Ken M 1957 Austin-Healey 100-6 BN4 2dr Roadster

The Healey That Got Away

I drove a 1955 light green Buick Century in 1957, one of the fastest and most popular American cars at that time, a great road car, comfortable, stable, and could peg the speedometer to 120 whenever I wanted to from Ft. Pierce where I worked during the week south to Miami for the weekend. Foreign cars were mostly an oddity at that time. Young guys went for the Fords and Chevys, although the '49 Olds Rocket 88 caught on and all the 88s after that through 1959, and the Buick Century made a hit when it first came out in 1954.

I loved my '55 Century and had no desire for one of the curious little German or French or British cars that were being seen more often on the South Florida roads. VWs were catching on, but not with the young guys. And, except for a '39 or '40 Ford coupe, not many guys wanted a two-seater.

One of my friends, one who might be seen driving a Tesla today, owned a 1957 red Austin Healey 100-6 roadster, the first one I had ever seen. He bragged about that car, but he would never put it up against my Century, and it was useless in my mind for cruising with your friends unless you didn't have more than one friend. One Friday afternoon, when I wasn't going to Miami for the weekend, he asked if we could trade cars for the night. He had a double date, and I had no plans. More out of friendship than curiosity, I agreed. We shared the same apartment, so all we had to do was swap keys. He also suggested that he might be interested in trading permanently, that is, his Healey for my Century, an even trade. I told him that was not likely.

About an hour after he left, I began to wonder what it would be like to drive a Healey. I hadn't even ridden in his, but I decided a little drive along the ocean might be a good thing, maybe go down to Jupiter, maybe check out Palm Beach, then come home. I got dressed and left a few minutes later.

It was an altogether different driving experience. The Healey was quick, but had nothing like the floating comfort of the Century. It was also noisy. The steering was totally responsive. I could move it all over the highway and into curves with just the slightest move of my wrists on the steering wheel. Moving along at 70 or 80, I seemed to be in absolute control. I was one with the car, as if I wore it instead of drove it. By the time I got to Jupiter, I was a Healey man!

Just south of Jupiter, I got to thinking about how great it would be to cruise A1A down through Palm Beach with the top down. It was getting dark as I pulled over at the first opportunity and began trying to figure out how to put the top down. On two other convertibles I had once owned, the top operated the same way, just unlatch it over the windshield and pull a switch somewhere on the dash. Then just watch the top rise up and fold itself away aft of the rear seat. I found the Healey's latches and got them open but then couldn't find the switch that lowered the top. There I was on a fairly busy highway, sitting in a Healey trying to get the top down. I looked for the owner's manual. No luck. I began pushing up on the top, but it stayed as if glued to the windshield. I got out of the car and began wrestling with it from the passenger side. I finally got it loose from the windshield by pushing the whole top forward a bit, but then it wouldn't fold back. It was dark by that time, and I had no flashlight. The only light was from the passing cars. I didn't even consider putting the top back as it was and proceeding on. I really wanted to drive through Palm Beach with the top down!

I got back in the car and began feeling around for anything that might be holding the top in place. I found some straps that seemed to be attached and unsnapped them. I cleared whatever else I found and got out of the car again. Then I heaved back on the top, trying not to break anything. It came loose and slowly folded back, though a bit crooked with some of the fabric loose along the trunk. I didn't care. I was frustrated and angry with myself and the car, and I was no longer a Healey man. But I was going to Palm Beach anyway and with the top down!

I took the causeway east across the Inland Waterway into Palm Beach and on to the coastal highway where I pointed the Healey south, just following its nose wherever the whim took us, a beautiful cool night along the coast. We probably didn't make a good impression on anyone watching. We may have even aroused suspicion: a red Healey with the rag top partially billowing behind, a lone driver just cruising, seemingly with no definite place to go.

I turned back north about one in the morning and got back to Ft. Pierce around three. My Century wasn't in the driveway. I went in the apartment and right to bed, leaving the Healey parked with the top still down.

About thirty minutes later, I heard the Century pulling in. As I watched from the window, my friend got out of the car and walked over to the Healey and began pulling at the top. I thought he would be angry, but he seemed fine and had the top back in place in hardly more than five minutes. He came in and knocked on my door, saying "Ken, I know you're awake. The Healey is still warm. I want to ask you something." "What is it?" I hollered.

"I like your Century. I'd like to trade you if you're interested."

"Forget it!" I hollered. "I'm not trading for any two-seat convertible that won't even lower its own top."

To his credit, he just laughed and went to bed. That was my last Healey experience. I'm sorry it ended that way.

23 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Janet Tennessee July 13, 2014 at 13:12
    Ken has a way with words. Good story!
  • 2
    Doug Housley Knoxville,TN July 13, 2014 at 13:31
    What a great story. I had a few to get away and got rid of a few that I wish I still had
  • 3
    Buck Lambdin Tennessee July 13, 2014 at 14:18
    Great car, Great story
  • 4
    Jolene Brewer Maryville, TN 37804 July 13, 2014 at 15:33
    My husband had a friend who owned a 1955 Buick Century convertible when we were dating. It was light blue and the top went up and down perfectly! Wonderful car and sometimes he would enter it in local drag racing events. He didn't always win, but we have a great time! Ken's story brings back good thoughts of 1964.
  • 5
    Joe S Norwood, PA July 13, 2014 at 15:50
    Fun read for anyone who wanted to drive a European sports car
  • 6
    Lori Schneider United States July 13, 2014 at 16:19
    Great story. I can just picture it in my mind!
  • 7
    Bennie Aston July 13, 2014 at 16:22
    Great story!
  • 8
    Charlie Fink N Fl July 13, 2014 at 17:57
    The One That Got Away is a Terrific story really enjoyed reading
  • 9
    Jim W Tennessee July 13, 2014 at 21:44
    I can identify with the story. There were a few I let get away - thanks for the memories..............enjoyed the story.
  • 10
    Beth H tn July 13, 2014 at 21:51
    Great story
  • 11
    Addy New Delhi July 14, 2014 at 03:13
    Very cool!
  • 12
    Mary C Va July 14, 2014 at 21:30
    A fun read.
  • 13
    Matt McCullough Knoxville July 15, 2014 at 16:31
    Great story
  • 14
    Dan Tennessee July 15, 2014 at 17:44
    I LOVE the story, but, Ken, how could you let any car get away, let alone a Healy?
  • 15
    Sue Q. Edwards St. Marys, Ga July 15, 2014 at 10:49
    Those little sports cars cars have been a long time fascination. I remember that Carmen Ghia you had. Wonderful story.
  • 16
    Gaynell Maryville, TN July 15, 2014 at 12:54
    Ken always tells good stories; this one is great! I can imagine he'd like to have all the "ones that got away!"
  • 17
    Charlie Crossville, TN July 18, 2014 at 18:43
    Ken really did a great job - probably brought back a lot memories of "the one that got away." And that's no fish story.
  • 18
    Mark Vaughan Knoxville July 18, 2014 at 07:33
    Well... the Healy "got away", but I bet there were a few more good years (and good times) with the Buick. Great story..!
  • 19
    John Lenoir City July 18, 2014 at 10:47
    I have noticed over the years there are more regretful stories about British Cars that got away than American cars.
  • 20
    John Lenoir City July 18, 2014 at 10:48
    I have noticed over the years there are more regretful stories about British Cars that got away than American cars.
  • 21
    Sarah l Knoxville July 18, 2014 at 10:57
    Great story
  • 22
    Ron Hammontree Maryville,Tn July 18, 2014 at 11:12
    Great story by a great guy.
  • 23
    Ken McCullough (Jr) Maryville TN July 21, 2014 at 19:37
    As a former Healy owner this story brought back many fond memories, including the "top"! Great story.

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