Ryan’s family garage, Durham NC

2003-2007, Just for fun

Ryan, his sister and his dad almost completely disassembled a 1963 Mk III Austin Healey and to the surprise of the neighbors, got it back together, fixed and running reliably. It was an experience rich with mentorship, instruction and logical, problem-solving thinking.

The story of how my dad, sister and I took over our garage and a red car popped out.

From 2004 to 2007 a 1963 Austin Healey Mk. III lived in our garage in various states of functionality – from distinctly chattery, yet running, to a state of ziplock induced organization of each nut and bolt, to it’s current form — slightly less chattery but running well. In those years we stripped the entire engine down to pistons and valves and tappets. The experience was a great education, not only in engine mechanics, but also problem solving, research, understanding how various tools behave and an appreciation for precision engineering and “chemistry” (let WD-40 and Castle Thrust do the work for you on that rusty bolt!).

In the process of fixing the central problem — a slightly misaligned crankshaft — we were also able to explore the potential for imagining what Donald Healey may have envisioned for his car in this day and age. Healey was known for tinkering and constantly adapting and modifying his cars and designs, a habit clearly evident in each and every Healey. The production cars are a hodgepodge of different parts, like variously sized carburetors or wiring that’s about as useful as tangled spaghetti. Healey’s tended to evolve with the time, and in our rebuild we were able to include modern technology like beefier alternators, better cooling systems and a brighter headlight assembly.

The whole project encouraged a dynamic approach to problems as we learned along the way which parts our Healey actually had, or how things that should fit simply just don’t. I can’t imagine rebuilding a car in the pre-internet days — it was a tool more useful than a wrench because it allowed us to diagnose problems and find solutions. I’m frequently amazed — and if I wasn’t at the time, I am now — at the number and usefulness of altruistic contributors to online forums and discussion boards. They were our own “lost manual” to rebuilding the Healey.

Below, in no particular order, is a list of things we did or techniques I learned that I thought were pretty cool. Same goes for the pictures.

  • Seating Pistons and seals
  • Tuning the rocker arms and cam timing
  • Rebuilding and tuning a pair of carburetors
  • Auto painting an engine
  • Using a tap and die to rethread studs
  • Bleeding and replacing fluids in the brakes, clutch and steering
  • Wiring and soldering electrical systems using relays
  • Installing a clutch and flywheel
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