Unusually beautiful weather has a polarizing effect on motorheads. Some revel in the chance to feel the warmth on their face and the wind in their hair as they slap into third and enjoy the intoxicating thrum of the engine propelling them around sunbaked asphalt. For other car-lovers, beautiful weather is nice for cookouts, but brings a bittersweet pang of a missed motoring opportunity.
The dividing factor, of course, is whether said motorhead owns a convertible.
On a crisp, droptop-beckoning Sunday morning in 1977, Bobby and is wife sadly fell into the latter category, their driveway consisting of hardtops only. To remedy this grave issue, they browsed the classifieds together and saw it; a stunning 1966 Austin-Healey BJ8 for just $6600. Indulging their impulses, they setup a meeting with the owner.
The seller turned out to be a pilot who’d found himself in dire financial straits after pouring too much into a house renovation. But rather than desperately try to sell the Austin, he instead vetted Bobby and his wife as an overprotective parent might grill a potential nanny. Are you a mechanic? Would you take care of it? Would you shelter it in the winter? He even carefully inspected the condition of Bobby’s car, a BMW 320i. But upon accepting the sobering reality that Bobby had passed his tests, he handed over the keys, and cried.
As the spritely little droptop catapulted Bobby and his wife into motoring nirvana, the couple’s sympathy for the car’s former owner slowly evaporated with the exhaust. Within a year, Bobby was so smitten with his topless Austin that he helped co-found the Atlanta chapter of the Austin-Healey club, which still meets today in Chastain Park.
The 1966 Mark III was the penultimate model year for Austin’s two-seater roadster, save for a single model produced in 1968. The car boasted a 14hp boost over the Mark II up to 150 horsepower, and could sprint to 60 in 11 seconds, only slightly behind the Mini Cooper S. Power-assisted braking became standard in the Mark III, and the car enjoyed an impressive 24 MPG highway.
Today, Bobby’s Austin has defied expectations, requiring little maintenance over the years. “I keep a trunk full of spare parts, but I haven’t needed them.” One of his 6 fan blades did snap and and fall to the ground, but he considers himself lucky. “Oftentimes when those blades snap off in these 3000s, they shoot upwards and impale the hood instead.”
The Austin-Healey 3000 came out during a period in motoring history when “usability” was an afterthought and “ergonomics” might be a secret Soviet code word. Dials were oriented towards the driver’s belly button, and the cassette player could only be accessed through a small gap between the gear shift lever and the beach ball-sized steering wheel.
But the centerpiece of the car’s quaint quirks is the turn signal control. To signal left or right, the driver shifted a small metal tab positioned at 12 o’clock just above the horn. This may not sound strange to classic car enthusiasts, but the one in the Austin 3000 also didn’t automatically reset itself. This meant that Austin owners may have pioneered the phrase “The Eventual Left” well before Buick owners. Perpetual signal syndrome became such a common occurrence that Mark III fans developed a special hand sign to warn each other when their signals were left on.
But the quirks only accentuate this classic British roadster’s charm, and Bobby and his wife have consistently relied on their Austin for weekend cruising since the 70s. “I wouldn’t call it immaculate,” Bobby admits, “but I love the little thing.”
Most Memorable Question Bobby’s Been Asked:
“Is this an Aston-Healey?”
For more car stories, be sure to tune into the next episode of Caffeine & Octane, airing Sunday, March 12 on Velocity @9am EST