Last month marked a momentous occasion for me.
After 4.5 yrs of costly, highly detailed, & labour intensive restoration: My Austin Healey 100 restoration has come to near completion, as I finally had the car safety inspected and insured for the road.
As any restorer knows, there's nothing quite like that first real drive with the first full tank of gas on a freshly rebuilt chassis and drive train... Knowing that I rebuilt and restored every part of this machine to the best of my ability - Hoping with confidence that I got it all right - It's as anxious as it is exhilarating as you experience the cars sounds, smells, and eccentricity's for the first time.
But how did I get here? Why would a 42yr old guy like me want to spend all my money and time restoring a nearly 70yr old car to such accurate & pristine concours level?
Well,.. for me it's quite literally a life long dream, and a family tradition that I've spent my whole life preparing for and now finally fulfilling for myself .
As I'm sure many of you might know by now, I grew up around Healey's in a big way!
My parents each had one when I was born, and our family vacations generally revolved around Healey club events.
My father Richard Chrysler was one of the founding members of our local Southern Ontario Healey club chapter, but also was one of the founders of the National Concours Committee and Guidelines.
Growing up, Dad had a steady side business that he ran from our home garage restoring Healeys to the highest standards for people from all over North America.
His restorations were renowned for their high quality and faithfully accurate to original specs in every detail.
His specialty was the earlier 100's and he was even lucky enough to do some of the earliest cars around including the first production car.
Growing up around these cars was captivating - I've always dreamed of having my own to restore some day!
And watching the camaraderie & respect that Healey owners shared, especially for my father's vast knowledge & craftsmanship.. It was hard not to admire his passion and craftsmanship - even as an angsty young teenager.
In fact by the time I was a teenager I'd begun to work for my Dad in his Healey restoration business.
He taught me just about everything I know about Healeys, auto mechanics, and the various methods and practices involved with meticulous restoration.
I even half restored an early MGB that I started when I was 13, however I wasn't able to keep up with the financial demands required to complete it back then, so I eventually gave up on the dream and sold it.
As a young adult in my early 20's, I decided to venture out west as the West coast had always held a strong place in my heart.
I eventually found my calling doing vintage auto upholstery - and inevitably specializing in Austin Healey's.
For over a decade I was living in Vancouver on the west coast doing all the upholstery and trim for all of Dad's projects back in Ontario - as well as for customers all over the world.
Towards the end of those Vancouver years, Dad and I were in serious talks for me to move back East and go into full time business together restoring Healeys together, along with our long time metal and paint experts Colin Bailey, and Ron Allman.
We were even searching for the right size shop, when out of the blue we were struck by the devastating news:
Dad had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, and within months he would sadly be taken from all of us at the young age of 59.
In the aftermath of losing one of my greatest friends & hero's, I eventually decided to pick myself up and relocated my life west again, this time to Vancouver Island.
With all the tools and Healey literature I'd now inherited, I decided to launch my own business doing the Healey Upholstery I was already so good at.
I even named my company Rightway Heritage Trimming - in honour of Dad's business which had been Rightway Restorations.
A few yrs later, I received my portion of the inheritance money we got from the sale of Dad's early BN1 (body #156) after he passed.
I had always wished we could have kept that car, but it was his final wishes that we sell the car and divide it amongst us.
I decided to invest my share into purchasing and restoring an early MGB just like the one I'd started and never finished as a teenager.
The MGB restoration proved to be my first full restoration that I completed myself to the highest standards I've ever seen on an MGB - I proudly won best debut restoration at the All British Field Meet in Vancouver!
Then one evening I started casually browsing Healey 100's for sale, just to see if I could find anything reasonable.
I came across my 100 as a complete but derelict Southern barn find that was being sold through the Beverly Hills Car Club.
It was a long shot, but I thought if I could sell my beautiful MGB for a good price, I could afford to get this barn find Healey and at least get the restoration started.. surely with my knowledge and passion for Healeys I'd find a way to see it through..
So after much nail biting & deliberation - I did it!
In fact a good friend through the Healey club (that shall remain anonymous) actually offered to lend me the money up front to purchase the Healey, so I could take my time finding a top buyer for the MG. - Without which I probably wouldn't have been able to make the Healey purchase happen.
Coincidentally the Healey I purchased had the body number 1221 - which just happens to be my Birthday!
It was built on December 28th, 1953 which also makes it one of the last cars to be built in 1953 that we have on record.
Being built at that time, the car still features most of the common "early BN1" details I'd learned so well, while having just a few of the later "upgrades" like adjustable sliding seat tracks, and the rarer style 2 side curtains.
The car was even originally Healey Blue - which was by far my Dads favourite and most commonly chosen colour over the many Healeys we'd owned over the years.
I approached this restoration with a strong level of intention and determination to make it as good as, or possibly even better than any of the Concours winning cars Dad had restored over the years.. and like him, I intend to have it judged for concours, but also drive it like it was meant to be driven!
The way I see it, I have a lifetime of knowledge and reference material to draw from, countless articles and pics that Dad had written and documented over the years.
This project would be my greatest tribute to my father, and an example of our shared passions for Austin Healey's and accurate details and originality.
As with any restoration, one key to getting it right is detailed documentation.
Every part and fastener was photographed and documented before being removed, bagged & tagged, and finally restored. That way there's no doubt as to how things fit together, and any missing or broken pieces can be noted as they happen so there's nothing lost, and no surprises.
Hardware was all individually bagged, labelled, and then re-plated or refinished in whatever the factory finishes were, like zinc, or black oxide.
Of course all rubbers and softer materials were generally replaced with brand-new, but when it comes to replacement of parts, I always seek out good quality original or NOS parts rather than aftermarket reproductions, because original generally almost always fits, works, and looks better!
Of course having a current copy of the concours guidelines was an essential resource, as well as the factory workshop manual, and hundreds of photos of other original unrestored cars built in the same time period. Being able to follow and cross reference this information was invaluable.
Once the body and chassis were completely stripped, I delivered them to Jetstream Auto & Custom to have the chassis sandblasted, and then have the metal and paint done professionally.
Luckily as their acting upholsterer/trimmer I was able to negotiate much of their labour as tradeable hours.
Meanwhile with the chassis away in the body shop for the better part of 2 yrs, I proceeded to restore all the parts.
I meticulously cleaned, restored, refinished and reassembled each component one at a time and then assembled some sub assemblies such as the engine, axle assembly, front suspension, dashboard etc..
I replaced all the wiring with a new harness, and had the starter, generator, and dash gauges sent out for professional rebuild and calibration.
I rebuilt the engine myself after sending the block and components out for machining and balancing. The block was even re-sleeved with all new pistons, valves and tappets with all machined surfaces re-trued.
The chrome was also sent out to our local plating companies here on the island.
Finally in the midst of the pandemic, the freshly painted chassis returned from the body shop.
I worked every Saturday - carefully reassembling all my freshly restored parts to the car, and checking and rechecking that I'd got the finishes and assembly details correct.
I blogged about it, and even started my own YouTube series covering the restoration reassembly.
There were many exciting milestones along the way: putting her down on her wheels for the first time, installing the engine, the dash board, testing the wiring, starting the engine, getting the brakes working, and of course driving it for the first time!
Once I'd completely assembled the chassis to a fully running drivable state, I sent it back to the body shop to have the outer body panels assembled and finally painted.
Then the car came home for final assembly of chrome, lighting, and of course my favourite part - the interior and weather equipment.
For the first time, I actually made my new top from scratch following an original for pattern details.
Finally last month, we had our first real - fully licensed and insured drive - the first of many - and now all that's left is to continue driving and getting the car dialed in and fine tuned.
With each drive the car feels better, my comfort with driving it improves, and my smile is growing impossible to hide!
Recently my wife Cat and I booked our tickets and hotel for Enclave 70 at the Poconos in September. To celebrate the 70th anniversary of the debut of the Healey 100.
It will be my first time attending a Conclave since 2010, not to mention my first time ever attending without my parents.
Most excitingly it will be my first time ever having my very own Healey 100 - and it will be officially judged for concours there too! -
I feel like there is a small part of my father in every piece of this car. He was in my thoughts throughout every step.
His Healey legacy continues on in this, and all of the dozens of Healeys he restored over the decades that still exist in various corners of the globe.
Until next time -