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Austin Healey, Vintage & Classic — March 7, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Car Clubs Offer Enthusiasts a Wealth of Knowledge


I sometimes joke that photographer Dave May was born in an Austin Healey. His father John has long been a Healey enthusiast and active on the local and national Healey club scene. So when Dave proposed we join some members of the Atlanta Austin Healey Club for a tech session, I couldn’t say no. Especially once I heard about the car.

A 1966 Austin Healey 3000 Mark III is not a particularly rare or exotic classic sports car. And this BJ8 – that’s what insiders call this model – was not in particularly good condition. It’s complete and fairly solid, but thirty years have passed since it was last driven. It has a great story, though, that starts back in the sixties when its owner, George Govignon, was serving in the Vietnam War.

Like many GIs, George planned to reward himself with a new car when, or if, he returned from service. While still overseas, he placed his order. Fortunately, George made it home and took delivery of the British Racing Green BJ8 in San Francisco. He drove it until sometime in 1981.

The car may have sat dormant for three decades, but George is ready to bring it back to the road. Wisely, George hooked up with the Atlanta Healey Club, a group with vast knowledge of the marque and a willingness to help. We stopped by George’s garage to see the car and hear the club’s experts’ recommendations for how to proceed with resurrecting the ’66.

About ten people showed up to give George a hand, or at least to talk cars over coffee, donuts and the hood of the BJ8.

Club member Lenard Thomas took the lead. (More about him later.) The first order of business was to confirm that the motor would turn, that it had not seized over the years. The spark plugs were removed and oil poured into the cylinders. With the car in gear, the guys gently pushed the car a few feet. Good news – the motor turned, so the engine is not seized.

After hooking up a battery and confirming that the starter works, Lenard warned us about the dangers of using the starter to turn an engine with no oil in the oil pump. He primed the pump to prevent damaging the engine.

The next step involved cleaning up thirty-year-old fuel. Lenard pulled the suction chambers and pistons off of the twin SU carburetors, handing us the parts for a thorough scouring. He went to work on the floats and float chamber, carefully digging out the varnish.

The guys created a plan of attack for the BJ8. Before introducing fuel to the cleaned-up carbs, the fuel tank should be drained and cleaned. George could then install his new fuel pump, sacrificing the first bit of fuel to ensure cleanliness. Once it flows clear, he can reattach the fuel lines to the carburetors. Concerned about oil separation, Lenard also recommended dropping the oil pan and cleaning it and the screen at the oil pump. After completing these tasks, it would be safe to attempt to start the engine.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay all day. But we got to see a neat old car with a cool story, meet some new people, pitch in a bit and learn more about Austin Healeys. Most importantly, I learned how helpful a club can be to a car enthusiast, whether he or she is just getting started or is already an expert. When you’re new to a specific vehicle, the guidance of someone with a deep knowledge of your model can put you on the right track from the beginning. Once you know your vehicle inside and out, experts from your club can still help you save countless hours of work with a simple shortcut or a well-timed tip.

Many brands have active, dedicated clubs. Other clubs focus on specific vehicle types, like off-road or microcars. Certainly car clubs offer social opportunities with other enthusiasts. And shows, drives and rallies are a big part of the fun. But the real value comes from the knowledge clubs offer. After visiting this tech session, I’m sure that the investment in membership would quickly pay off.

Still, Lenard mentioned that he’s been hanging around with British car guys since he bought his first Healey in 1962. For him and his fellow members, involvement in these cars and clubs has meant lasting friendships and an active and fulfilling retirement.

For George, club membership means we’ll likely soon see him cruising the streets, a proud original owner of a great British sports car.

We’ll check back with George and the club soon. Thanks to Dave May for the photography. See the full gallery.