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

Thursday, 11 May 2017

0006 Searching for spare parts in England

24th – 29th April 2017
And a side trip through Wales !

View over London from The Shard
We had been planning this trip to England for some time – It was my old (!) school chum John’s 70th birthday, and we had booked the trip many months ago because I had planned to be there for his 60th in 2007, but that was when I was having my bout with throat cancer, and I wasn’t able to travel.   So there was no way we were going to miss his 70th !!   And now that our foray in the 2019 Peking to Paris (going to call it P2P from now on) is planned, it was an ideal opportunity to take some time to hunt for sources of the spare parts we need for the Healey.  Our search was to take us up to Pontefract near Leeds, so we set aside a week.

The excellent BMW
During our time in UK, good Lotus Club friend Winno has lent us his E36 4 door BMW M3 to get around in, and although I have never really driven BMW’s, I have to say this car is a stunner.  This rare version has 4 doors which makes it so much more usable, and yet it has amazing power, that means that accelerating up to speed when entering a freeway is a huge grin-inducing experience.   This car made our entire trip so enjoyable, so big thanks due.  

Pat Moss's Works Healey
First stop was AH Spares located in Southam, Warwickshire.  This is one of the main Healey parts suppliers in the world, and sells just about everything you can think of.  They do not do work on cars – They just sell spare parts.   And while you may think Austin Healey’s are old and not often seen, there are vast numbers of cars around the world that are still maintained, raced, or otherwise used, and they all need spares !  (A total of over 72,000 big Healey’s were built in the various models between 1953 and 1967.)  AH Spares is just one of the
72 spoke wire wheel
suppliers, but possibly one of the biggest dedicated solely to A Healeys.  In their showroom they had an ex-works car signed on the roof by driver Pat Moss (Stirling’s sister), and then they had mock up cars made from spare panels and parts so you could see just some of  what they had.   And then there were the cabinets with plenty of parts on view – Let alone the huge stores warehouse behind !  I looked at new wire wheels, bigger fuel tanks, oil sumps, 5 blade radiator fans, spot lights, skid plates – You name it, we discussed it, for an hour or two.   We discussed springs and shock absorbers – “Would that be new or refurbished you are looking for, sir ?”.    What a place !!

5 blade plastic fan
After taking copious notes, I felt I had a pretty good idea of what we could get from them, and Janet had been sitting outside in the BMW for 2 hours reading a book, so it was time to get moving, and we headed off to Pontefract, up north.   Driving around England is very difficult as a foreigner (even though I was born there) because one has no idea of how long it will take to get somewhere traffic wise.  Locals know that you should never travel on this road or that one, or never go through such and such a town because the streets are so narrow, causing jams, but us foreigners have to just blindly follow our Garmin and hope it doesn’t try to take us through the middle of Birmingham in rush hour !   As a result, we weren’t sure how long it would take to get to Pontefract, but I wanted to get as close as possible so I could be at our next appointment (at Northern Healey Centre) early in the morning.   In the end, we got all the way to Pontefract quite easily, and checked into a nearby Premier Inn, where we enjoyed a good meal and beer or two before turning in.
Unloading Healey chassis
Next morning it was off to Northern Healey Centre.   Mark Boldry of the Classic Car Clinic here on the Gold Coast, an accomplished Healey man in his own right,  had given me Paul Grogan’s name, and he turned out to be an absolute gem.  He has competed in a previous P2P event, albeit in a Peugeot, and he has also competed in many other extreme rally type events around the world, and as a result his knowledge on the specialized preparation required is boundless.    And his workshop is equally amazing – Albeit it the exact opposite of AH
New chassis under construction
Spares who we visited yesterday.   Although he used to handle spare parts, Paul has now actually decided to curtail this, and is focusing more on vehicle restoration and even the construction of totally new Healeys for customers.  His facility is a jumble of chassis, panels, parts, huge steel presses, and people working on cars and engines.  To be fair, they were putting in a mezzanine floor to increase work space, so much of the upheaval was caused by that.  Additionally, a customer was delivery a Healey 3000 chassis for restoration, and that took up
Chassis detail
some time and space while it was unloaded and moved inside.  Overall, NHC is very much a work shop, involved in some incredible work, and it was a joy to be there and to see such incredible restoration and manufacturing work going on.  And it is not limited to Austin Healeys either, with various Land Rover parts also being made !!

Paul himself very kindly set aside a couple of hours of his busy schedule to discuss what we needed to do in order to successfully complete the P2P, and he was a veritable mine of information.  We went through everything – Photos of his past rally cars, his P2P Peugeot, and then specific things for the Healey on the chassis and the extras (like fuel tanks, stronger parts, suspension, wiring etc).  He was so helpful, and is also trying to find an uprated 5 stud rear axle for us, some steel wheels, and several other parts, as well as giving me contact details of various people who might be able to help us further. 

New car being created
After a while Paul had no choice but to get back to work, and he left me to wander around his factory – Most useful was a full chassis reconstruction that I was able to photograph and study, looking at the places where additional strengthening plates can be inserted to improve the rigidity of our chassis.   Overall, an incredibly instructive morning, and I left with my head buzzing with information and facts that I now need to translate into action on our own car !

Delightful drive through Wales
Now it was time to visit some of Janet’s relatives, and then head home through Wales where we planned to visit some Overlanders who I had met on my trip through Canada and the US in 2016.   As I got in the car, I asked Janet for the address of her relatives that she had told me were in Chester, so I could enter the details in my Garmin.  When I asked for the name of the town, she said “Chesterfield”……..Chesterfield ?????  That’s nowhere near Chester, and is in totally the wrong direction !!!!    Oh dear !!!    Long story short, we made it to Chesterfield for a late lunch, and then had to head off again to N Wales, although we didn’t get there till late in the evening.   But that is another story and is detailed in my normal travel blog. 

Now lots of work to do working out which spare parts to buy.  Some of them are big and heavy, like axles, springs, half shafts etc.  These items we will need to ship as cheaply as possible and will take a month or two to arrive.  Smaller parts can be sent by courier cost effectively, and we can therefore order as required as they arrive pretty quickly.    Shock absorbers look best from the USA where original units are refurbished,  while we are still searching for suitable wheels.  We would like to use steel disc wheels that were used on some factory cars in the ‘50’s, but these are proving hard to find.  We feel that disc wheels will be much stronger for the rally than wire wheels.   The alternative is to fit 72 spoke wire wheels, but there may be an interference problem with the drum brakes – The original cars ran 48 spoke wheels, but these are just not strong enough for the P2P.  More research required.

Lots to finalise yet.  Ashton is coming up for the weekend on the 13th May, so we will try to finalise the key parts order then.  In the meantime I will start stripping the car down so we can find out what we need to do to the chassis, seats, roof etc. 

Stop press.  One of the big items we needed was a stronger 5 stud axle.  Paul Grogan had found one, but it ended up that the owner decided he needed to keep it.  We had found one in the USA but it was just the casing, and we would still need all the internal - half shafts, differential etc,  But last week Ashton managed to find a complete one in Sydney, although the vendor wants our original 4 stud axle in return, so we have to take that off the car fairly quickly so we can complete the swap and can start work on the new one to refurbish it before installing. 

One of the big issues on this rebuild is that when the axles / wheels etc are off the car, it is basically not movable as I cannot load it onto the trailer. So the preparation work has to be divided into first getting all the suspension, wiring etc done in my garage and getting the car back to mobile, then I can load it on the trailer and take it for welding of the chassis, and fitting the side exhaust etc, which will require the car to be on a hoist.   Going to be a logistics exercise – But then that is what I am (or used to be) good at !!

Some additional photos here :-

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