It was irresistible and I just had to have it. Back in 1976, my friend Keith had learnt the whereabouts of a Riley powered 1947 Healey Duncan saloon that had been in Australia since the early 1950s. It wasn’t in the best of condition, but knowing Keith’s skills he was certain that he was going to restore it. I wanted it, so I asked Keith for first refusal should he ever decide to sell it.
I had bought my first Austin-Healey, a ’53 100, in 1971 when just 20-years of age. I had seen a few on the road and liked what I saw. The shape appealed and as a single man in possession of a fortune, I was in want of a sports car. That fortune was $1,295, as back then Austin-Healeys were just old sports cars.
Within a short period of time, I became acquainted with the Austin-Healey lore and even more so about Donald Healey himself and the significant achievements of the small Donald Healey Motor Company, located in the English city of Warwick. When I started, I knew very little about the various Austin-Healey models and, as far as I knew, Healey cars came from a different planet.
However, burdened with a voracious appetite for history, I soon found out that while the first Austin-Healeys were made in 1952, the first Riley-powered Healey was shown to the public in 1946. So for the next 11 years, every time I saw Keith, I reminded him of my first refusal.
True to his word, I was offered first refusal in 1987 and went to pick up the car, or perhaps a better description, what was left of the car. Between 1976 and 1987 the car had sat under a lean-to behind Keith’s garage and gravity being what it is, attracted the car further and further into the bare dirt floor. While the chassis and all the mechanicals were there, half the panel work was missing and, being a coachbuilt car, most of the structural timber was rotten or non-existent.
Was I pleased with what I bought? Yes, I certainly was and had visions of undertaking the restoration when retirement approached. Well, that’s at least what I thought would happen, but if there is one thing I have noticed about owning older cars for 45-plus years is that what was relatively inexpensive back when the cars were built is now probably the most expensive.
So the remains of the car sat in our garage and moved house when we did, which was easier said than done with a car that had no visible means of support between its body and chassis. However, there was time to explore its history, which was interesting enough as while it was sold new in the UK it was shipped to New Zealand in late 1948. While there, it certainly appealed to the car starved Kiwis and featured in a number of publications of the time. It also ran in a race meeting at the Ohakea air force base that is now seen as the inaugural New Zealand Grand Prix.