We hadn't gotten more than 20 miles from our Portland, Oregon, home. Trapped by rush-hour traffic, the big Healey's temperature started to climb. The needle on the gauge quickly passed the 212-degree mark, and visions of warped heads and steaming radiators danced in my head.
"Just drive on the shoulder, around the traffic," offered my copilot, Doug Hartman, who was looking forward to his first road trip in an English convertible. "What's worse-a ticket or a toasted engine?"
We pulled to the side of the road, and for the next few miles cruised at 20 mph past stationary cars and SUVs. With the increased airflow, the temperature dropped and the engine bay no longer threatened to become a mobile geyser.
Our goal was the less-than-teeming metropolis of Creswell (population 3,579), where we were to join another 30 Healeys as part of an SCM-sponsored caravan to Open Roads 2002, the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Austin-Healey, held at Stateline on the south shore of Lake Tahoe.
Our ride was the newest addition to the SCM stable, an accidental purchase in the form of a red, with cream interior, 1963 Healey 3000 Mk II BJ7. A 20-year-old hobbyist restoration that had mellowed nicely, it had the appealing BJ7 combination of a Spartan dashboard and roll-up windows.
This summer, we've made a commitment to have some quality seat time. So with a broad-tipped felt pen, we reserved space on the calendar for rallies and road trips.
In May I joined SCM's European correspondent Joe Tomasetti to compete in the Modena Cento Ore Classic, a 100-hour event in northern Italy that incorporates hillclimbs and circuit racing. We'll have a full report in an upcoming issue, but suffice to say that having two pistons break in Tomasetti's Alfa GTA, leading to an overnight engine swap, provided some unscheduled excitement.
In late May Ms. Banzer and I took our celery green, with peanut-butter interior, 1984 Ferrari Mondial Cabriolet on the Oregon Region Porsche Club's annual Half a Mille Miglia, a 500-mile run that passed through the picturesque vineyards surrounding Walla Walla, Washington.
The most intense competition on this event came from seeing who could produce the most highly coveted bottle of cult wine each evening. Our box of Franzia Chillable Red didn't make much of an impression.
The 30-car group left the Whitman Hotel in Walla Walla at 9 a.m. Ms. Banzer and I lollygagged around, finally getting on the road an hour later. Being last, and far behind, provided an excuse to exercise the Mondial. The gently undulating roads offered no drama at 100 mph; at 110 mph, with the top down and the sunlight streaming in, Ms. Banzer remarked, "The wind is ruffling the pages of the Sunday New York Times, making it hard for me to read." Sparing her this hardship, back to 100 it was.
The car behaved flawlessly (only one blown electrical circuit, which, for a Mondial, is hardly worth mentioning) and we confess that, near the end, we put the top up and turned on the air conditioning, to cruise the last 75 miles in relative comfort.
The caravan to the June Healey convention was our next adventure.
With the temperature under control, the Healey decided to misbehave in another way. The overdrive began to engage and disengage at will, oblivious to our futile attempts to provide input.
A quick stop led to the following discovery: frayed wires to the dashboard overdrive switch. Luckily, a truck stop had a toggle switch that fit perfectly, for $4.95. (Imagine. You can't even put air in your Ferrari's tires for less than $5.) A pair of $2.95 fingernail clippers was pressed into service as a wire-stripper. After a ten-minute stop, we were back on the road.
Half an hour later, the overdrive problem reappeared. We hadn't even gone the 90 miles to Creswell, and already it seemed we might have to abort.
But this is a sports car story with a prince, and a happy ending. At the Healey party that evening, long-time SCM subscriber and good friend Bob Macherione examined the BJ7.
Moving the shifter from left to right, he heard the overdrive solenoid click. His diagnosis: "You've got a bad overdrive switch on the tranny." It was now 10 p.m. "Do you want to sleep tonight, or do you want to go to my shop in Eugene and help me put in a new one?"
Half an hour later, our Healey was in his service facility, The Sports Car Shop, and the center tunnel removed. The car appeared to cringe when it saw Macherione approaching, voltmeter in hand, as if the Spirit of Lucas that dwells within all English cars was terrified by this instrument of exorcism. The switch on the transmission, which keeps the car from engaging overdrive when in reverse, was indeed defective. Miracle of miracles, Macherione produced a new one from his parts inventory. Enjoying the magic of a functioning overdrive, we were soon back at our Creswell motel.
The next morning, the sight of 30 big Healeys, and one handsome Jensen-Healey, lined up for the 7 a.m. start was magnificent. Healey exhausts have a particular rasp that gives them a throaty sound unlike any other car, and to hear 30 of them idling in unison was a sports car symphony.
The next few hours, as we traveled along Highway 97 en route to a rendezvous with another 20 Healeys coming from Washington, were glorious. Hartman and I were properly bundled up for top-down cruising at 60 mph in the brisk, early-morning weather.
With still-snow-clad mountain peaks as a backdrop, we talked about the things boys who have become 50-year-old men talk about. We solved most of the world's problems, mused about mortality, and decided that we were having the best of all possible times as we motored on.
With overdrive working flawlessly, we arrived at our Lake Tahoe destination, joining 1,200 other Healey enthusiasts and the 600 Healeys they brought to this half-century birthday celebration.
ON THE COVER
As 2003 is the 50th anniversary of Corvette, it seemed fitting to adorn our August cover with "Corvettes By the Sea," by Mark Davidson. The three Corvettes, a '62, '63 and '78, represent the C1, C2 and C3 body styles.
Davidson has personally restored Mustangs, Camaros and a 1948 Ford Woody. He paints cars with acrylic on canvas, using a fine 00 brush and a slow, methodical technique to achieve the level of detail that car buffs expect.
Davidson received his art training while growing up in Japan, and currently lives in Eldorado Hills, California's Gold Rush country.
Prints of "Corvettes By the Sea" are available, with 20 x 25 inch signed and numbered lithographs, in an edition of 750, for $69.95 each and 100 artist's proofs, at $100 each. The artist may be contacted at email@example.com, www.markdavidsonltd.com.