Local men drive cross-country for Make-A-Wish-Foundation
By Steve Huffman
SPENCER ó Carl Brown is plenty confident his 1966 Austin-Healey will be fine navigating the 8,500 miles he’ll be driving this summer.
The car, a beautifully restored two-toned Mark III model, purrs like nobody’s business, drawing admiring glances whenever Brown fires it to life.
But, still, 8,500 miles is 8,500 miles, a pretty far piece by most anyone’s estimation, especially when the driver is at the wheel of a 42-year-old vehicle.
Brown will be driving from Spencer to San Diego, then north to Canada. He’ll negotiate the Canadian Rockies and complete a tour of much of the midwestern United States before returning to Rowan County.
So even though Brown feels good about his odds, he hedges his bet a tad when saying the journey will be worry-free.
“We’re going to make it,” Brown promised. “But if we have trouble, I’ve got a toll-free number I can call and have almost any part over-nighted to me.”
Brown’s trip, which starts Wednesday, is more than a joy ride.
It’s part of an excursion to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an organization that provides for children facing life-threatening illnesses.
Brown, 68, a Spencer resident, is president of the Austin-Healey Club of America and owns two of the classic rides ó a 1959 model in addition to the 1966 beauty he’ll be driving.
He’ll be accompanied by Lexington resident Gary Brierton, who’ll be driving a 1967 Austin-Healey 3000, he and Brown following one another as they tool west like nobody’s business.
Their destination is a huge gathering of classic Austin-Healeys, an annual event held in San Diego. Along the way, they’ll be joined for short stretches by members of various Austin-Healey clubs. There are 46 such chapters in the United States with about 3,700 members.
In addition to taking their cars out for a spin, those fellow Austin-Healey owners will give checks to Brown and Brierton, donations that will eventually be presented to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Brown and Brierton said they’re hoping to raise $15,000 to $20,000 for the organization.
“The caravan is intended to promote involvement and fundraising across the continent by our club chapters,” said Brierton, vice president of club support for the Austin-Healey Club of America.
“Our regional clubs and their members have generously supported philanthropy in their own areas for a number of years, and this effort builds on that history.”
In St. Louis, Brown and Brierton will be joined by another club officer, Greg Lauser, vice president of public relations, who will be driving south from his home in Wisconsin. He’ll accompany Brown and Brierton in a third Austin-Healey as they continue to San Diego.
Once there, Brown will be joined by his wife, Linda, who will be flying out. The couple will drive north through California and eventually into Canada. It will be, Carl said, the trip of a lifetime.
Or at least one heck of a summer outing.
“We’re following two-lane roads for the most part,” he said, “staying off the interstates as much as possible.”
Brown is an expert on Austin-Healeys, having played a major role in the restoration of the car he’ll be driving. He can tinker with and take apart just about anything involved with the car, then put it back together so it’s running as good as new.
Brown said the British-made Austin-Healeys were produced from 1953 until 1967, with the majority of the 70,000 vehicles exported to the United States.
The death knell for the Austin-Healey, Brown said, was sounded in the mid-1960s when the U.S. Department of Transportation made a law concerning minimum ground clearance for motor vehicles.
Some Austin-Healeys, he said, sat only 4 inches off the ground, far too low to the liking of the killjoy Department of Transportation.
Brown’s Mark III is ó technically, at least ó a four-seater.
“But they’d have to be very small people to ride back there,” Brown said, laughing.
He’s using the rear-seat area to store his luggage and the trunk ó “the boot,” as the British refer to it ó for tools.
Brown’s Austin-Healey still looks original, though he’s done a fair amount of modification to the vehicle. Its original five-speed transmission has been replaced with a Toyota version.
Brown has also outfitted the car with air conditioning and cruise control, luxuries it didn’t come with from the factory.
“But I haven’t done anything that can’t be undone,” Brown said. “If someone wanted to turn it back original, it wouldn’t be that difficult.”
He said the car averages a hair better than 20 miles to the gallon, meaning the Austin-Healey was designed at a time when a tank of gas didn’t cost $5 and a time when the emphasis was on performance rather than economy.
While that’s not especially good news in this era of $4-a-gallon gas, Brown said he’s not going to let record-high fuel prices put a damper on his excursion.
Besides, he said, life is all about the journey, not the destination, and there are lots worse things to do with a summer than spend it cruising North America in a vintage Austin-Healey.
“I can run 75 or 80 miles an hour without any trouble,” Brown said. “We’re going to be having a lot of fun.”