By Gary Anderson
There are probably as many ways to enjoy a Healey as there are Healey owners.
Chuck Breckinridge says he has nearly one hundred "Nasty Boys" in his registry of Healeys that have been seriously modified as track and street rods. Smith Brody mentioned recently that he fills several orders every week for his conversion kit that enables a Healey owner to swap in a Toyota transmission for the original tranny and overdrive. Every year sees more Healeys being prepared and raced in vintage racing.
This past summer, in the Popular Choice shows I saw a number of distinctive Healeys that had been restored with striking combinations of body colors and interiors which never saw the inside of a Healey showroom. The engine compartment in particular is an area of the car where owners' tastes, mechanical ability, and desires for modifications and upgrades show the diversity of preferences expressed by Healey enthusiasts. Many of these cars took home popular choice trophies.
So What's the Point?
As a result, I'm puzzled when someone suggests, as John Trifari did in his column in the September-October Austin-Healey Magazine, that we need to change our Concours Registry standards to make them more flexible. I have to ask: What's the point?
About ten percent of the attendees at every national meet in the past four years have chosen to have their cars inspected by the Registry committee, which seems like a good measure of interest. We now have over 125 cars in our registry that have been restored in keeping with the original standards. The numbers of people choosing this particular way of enjoying their cars aren't decreasing, so the Concours Registry doesn't seem to be in danger of disappearing.
Safety is important
Safety is not ignored in the inspection standards. Quite the contrary. Basic safety upgrades, including seat belts, fire extinguishers, modern tires, and upgraded brake servos, are accepted without deductions. Only very minor deductions are taken for use of 60 spoke wheels and radial tires.
A maximum limit is set on deductions for other accessories. If an owner chooses to install something like a flasher unit, oil pressure warning light, ammeter, or other sensible addition, the penalties are also fairly light. Other accessories, such as a plug for a cellphone, or brackets for a CB radio and antenna, or additional fuses can also be installed without deduction, just so they are placed out of the sight of the casual admirer. The standard Austin-Healey offers a lot of nooks and crannies in which to hide plugs, brackets, and fuses.
Personal Taste is accommodated
The inspection standards aren't intolerant; in fact, with the standardized deduction system, an owner can decide where he or she can deviate to satisfy personal tastes without losing the opportunity to have the car inspected and registered. We have a number of cars with non-standard interior and exterior colors and unusual color combinations that still have been registered at silver and bronze levels.
Healeys Were Meant to Be Driven Hard
Nor do the Concours standards seem to be preventing people from using their cars. Don Fisher has driven his concours car from coast to coast and back, safely and enjoyably, and then had it inspected and re-registered at the Gold level. If this isn't "driven hard," then I'm not sure what hard driving would be. Other gold level cars are driven more than 1,000 miles per year and still win awards in popular choice shows while staying close to original standards.
In fact, there are those of us who would argue that a car restored to original standards is more dependable and easier to maintain than one that has been extensively modified. I would even be prepared to bet that the average concours-registered car is driven more miles per year and used harder than the average member's non-concours car.
Popular Choice is A Good Alternative
If you want to paint your car some other color than one of the factory colors, mount wide tires and chrome-spoke wheels, wrap your old wiring harness with PVC rather than replacing it with a new cloth-wrapped harness, or install an electronic ignition system next to your chrome valve cover and air cleaners, please, be my guest. The Popular Choice car shows at every major meet allow everyone to display their cars and to win awards. Popular Choice encourages creativity and workmanship with no rules limiting individual choice. I personally enjoy the diversity. In fact, Iu sually cast my own vote for the more unusual cars that have been carefully restored or maintained at a high standard of workmanship.
It Suits Us
The concours registry wasn't intended to suit everyone. It simply reflects the specific interests of one particular group of Healey nuts. We happen to want the experience of driving cars that are exactly like they were when they were showroom new. We established the Registry in order to help one another restore and maintain our cars to that standard. So long as we can find volunteers who are willing to help with inspections, and have enthusiasts who want to know what was original when they restore their cars, I think we'll continue along the way we've been going. For us it seems pretty vital and dynamic. And, after all, everyone should be encouraged to enjoy their Healey in the way they want.
Editor's note: I guess Gary's comments sort of make my point. The basic standard by which cars are to be judged for concours is how well they conform to their appearance when they came out of the dealership 40 years ago. I think that's fine as far as it goes, and I regard those Healey owners who have spent the time, effort and money to restore their cars to this standard with nothing but the highest respect. What I suggested in my column was that concours should be redefined so that other modifications made in the name of upgrading the car to meet today's driving requirements should also be rewarded by the concours judges. After reading Gary's letter; I get the impression that such modifications are accepted, albeit not encouraged. So who knows. Maybe we are all speaking the same language after all.
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