Austin-Healey 3000 a/k/a "I Can Fix That".

That's my name for this car- "I Can Fix That".

I CAN Fix That

A few people have asked me why I don't have a write-up on the Healey I own and I guess today's the day when I 'splain why I don't.

I bought this car years ago and it's been sitting ever since. I remember thinking that I needed a Healey in my stable to sort of round out the collection. Healeys are nice looking rides and sound really neat but are really very pedestrian cars. Sedan engine with a couple of SUs stuck on it-ho hum. Strange side shift tranny in their early years and most other parts out of BMC's parts bin. Hardly an exotic but you can say that about most Brit cars of this era.

Well, at the time I just had to have this damn thing the car market was in one of its periodic bubbles. People from the Continent and England were over here snapping up anything that would roll and shipping 'em back home. But, you know when a person gets a bee in their bonnet and wants something, rationality takes a back seat to the "I wants". I was looking for a runner-not a restoration project. I had just finished doing bodywork on three MGAs 1960 MGA and painting two of them and didn't want any more of that for a while. Damn near gassed the cat with the isocyanate based paint I was using and this created a severe spousal flap about cat abuse. So, anyway the Healey had a fresh coat of paint and ran. Well yeah but, my God the stuff that needed doing.

Anyway, bottom line here is that I bought this thing when I shouldn't have. I can remember driving it around and thinking: "The bonnet doesn't fit right. No big deal, I can fix that." First gear's out. No big deal, I can fix that." "The O/D doesn't work. No big deal. I can fix that." "The interior's a mess. No big deal. "I can fix that." "The steering wheel is some stupid aftermarket variety. No big deal. I can fix that." That list goes on and on.

Sometimes these "No big deal" issues are really no big deal and you kinda roll the dice with each one. But, on this car, nearly every one I tackled came up snake eyes. Let me tell you how snake eyes they turned out. Just one example: steering was a little stiff so I figured some 90 weight in the steering box was in order. I took off the fill plug on the box and Uh, oh, the box was full of grease. Not good. So, take the box out which required removing the steering wheel-which was WELDEDDD to the steering shaft. Which ruined the shaft and required me to source a replacement steering box and shaft and, of course the control head and wiring. Oh Jesus! Everything I touched was like this.

So, after fixing some of the faults: Steering box and shaft, control head, O/D and tranny, interior, brakes, front end and wiring, I realized I had a total restoration on my hands-not a "fixer". This thing needs to be stripped down to the frame and completely gone through. In truth, I can fix every one of the faults I have noted with this car but by then I will have more time and money in it than it will conceivably be worth in today's market(the after the bubble market). So it's sitting in my garage, glowering at me and waiting. Maybe I'll polish it up and set it out by the road. I'll bet it will trap someone who knows they "can fix it". No, I can't do that. How could I look myself in the eyes afterward?

I did that once-many years ago and it still haunts me.

And to top it all off, it wasn't the model I wanted to begin with. It's a 1960 3000 BT7-boring. Just like everybody elses. I still would like a BN2-maybe later. I suppose it was a dumb purchase(what d'ya mean, you suppose?)but, at the time I just HAD to have one and there weren't any on the market and this one didn't look too bad if you squinted and yeah, yeah, yeah.... Claude, face it, you can be just as big a fish as anyone else in the old car market. Did I learn something though? Yeah, now I only allow myself two "I Can Fix This's.", before I walk.

Confession is Good For the Soul

Talking about this awful lemon Healey got me thinking about the ONLY time I ever sold a car that I thought should be taken out and shot. I still regret that deal. That car was absolutely the worst vehicle I ever had the misfortune to own. So, I suppose now's as good a time as any to unburden myself and confess my sin to the world.

First a little background. The instigator of this Enron size swindle was my Dad. I wrote about him a bit in A Memoir but that's not all-there's much more to the man than that.

My Dad loved car "deals". If it was cheap and had less than eight cylinders, he was your man. He was also convinced that the J. C. Whitney catalog was sent straight from God. I don't know how many times he ordered those little propellors you put under the carburetor in an attempt to get 100mpg or those pills you popped in the sparkplug holes that were supposed to rebuild the engine. To say nothing of the Army surplus machine gun oil that he would dump into the gas tank of any car that would park in our driveway. According to him, that stuff had mystical power. He bought cases of it. I had to restrain a friend one night when he spotted my Dad sneaking away from his new Alfa carrying a couple of empty quart machine gun oil cans in his hands.

Anyway, for a year or two back when I was still living with my parents, he was hunting for a good, cheap car for my mother to drive. Now as a graduate Economist and a believer in perfect markets, I'm convinced that "good" and "cheap" are mutually exclusive but, he would have none of that. Periodically, we would drive up to Vancouver, B. C. and car shop. He clearly wouldn't buy my Mother a "big" American car. No-no, something much smaller and much more economical so, we(I)drove home a series of Ford Prefects, Austin A30s and even a Hillman Minx with an electromagnetically activated automatic transmission. Each one never more than $100.

Now that Hillman was interesting. Instead of a fluid coupled torque converter, it used two steel disks that fit close together. A series of electromagnets surrounded the periphery of the bell housing and the torque converter itself was filled with a couple of cups of iron filings. When you energized the magnets, the filings would jump to the periphery of the rotor and stator and lock the two together and off you went. Since the current output of the generator depended on engine RPM, the magnetic attraction varied with revs. Really a neat deal. There was kinda a downside to it though: (1) The generator was probably surplus from the Coulee Dam(never seen one that big) and (2) Over time, the filings would wear out and become powder. Then you got slip and that's what we had. I don't know where he got 'em but Dad came home one day with a paper sack full of iron filings and we drained the old powder out and filled that puppy up with new filings and the damn thing worked like a champ.

Mom drove this until the generator went T/U and we(surprise, surprise) couldn't find a replacement. I converted it to a manual tranny but Mom didn't like that so, down the road it went and we dealt with A30s for a while. Those things ate head gaskets regularly and I got to where I could replace one in under two hours. The poor things. They got regularly dosed with that damn machine gun oil and J. C. Whitney's latest nostrum for engine rebuilding or astounding gas mileage. Imagine, worrying about an A30's gas mileage but, I guess fanaticism knows no bounds.

About this time, I got married and moved out. My wife's dad was opposed to our union so he dosed her car with a load of valve grinding paste in the oil. We needed another car almost instantaneously after that sneaky trick and that brings me to the absolute worst car I have ever owned.

My Dad had bought a Ford Taunus about this time. The Taunus was, I think, an Opel marketed under a Ford badge. I'm not sure about that but It was a fairly nice looking car. A little gray station wagon that looked benign but the damn thing started to grow fangs as soon as he gave it to us. For openers, it ate its carburetor. Yep, swallowed the spray bar assembly one night as I was driving it to work. Then, stripped its timing gear(again on the way to work), then ate a head gasket and filled itself up with coolant, then the shift linkage came off. I swear the thing was starting to leer at me. Wife wouldn't drive it and I got stuck with it. But the coup d'grace came when it plugged its gas lines up.

Now there was a great deal of family debate about this incident since it turned out that, when I stripped out the carb and gas lines, I found globs of eggshells and congealed egg whites in there. The next door neighbor kids were prime suspects but no hard evidence was ever produced and I was told "it wasn't the car's fault." This egg business went on for months. I had the gastank off two or three times to clean but couldn't get it all out. Gas lines off and replaced, carb boiled out-fuel pump rebuilt. Nope-every Week or two the thing would start gasping like an asmatic and die alongside the road-never near home-it knew.

I had had it. Take it back-I don't want it. I could of bought ten cars for what this imbecile car has cost me in tow bills. If I could trust it to get to the Bay, I would drown it. No, no says my Dad-sell it.

Life's first great character test and I flunked. "What'ya mean-sell it? How can I sell that toilet? What do I tell em? What do I say? I can't do this. I'll have to wear a bag over my head." No. no said Father just tell 'em you are selling it because you want a different car(true enough). Tell 'em about all the new parts you have put on it(yeah, lots of those). Let them decide. When they ask you "What's wrong with it?", tell 'em to drive it around and make up their own mind. Welllll..., OK. So I ran an ad in the paper.

Wouldn't you know it? Here comes this bedraggled woman and her Mother out to look at it. This woman had three little kids in tow and, of course, no hubby and was looking for good, cheap transportation(Christ, how many times have I heard that-YOU PEOPLE, THERE ISN"T SUCH A THING). Neither one of em knew a tie rod from their left boob. Well, this Taunus looked OK but that exterior contained an evil soul and I knew it. So, while they were kicking tires, I beat a hasty retreat into my Dad's house. "I can't do this-look at them. I'm going to rot in Hell." "Now look Claude, let them make up their own minds and if they ask you what you have done to the car, just tell 'em but don't add anything". Yeah, yeah. When Congress calls you to testify we'll see what you have to say. So, out I go again and suggest they "Take it for a little spin." Ah crap, they bought it.

A couple of days later, I got a call from this woman and guess what-Taunus won't go. So, over to her place I go with my toolkit and unplug the gas line once again. A Week later same deal. Third time, I'm not home(and never will be again, lady).

Now, this went on for about a year. I got regular reports from my Wife and either my Mother or my Dad of Taunus sightings. Generally, alongside the road with its hood up. "You remember the Taunus YOU sold that nice woman with the three little kids? Well I saw it broken down on Pacific Avenue(or on the top of Mt. Rainier or in the middle of I-5) again yesterday." Notice, it's now the car I sold and the lady has morphed into a "nice" lady. So much for family loyalty. Remember you guys were the ones pushing me out the door to diddle that chick. This went on for, it seemed like, forever-I even saw the damn thing once with its hood up and believe me, I beat feet out of that area-looking around for a bag to put over my head.

This thing has tormented me for years. Who knows what emotional damage this deal caused the woman? Alcoholism, sexual perversion, drugs or worse a career in used car sales, could have been instigated by my lack of character. Anyway lady, you have my belated apology.

Never done that again and never will.

A Word on Good, Cheap ________________

It's odd, stuff pops into your head when you start writing and what's rattling around in mine now is this "Good/Cheap" business. Now look, let's analyize this-it's binary and there are 2 outcomes in each case. You can get: Good/Cheap, Bad/Cheap, Good/Expensive or Bad/Expensive results. I have been asked about a billion times where somebody can find a Good/Cheap paintjob, car, mechanic or whatever and my stock answer is that "You can get a good paintjob or a cheap paintjob but you can't get a good/cheap paintjob" or car or mechanic or whatever. And that's pretty much true I think cause you are mashing apples and oranges together.

Think about it. Paintjobs are labor intensive. Even a simple one that doesn't involve stripping off old paint and smoothing out day to day dings has to be about 40 hours of labor. Multiply that by a shop rate of $50(conservative)per hour and you are looking at two large plus materials which, I can tell you, aren't cheap today. Remember, that's for a bone simple respray-don't be surprised if your ride needs 150 hours of work. So, maybe there is somewhere in the world, this kindly old gnome of a painter who is still working on 1950s rates 'cause he's operating a charity you know and really wants to make old car owners happy and just loves painting cars and would do it just for the joy of painting. Somehow he also gets his materials at 50s prices too. Come on people, your odds of finding this are about equivalent to getting cold fusion to work. Nobody loves painting cars. It's dirty, nasty butt ugly work. The only fun comes at the very end when you polish out the paint. Give it up. I would assign the probability of finding a good/cheap paintjob at about .0001.

Now it's pretty easy to get a bad/cheap paintjob. Lots of franchise places will give your car a blowover for a few hundred and this might look OK from 20 feet but, any closer and your toes curl. Probability about .9999. So, there you go. You want cheap, you get cheap- duh. You want good and cheap, you are way out on the tail of the probability distribution.

Now I've seen some really expensive stinker paintjobs and mechanic work so, throwing money around doesn't guarantee you what you want either. Probabilities are probably about .8 for good/Expensive and .2 for bad/Expensive. You have to do your research. Visit the shop, scrutinize the pro forma invoice for reasonableness and, most important, check referencesss.

So there. You want to search for the Holy Grail, do it on your own time and don't bother me with silliness. Although, if you do find a good/cheap ________________, please let me know.

Created on ... July 11, 2004