“Barbie” + Ken: Big love and a Big Healey
It was about a year after Barbie started dating Ken in 1961 that her Austin-Healey 3000 hit toy shelves. In real life, about a year after Susie Follick started dating Ken Lybolt, she became the proud owner of a 3000.
While Barbie’s Ken—he of the molded hair and little red swimming trunks—probably had nothing to do with his plastic girlfriend becoming a Healey driver, Susie’s Ken, who has real hair and usually wears clothes, was instrumental in her becoming a lifelong fan of the classic English sports car. And while Barbie has found herself plunked in behind the wheel of numerous exotic machines (including many Corvettes) since she first “drove” her salmon-colored Healey in 1962, Susan “Susie” Lybolt and her husband Ken have remained dedicated to the British marque; they are still driving and showing the green ’64 Austin-Healey 3000 Mk III that she bought 55 years ago.
It was 1967 when Follick and Lybolt met at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan, where Ken was an advertising major and Susan was a student in the education department. Susan had grown up in Royal Oak, Michigan, just four houses west of Woodward Avenue. Her dad, Russell Follick, was a Woodward cruiser and a builder of hot rods, so she was immersed in car culture from birth. While it was undoubtedly Ken Lybolt’s charming personality and tousled mane of (genuine) hair that won her heart, she also developed a fondness for the shapely 1960 Austin-Healey 100-6 that he drove when they cruised the scenic Big Rapids area and challenged its winding rural roads.
Austin-Healey, maker of Ken’s pretty sports car, was the joint venture of the Austin division of the British Motor Corporation and the Donald Healey Motor company, a respected engineering and design firm. Austin had hardware, including engines and drivetrain components, and Healey had style, performance know-how, and panache. The first product of the union was the Austin-Healey 100—an open two-seater. The second, first offered in 1956, was the 100-6, a stylish 2+2 roadster, powered by an engine of approximately 2.6 liters and 102 horsepower, enough to propel the 2480-pound lightweight to over 100 mph. Heady stuff back then.
Ken Lybolt thought so, and in 1960, at the tender age of 15, he purchased a non-running ’57 100-6 Healey from his Midland, Michigan, next-door neighbor for $500. Too young to drive, he spent his days working on it in his parents’ garage, tinkering with the lifeless powerplant and figuring out how to interpret the British English of the Healey shop manual with its references to spanners, bonnets, and boots. More Healeys followed, and by the time Ken arrived at Ferris State he was driving the sporty 100-6 “Big Healey” that would help win Susan’s heart. (“Big” is a relative term here; Big Healeys are quite compact, but they’re large in comparison to the diminutive Austin-Healey Sprite.)
Susan recalls their dates with a certain fondness. It was behind the wheel of Ken’s car that she learned to operate a manual transmission and clutch. Ken had lost the key to his pride and joy, so he would hotwire the ignition and push the car to start it while Susan sat behind the wheel, releasing the clutch when the speed was sufficient to turn over the engine. They made a point of parking on downhill streets when possible. Ken ultimately found his spare key, which had been in his wallet all along. Was he merely trying to get Susan to fall in love with that special feeling one gets behind the wheel of a Big Healey? (He maintains he really had misplaced that key.)
Whether generating Healey love was Ken’s mission or not, it came to be, and in 1968, while back home in Royal Oak, Susan bought her own Austin-Healey, a 1964 3000 Mk III, arguably the best of the Big Healeys.
Susan’s dad took her to the dealership that had advertised the used Healey 3000. A car guy to the core, Mr. Follick was up for this adventure, and he wholeheartedly approved the purchase. However, while Susan had been able to reach the pedals in Ken’s 100-6, she found she couldn’t drive the bigger 3000 without having to move awkwardly far forward in the seat. Dad drove the 3000 home while Susan shoed the family station wagon. Back in their garage, undeterred, he made extensions for the pedals and installed a 2×4 under the seat cushion so Susan could comfortably drive the Healey. The pedal extensions remain in place to this day, and the seat cushion spacer is in place when Susan is at the wheel.
Austin-Healey’s 3000 was revised for 1964 with the introduction of a Mk III version. Sporting a high-lift camshaft and large-throat HD8 SU carburetors, the 2.9-liter inline-six engine now generated 148 horsepower, enough to propel the 2650-pound car to 115 mph. A two-speed electric overdrive in combination with the four-speed manual transmission effectively gave the car six speeds, allowing the engine work at peak efficiency most of the time.
Susan and Ken tied the knot in 1969. The Lybolts were suddenly a two-Healey family, or as Ken likes to joke, “we had no transportation.” Because Susan’s 3000 was the most reliable of their two roadsters, Ken’s car went to new ownership, but they would continue to prize and pamper their 3000 through good times and bad for more than half a century, year after year, to this very day.
At some point, the Lybolts added a classic English hamper—a picnic basket that rides smartly on the rear luggage rack in the manner prescribed by Londoners. At a recent cars and coffee outing they attended, the hamper was filled to the brim with chocolate-chip cookies for their friends.
They’ve also repainted the Healey as necessary. Today it sports Jaguar’s version of British Racing Green, which is a slightly darker shade than the original Austin-Healey color and, to most eyes, a nicer hue. These days the car is a summer-season driver, and in good weather it’s driven nearly every day. The odometer reads 87,000 miles, but the Lybolts said the odometer hasn’t always worked, so the true mileage is probably about 100,000. Despite generous use, the car looks great and runs well.
Somewhere along the way, the couple obtained a copy of the toy Austin-Healey that was introduced as a Barbie accessory in 1962. The salmon color of the Mattel car didn’t work well with the Lybolt Healey’s green, so they had Earl Scheib paint it to match. They were also gifted a genuine 1958 Barbie, an appropriate occupant for the little plastic version. At car shows, or in the Woodward Dream Cruise, Barbie and her Austin-Healey accompany the Lybolts, riding along atop the picnic basket. Plastic Ken is nowhere to be seen.