Driving a 1954 Austin-Healey 100/4 from Peking to Paris in the June 2019 ERA Rally.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

0003 The Car

Our steed - Ashton's Austin-Healey 100/4
Ashton already had a "suitable" car (Is any car really "suitable" for a journey like this ?)  - a green 1954 Austin-Healey 100/4.  This car was the first model of the "Big Healeys" which enjoyed increasing competition success both on track (Mille Miglia, Le Mans, Sebring etc), and also in Rallies (Monte Carlo, Tulip, Rome-LiĆ©ge-Rome, etc).  Drivers such Stirling Moss, his sister Pat Moss, Carroll Shelby, the Morley brothers, Rauno Aaltonen and Timo Mackinen and many others all drove Austin-Healeys.  So it has a great history, especially in rallying.

Despite the Austin-Healey's succesful history, no-one has ever entered one in the Peking to Paris event.  There have been Morgans, Datson 240zs, Aston Martins, Bristols, Porsches, and even Mercedes SLs, but no Austin-Healeys.  So we feel that given the history of the car, it is time that this omission in rectified !

The sump hanging down
But it has one major problem - Low ground clearance !  The sump hangs down an inch below the sub frame, and is very susceptible to damage, while the exhaust hangs down even lower.   Fortunately there are cures for these - a reworked and raised sump is available, while re-routing the exhaust from underneath the car to running along the side of the car was also a fairly routine change to the rally cars.  High profile tyres will help further, while we are also looking at other possible suspension change options to give us a little more ground clearance.

Low exhaust hanging down
The engine is basically a very durable unit, being the A90 Atlantic engine - Although not a "racy" engine, it was sturdy, dependable and readily available. The gearbox and suspension was also originally sourced from the A90. The rear axle used was the Austin Westminster unit.  The engine on our car is recently rebuilt, and the old 3 speed with overdrive gearbox has already been upgraded to a 4 speed one.  Items like electrics, fans, alternators, cooling, and many other factors will all need to be considered.   Obviously there will also be extensive discussion on where to go with the suspension considering the rough terrain that will be encountered, while a full underbody skid plate will also need to be fitted in order to protect its vital organs.

Works Healey with side mounted exhaust
And of course there will be considerations for the chassis / bodywork. We are looking at inserting strengthening gussets in the chassis, although actual bodywork changes are likely to be minimal.  Decisions like "Hard top or soft top ?", and "How many spare wheels ?", "How many (and which) spare parts ?" have to be made, and the prime consideration in all of them will be "Weight".  If we start loading the car up with wheels and spares, the extra strain placed on the suspension and chassis will be enormous, so we have to always keep the weight issue in mind in everything we do.  And that includes ourselves !  If we can each drop 10 kg, that has a major bearing on overall weight !

Dave Godwin & I at Niagara Falls 2016
Dave Godwin & 1 in Argentina 2015
 While we have ideas, luckily there are people out there who have "been there, done that" as far as these cars are concerned.  Luckily I have a good source of advice and help at Classic Car Clinic on the Gold Coast near me - Dave Godwin, the owner, is someone I met up with down in S America when he, in his MGA, was leading a group of Aussie MGB's from Tierra del Fuego to
Dave Godwin's amazing MGA "RIP"
Alaska.  We subsequently met up again 2 years later at Niagara Falls when he and his group were travelling from Seattle to Nova Scotia, while I was once again travelling the same route in reverse !  But people working for Dave have experience in preparing Healey's for rallies such as this, so we will be seeking their input.
Additionally there are Healey spare parts and preparation companies in the UK, and I will be visiting a couple of these during a trip to the UK in April this year, once again seeking advice and suggestions as well as spare parts !

The cockpit of our Healey

 With Ashton in Sydney and Giles in Surfers Paradise, where to best work on the car was obviously an issue.  But with Ashton still working full time, and me being retired, the one thing I obviously have is the time to do (or at least oversee) the work, so it is logical for us to move the car from Sydney to Queensland so I can have it here.  How I fit it in to my current two car garage despite me already having 3 cars is something that will need to be discussed with my wife !!

At the moment all we have is lots of ideas, and we are doing a lot of on-line research into what we will need in terms of parts and rebuilding.  Add this to the verbal advice of Austin-Healey specialists, and by July this year we will need to have a firm go-forward plan.  The car really needs to be completed by the end of 2018 at the latest, so we can give it a good shake down before it needs to be shipped to China in March 2019.  So at the moment there is a lot of paper shuffling, and working out lists and time-lines - All of which will no doubt be amended a great deal over the coming months !

Some other pics are here :-  https://goo.gl/photos/d1Sjkq6y1NvJ47ur9


Ashton & Giles welcome any visitors, support, and comments as we prepare for our Adventure !