- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 17, 2004

Pat Thompson is innocent. It is her former neighbor who is guilty.

Miss Thompson was not even a teenager when one of the families in the neighborhood brought home a new Triumph TR3A. She began spending more and more time at the neighbor’s house, admiring the cute little British sports car. “That’s what started me on British cars,” she says.

The neighbor eventually gave her a sales brochure for the car, which she treasured. The centerfold featured a blue car with navy blue upholstery.

Her interest and affection for all cars British continued through the remainder of the 1950s and continues to this day.

During the 1970s Miss Thompson’s attention shifted to Austin-Healeys and she became infatuated with the Mark III models. She commenced looking for a good, solid and affordable car. The search continued off and on until one Sunday morning in the spring of 1985 when she went to investigate yet another 1965 Austin-Healey — this one in Annapolis.

As it turned out, this was the one she had been seeking. Both interior and exterior colors were virtually identical to the centerfold car in the Triumph sales brochure of years before.

The owner and his family were leaving for church when Miss Thompson arrived so she had plenty of time to check out the car and then wait for the owner to return. She says the car had a base price when new of about $3,200 and was equipped to Miss Thompson’s satisfaction with wire wheels, heater, overdrive, adjustable steering column, tonneau cover and laminated windscreen.

The odometer registered 32,000 miles but there were no records to confirm that figure.

The owner seemed to take forever returning home, but that’s usually the case when you’re pressed for time.

It was Mother’s Day Sunday and Miss Thompson had invited her parents to her home in Springfield for a Mother’s Day feast.

The owner finally arrived and worked out a deal with Miss Thompson. In midafternoon the new owner of the Austin-Healey fired up the 3.0-liter, in-line six-cylinder, 150-horsepower engine and raced home to find her parents patiently waiting on her doorstep. “It was so late we went out somewhere to eat,” Miss Thompson recalls.

Records indicate that the car had been passed through several owners but three things were certain about the Austin-Healey:

• It was built on the 10th and 11th of September, 1964,

• It was dispatched on Sept. 24, 1964.

• It entered the United States through the Charlestown, S.C., Port of Entry.

Miss Thompson thoroughly enjoyed driving her open Austin-Healey that is an inch and a half longer than 13 feet. The diminutive car, weighing only 2,460 pounds and riding atop a 92-inch wheelbase, is exceedingly nimble.

Miss Thompson reports that only 17,700 Mark II Austin-Healey models were manufactured from 1964 to 1967, with most destined for the U.S. market.

A year after her car achieved antique status she, with the help of a couple of close friends, undertook the task of a frame-off restoration.

They started to take the car apart in March 1991. Within weeks they had transformed a car that had value into a worthless pile of parts. “I worried about that,” Miss Thompson acknowledges.

“The car had been through so many hands and there were lots of little things that were wrong,” she says. “It was time for a restoration.”

Surprisingly, there was not much rust on the car. Despite that good news, the owner opted for new floor boards and a new trunk floor. The trunk houses a horizontally mounted spare tire on the left side and a battery on the right side and not much else.

The engine was overhauled while the transmission was given a clean bill of health.

A pair of downdraft S.U. carburetors draw fuel from the new gasoline tank. Seven quarts of oil keep the engine lubricated while 22 quarts of coolant keep the temperature under control.

A new set of 165SR15x4.5 tires is mounted on the 60-spoke chrome wheels. The wheels sparkle against the new Healey blue paint. The upholstery is a navy blue leather with a matching boot. The convertible top is also the same shade of blue.

Where it’s not visible, additional insulation was installed for the for the benefit of the passengers.

To help rein in the car with a 140 mph speedometer, the Austin-Healey is equipped with optional rear disc brakes to match similar brakes on the front wheels.

Polished wood panels at either end of the dashboard add an elegant touch to the cockpit. The left panel houses the instruments while the glove compartment is in the right panel.

Hours spent on a new wiring harness were wasted when it was determined to be the incorrect one. The correct harness went in much easier. “With fire extinguishers at the ready,” Miss Thompson says, the restored car was started.

The engine was quickly turned off when the car started smoking. The culprit was an easily corrected loose connection near one of the bulbs.

Four years to the month after beginning the project, Miss Thompson had a beautiful 1965 Austin-Healey to show for all the work.

More importantly, Miss Thompson says, “It’s reliable now.”

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