We look after customers and they come back.’
He added: ‘The beauty with these older cars is the customers know that parts can be a bit troublesome, so they don’t expect it the same day.
‘They can leave it here with us, knowing it’s safe and secure, and we’ll get round to it. It’s a good fill-in, so when we’ve got our day-to-day business done we can then spend a couple of hours on it in an afternoon – it works quite well.’
Simmons started in the automotive industry in 1980 as an apprentice with Hendy Lennox, then worked his way through to Toyota, becoming the first Lexus technician on the south coast, having done the first Lexus course in 1990. Harrington Autos is a Toyota and Lexus specialist and the previous owner was Simmons’ foreman. ‘When he retired four years ago this year that was when we jumped in and bought the business,’ he said.
Working on something like an Austin-Healey does have its differences to working on a modern-day car, which is where Simmons’ long experience comes in handy.
‘It’s very different in so much as it’s what you’d call old-school,’ he said. ‘We’ve had to invest in some AF tools – it’s all metric on the modern cars but with these ones it’s AF.’ And Harrington Autos is so well liked that it’s also had help where they’re concerned.
‘We’ve even had a customer bring in some AF tools – they’d seen that we’ve had some classics in here and they said, “Oh, I’ve been having a bit of a garage clear-out” and then they came in with a carrier bag full of spanners, sockets, everything. He said: “These might do you.” So it’s nice like that.’
Talking about what needed doing to the 65-year-old Austin-Healey 100, he said: ‘Where it’s come back from Australia and been in a container on a ship, the brakes are sticking on. The battery also needs sorting out, and that’s really about it.
‘We’re going to get it up in the air later on and have a look underneath. The owner tells me that it’s as good underneath as it is on top – I’m looking forward to seeing that! We’ll probably give it a bit of a grease-up, too – all the trunnions and bits and pieces on it. But the main thing is just to get her rolling so that he can then use it!’
Workshop mentioned how much Hopkins was looking forward to using it in the summer. ‘Quite right too!’ said Simmons. ‘Something like this needs to come out in the summertime.
‘During the winter, by all means have it in a showroom somewhere, but yes, get it out and use it. It’s the best thing for it.’
And what did it mean to him to work on a car like this? ‘Oh, we’re very proud! These aren’t things that you see every day. We do the run-of-the-mill Fords, Toyotas, etc, every day, but when you have something like this there’s pride in it and also responsibility.
‘It’s very nice. If we can help keep something like this on the road then so much the better.’