I bought our Austin Healey at the end of 2005 to add to our classic car fleet. I have owned (and still own) a number of classic cars including an Austin Healey Sprite but this was our first foray into Big Healey ownership.
They are very robust cars based on a strong steel chassis with a fairly lightweight body, 3 litre engine with four speed gearbox with overdrive. They were raced and rallied to great effect in the 1950s and 1960s and one of the contributors to this success was their roadholding. The cars have fairly basic suspension based on a rigid axle and a pair of cart springs with lever arm dampers giving it a firm ride with very little body roll and are fairly low to the ground. Herein lay my problem.
Ever since I bought the car the exhaust pipe, which runs under the rear chassis rails and the rear axle, drags on the gravel as I drive from our house onto the road. The exhaust also catches on the ever increasing number of speed bumps that seem to be reproducing almost of their own accord. On one occasion while our Healey was out on hire, the customer obviously hit something fairly low and broke one of the exhaust brackets. The car came back from the hire with the exhaust held onto the rear bumper by a twisted wire coat hanger.
After replacing the damaged bracket I checked with a local Austin Healey specialist to see if there was a way or raising the ride height. His answer was no, but if we wanted to race the Healey he could lower it for us. Not really helpful. I continued to soldier on assuming there was nothing I could do and this was just a feature of the car.
Then when we were on this year’s MSA Euroclassic touring Spain and France in our E-Type Roadster I spoke to one of the Austin Healey drivers on the run and explained my problem. He said that his local specialist had actually managed to raise his Healey, rather than lower it, so it appeared it was possible, although he wasn’t sure exactly what had been done. Unfortunately the company he used was some way from me so not very convenient. On one of my trips to AH Spares I mentioned my dilemma, armed with the knowledge that a fix was possible. He said that the problem was probably just old, soggy springs and that replacing them with a new set should return the ride height to normal. The cost of these wasn’t excessive and fitting them within my technical capabilities.
Four weeks ago I collected a pair of new springs and a complete set of fixings, U bolts, bump stops etc. Over the subsequent weekends I removed the old springs and fitted the new ones. While under the car I noticed one other small problem which may have been a contributing factor. The rubber bump stops bolt onto the top of the axle and as the suspension moves the bump stops hits metal boxes bolted to the underside of the wheel arches. Sounds fine in principle but the metal box is hollow and over the years, both of them appeared to have taken a bit of a pounding and the bottom of the boxes had bent upwards, by at least 1 cm.
I unbolted the boxes and hammered them back to the right shape. There was some rust in the bottom of the boxes which had probably contributed to them weakening over the years. Clearly a design flaw, there were no holes in them for rain water to drain away, so no wonder they rusted, but as they now had rust holes there was no need to drill holes to correct the omission. I assumed that the weakened boxes would again bend over time so packed them with pieces of wood cut to the right size. This should be firm enough to stop the boxes being crushed again, while soft enough to absorb some of the shock of being bit by the bump stop.
Assembly complete, I told the car out on a road test. It passed the very first ‘gravel test’ as it didn’t drag on the gravel when leaving the drive. Road holding felt fine, no obvious change and no bottoming out on rough roads. I am sure the exhaust will still catch on speed humps and there is nothing I can do about that.
On the return to my garage I measured the ride height to see how much difference it had made. The car now stands a full 4 cm higher than before. So a couple of hundred pounds and a few days work and my problem of four years standing is now fixed.