Vandespar Chronicles – Decorations are coming down, Christmas is over…
Decorations are coming down, Christmas is over…
On the twelfth day prior to Christmas
My good friend said to me
“There’s a BN7 Healey,
That you really ought to see!”
If you have ever read any of my other ramblings, you will know I am a little obsessed with two seater Healeys, especially BN7s and in particular MKlls. Whether I have infected my good friend Andrew at Rawles Motorsport with the BN7 bug, or these Healeys are finally getting recognition , I don’t know. Rawles Motorsport have two BN7s for sale and at present three in the workshop. Of those five, two are extremely rare MKll Tri-carbs and one is a rare MK l RHD. How many Austin Healey specialists could boast having all those cars at any one time, past, present or future? My Christmas started on 12/12/12 a little after 12 noon. By 12 minutes past I was driving the Healey Andrew had enthused over; a BN7 Tri-Carb, one of the last ones built, restored a few years ago in Germany, left hand drive with Spanish registration, blue over ivory bodywork. Aside from it’s beauty the first impression reversing out of Andrew’s garage, was the smoothness of the engine. No, the lads in the workshop hadn’t spent hours tuning those carbs, it’s just one of those really sweet engines!
If I forget about hitting the door with my left hand trying to change gear, the second impression was the stability and taught quality of the chassis. No shuttle shake, (try saying that with an xmas hangover). These qualities make a good BN7 feel like no other 3000. There is no flex in the chassis when cornering or going over an uneven patch of road. Driving down the A31 dual carriageway at 70 mph, this car was at peace; no twitching over bumps, no rattles or squeaks, just a smooth howl from the exhaust. I think Tri-carb Healeys have their own special sound!
Later BN7s and BT7s were fitted with a centre change gearbox, (for those
anoraks out there, some of them had factory seatbelt mounts). The synchromesh was unforgiving and my gear changes were not great, those odd looks from Andrew reminded me of my driving instructor! These cars were not fitted with a brake servo, bit scary if you’re not used to it.
Andrew and I had a most enjoyable trip to Belgium early last year, not only did we have one of those memorable meals Belgium is famous for, but returned with an original rhd Mk l BN7! It had been l anguishing in a lock up outside Brussels for five years. Now it’s fortunes have changed. Once LKE was home (still had UK registration), I tried to get the engine running, unfortunately jet rubbers had perished in the carburettors, the hoses leaked, petrol everywhere! But Lee’s Newman, senior mechanic at Rawles Motorsport Ltd magic touch on the carburettors soon got the engine back to life. Decision was made to sort brakes and get LKE on the road for a summer shakedown. While the car was waiting for a workshop slot. Bill Mayne visited Rawles Motorsport Ltd looking for an original rhd BN7 and was smitten with LKE now known as Lucky and bought the car on the spot…
There was perhaps a year negotiating the release of Lucky from Belgium, and during that time I found a BN7 chassis, a Tri-carb… on ebay! My long suffering wife maybe fed up with Healey bits, but makes up for it with hand bags.
Having been so keen to get the car on the road and restore it during the winter, Bill Mayne got his wish and purchased Lucky! The car is now in the workshop for a re paint, and a proper Rawles Motorsport fast road engine rebuild. In tandem there is another BN7 MK l converted to rhd whose restoration Rawles have taken on part way through, due to the owner’s bad experience with a previous workshop and missing parts. Finally Andrew has another rhd conversion BN7 for sale.
As Austin Healeys approach 60 years old, more and more of them suffer from weak rusty chassis. Increasingly the restoration of 100/4s and some much later home market or wet climate cars involves major chassis work or even replacement. All two seater cars seem to have more rigidity, and the structure of the tub gives them more strength. They seem different to drive; have less rattles and scuttle movement(!), and they are definitely more beautiful!
My first Healey, bought with pocket money for £100 when I was sixteen, was a MKll Tri-carb of the four seater-deeply-rusted variety! At tick over when hot there was no oil pressure… The BN7 of 12/12/12 is the best Healey I have ever driven, surely one of this marque’s greatest and rarest cars.