I won't relate the details of how it came to pass that this particular vehicle fell into my hands during the winter of 1968-69. That's another story. Nearly thirty years later, and now belonging to my son (who made the trip to fetch it in-utero), it sits in the garage, comfortable in its fourth coat of paint.
But it was not always so. I knew from seeing a small, dim, half-tone image in the back classifieds of Road & Track and from exchanging letters with the owner that he had enthusiastically painted it that classy if not understated light metallic blue popular as a factory color on some Austin-Healeys of the period. It really didn't look half-bad with its red carpeting and red leather interior. I grew to like the color and had I not come to embrace such Puritanical ideas about the originality of these old cars, I should have no qualms about painting a coupe this hue even now.
In those days, as now, I washed the car in the drive with a pail of water, sponge, hose, and chamois cloth. If it was really soiled I would add some carwash solution to the pail and, perhaps, take a small soft brush to it. After a snowstorm and the resultant salt from the streets, I determined one mild day to take it to the coin-operated high-pressure carwash. I was concentrating my efforts on the underneath and lower body parts when I waved the wand across the cowling in front of the windscreen and thought I imagined a flash of white paint winking at me. I tried it again and a flap of light metallic blue paint unfurled itself and waved at me. Hmm... I thought as I turned off the pressure wand. The thin sharp blade of my penknife lifted up the flap of paint to reveal the Old English White that I knew would be underneath. I drove home pondering this development and probed around on the surface further finding that the paint was indeed a little loose.
The previous (and second) owner had recounted to me how he had arranged to have the little coupe painted by one of those well-known, "We'll paint any car for $39.95 and for an extra twenty we'll even mask off the windows," outfits. He had apparently neglected to give them the extra twenty for preparing the old surface for paint.
After sleeping on it a few days, I decided to try my luck at the carwash again. The following Saturday, I filled my pockets with quarters and headed off to the carwash. A friend had once damaged the custom paint job on his Mercury at a particular carwash in town. It was to this establishment I purposely went hoping for the extremely high-pressure delivery they were reputed to have. I was not disappointed. It took both hands to hold the wand when squeezing the jet trigger. I aimed the hot stream of detergent obliquely at the flapping edge of loose paint on the cowling. It fluttered a bit and then began sloughing off in the most satisfying way in large thin flakes. I followed the receding line of blue paint up and over the top, down the rear deck and fenders, and back around to the front, stopping to chuck more quarters into the coin box. A few small splotches of paint required direct blasting for a moment or two, but, they too, yielded and peeled away revealing the eight-year-old lacquer beneath. Within twenty minutes the Austin-Healey Metallic Blue was history as the coupe emerged flying its proper Abingdon-on-Thames Old English White.
Feeling totally optimistic, I stopped on my way home for a can of rubbing compound. I rubbed out the old lacquer and followed with a coat of Turtle Wax. Wow! It was beautiful! I can't remember exactly how many quarters I tossed into the coin box that day, but I was reminded of the biblical admonishment, "Cast your bread upon the waters for after many days you will find it again." Everyone assumed that I had repainted the car, but I just told them that I had given it a really thorough washing. The old wax and lack of preparation for the blue paint acted as a release agent for the attempted coating. So, that's the way it really happened, and that's the first paint job I ever blew.
David F. Darby
Hercules Glades Wilderness, Missouri, USA
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