"HOW SHALL WE THEN LIVE?" Francis Schaeffer

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Bob and the Healey

My oldest friend is Bob “beef” Hamrell.  We’ve been friends for more than 50 years now; not always in touch but thanks to the wonder of e-mail always in touch since the early 90’s.  Bob was the one who turned me onto British sports cars.  While a senior in H.S. (’66) Bob purchased a 1960 Austin Healey.  He did a lot of work on it and put it into such “cherry” condition that he refused to take it out of the garage after a few years of driving it.
Sadly, somewhere in the late 70’s he, in a moment of impetuous importunity, decided to stick it on his front lawn with a For Sale sign just to see what would happen.  FIFTEEN MINUTES after putting the sign out a customer was pounding at the front door saying he wanted to buy the car.  At that moment Bob realized two things.  ONE, he had undervalued the car.  TWO he didn’t really want to sell the car but being a man of some integrity, he was stuck with selling it.  Bob still wears only black as a sign of his continuous and lachrymose mourning.

Anyhow, he turned me onto British cars.  Luckily, because I’m no mechanic, I’ve only owned one – a 1961 Morris Minor.  It was a funny looking little coupe that had an 1,100 c.c. engine and probably developed about 60 horsepower – going downhill.  On the one hand, it was a lot of fun.  On the other hand it suffered from British engineering.  As Britain turned towards socialism in the 50’s and 60’s, the engineering and quality of their cars de-volved.  You had to be a mechanic to keep them on the road.  Jaguars, MG’s, Triumphs, Healeys, you name it – it had to be fixed and fixed frequently.  But they had some awesome designs.  

A car I lusted after but never was able to buy was a “bug eyed” sprite.  HERE is an article on Donald Healey and below is an excerpt of the article on the Sprite.

Like the 100, the Sprite was designed to fill a market niche, in this case the hole in the market for cheap, rudimentary sports cars that had been filled by Austin 7 variants prior to the war. To keep it cheap, the primary goal, Healey specified as many stock Austin parts as possible, most of them coming from the A35. Power (if you could call it that) was furnished by a tiny four-cylinder engine with displacement of less than one liter (948 cubic centimeters, to be exact.) With just 43 horsepower on tap, the Sprite wasn't all that sprightly, even given that its curb weight was a svelte 1,500 pounds. Acceleration from zero to 60 miles per hour took nearly 21 seconds, but the little car was so much fun to throw around that most forgave its power shortcomings.The Sprite's styling benefited from happy accident. The upright headlights that gave the car its "bug-eye" nickname ("frogeye" in the UK) came about because Austin decided to forgo the installation of a mechanism for hiding them under the hoodline during daylight hours. Feeling that such a system would be too expensive and complicated, the powers at Austin just left the headlights to jut into the breeze, giving the car its unique "face." As another cost-saving move, Austin corporate moguls also contemplated using identical front and rear body panels, but by the time production arrived that idea had been put to rest, though the front and rear lines are remarkably similar. Gerry Coker and Les Ireland share credit for the design.

Today, IF you could get a hold of a bug-eye, it would cost you LOTS of MOOLA!  Sigh       I blame Bob for my sorrow.

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