Lucas 17L Tar-Top Battery Solution

During the final weeks of the restoration of my early Austin Healey 100 it became apparent that acquisition of original style batteries was going to become a major problem.

The only “acceptable” batteries for a concours car are original “Lucas” 6 volt 17L “tar-top” batteries.

BN1 Batteries

BN1/2 Battery Installation

I had acquired a pair of originals with a view to having them rebuilt but, when I made inquiries about having this done, it quickly became obvious that this was just not going to happen as the only re-builders that I could find worked exclusively on large industrial batteries and had neither the parts nor any interest in tackling such a small job.

I had had a pair of reproductions on order for some months but calls to the supplier were not encouraging and the chances of getting them before Enclave 2015 were virtually nil!

I decided that an alternate plan was called for.

Ballistic in Mini

Ballistic in Mini Race Car

I had seen several track racing minis equipped with Ballistic Lithium Ferrous Phosphate batteries and, having had some experience with starting highly tuned competition engines, I felt sure that if one of these batteries could start a race mini it could probably start a Healey 100 engine with a compression ratio of only 7.5:1. When one of the mini racers mentioned that his Ballistic battery had provided good service for 3 seasons I was convinced.

The problem is of course that this modern battery really did not look much like the old “tar-top” Lucas relic from 1953!!

Ballistic EVO2 16 Cell

Ballistic EVO2 16 Cell

However, upon further investigation, it became apparent that the tiny size of these modern batteries meant that one with sufficient cranking capacity for a Healey would easily fit inside the case of the original Lucas battery.

Here is how it is done.

Of course to start you have to have a pair of original or reproduction tar-top batteries to modify.


Be sure to use rubber gloves and wear goggles while working with the battery.

First confirm that the battery is TOTALLY discharged by checking that the voltage cross the terminals is ZERO.

Next remove the fill caps and drain all the old electrolyte (acid) out of the original batteries. Refill the battery with water and drain 2 or 3 times to neutralize the electrolyte. Also see if you can safely recycle the acid and do not run it down the drain. Do rinse the case over and over before you start cutting and pulling stuff out. You may also want to wear a mask as acid fumes are nasty. (Thanks Ira).

The next task is a bit brutal.

Battery Top Cut Off

Battery Top Cut Off

Using a sharp handsaw saw or similar implement of destruction cut the tops off the original batteries. Cut straight across all the way just below the bottom of the hold down lugs then pull out all the lead plates and dispose of them safely.

Removal of Lead Plates

Removal of Lead Plates

The next task is to remove the 2 dividing partitions from the case of one of your 2 batteries. These need to be cut out right down until they are level with the grid in the bottom of the case. A multi-purpose oscillating tool works quite well for this but I’m sure there are plenty of other methods. Once you are done the cavity within the case will be around 6 3/8″ long x 5 5/8″ wide x 4 3/4″ high.

Partitions Removed

Partitions Removed

Note: With the second battery it is only necessary to cut some small “V”s out of the top of the partitions but we didn’t figure that out until all the work had been done to remove them entirely.

Battery Lid Guide

Battery Lid Guide

To ensure that the lid will index accurately when replaced on the case we installed some plastic guides on the underside of the lid.

Once this is done you will find that your new Ballistic EVO2 16 Cell battery will easily fit right inside the case.

Ballistic Battery in Lucas Case

Ballistic Battery in Lucas Case

I used some strips of Styrofoam insulation to “nest” the Ballistic battery and ensure that it wouldn’t rattle around inside the case.

The next task is to connect the Ballistic battery to the +ve and –ve posts molded into the lid of your original battery. These connections and the cables will have to carry the full load of the starter so they have to be fairly substantial.

Jumper Cables Connecting Ballistic Battery to Original Posts

Jumper Cables Connecting Ballistic Battery to Original Posts

I used sections of some old heavy duty booster cables to make up short jumpers for this. It was necessary to drill and tap the undersides of the posts to secure the terminals that I had soldered onto the ends of my jumpers. Be sure to make the jumpers long enough that you can attach the Ballistic battery terminals to them as you install the lid.

Drill and Tap The Undersides of Both Posts on Both Battery Lids

Drill and Tap The Undersides of Both Posts on Both Battery Lids

With the second battery it is only necessary to make up a jumper, again heavy duty, to link the +ve and -ve terminals. That is why some small “V”s in the partitions on the second battery are all that is required.

Jumper Connecting Posts Inside 2nd Battery

Jumper Connecting Posts Inside 2nd Battery Lid

It is not necessary to glue the top back in position as the as the original battery securing rods will hold it in place..


The Modified Battery is Indistinguishable from the Original

Now install the batteries into the car and you are almost finished.

Once Installed the now Acid Free Batteries Look Totally Authentic

Once Installed the now “Acid Free” Batteries Look Totally Authentic

One last thing and this is very important if you want your expensive lithium ferrous phosphate batteries to last a long long time.

The instructions that come with the Ballistic battery emphasize that over charging will permanently damage the battery so it is essential that you adjust the regulated output of your generator to ensure that the maximum voltage that it can produce is 13.6 volts.

I found this very simple to achieve and procedure is clearly explained in section O/13 of the Factory Workshop Manual. It is the regulator adjustment that needs to be adjusted as this is normally set to something around 15.5 volts for a lead/acid battery.

Use a digital voltmeter to get it right and make sure that you drive the car while checking the revised output voltage just to ensure that it is correct.

I would recommend leaving a note inside the cover of the regulator indicating that it will require readjustment if lead acid batteries are installed in the car at some later time because an output setting of 13.6 volts will decrease the storage capacity of such batteries.

A couple of other things that are important to remember are:

  1. Just like a lead acid battery your Ballistic battery will be permanently damaged if allowed to completely discharge so be sure to turn off your master switch when you are storing the car for more than a few days.
  2. A regular battery charger is capable of delivering more than 13.6 volts… Be sure to use one that will not overcharge your Ballistic battery


After using the Ballistic EVO2 battery for 2 years I was having a couple of issues:

1: The battery seemed to have lost a little “grunt” and was having difficulty starting the Healey engine from cold. Once started for the day it managed just fine but cold starting was becoming a problem.

2: The original Lucas C45-PV5 generator used in the 100 has a maximum output of 22 amps. Unfortunately with the lights, wipers and heater fan running the electrical load is a few amps more than 22 amps so over time on a wet night there is a small but constant discharge from the battery which becomes quite substantial at idle. The original lead acid batteries had a 50 amp hour capacity. Unfortunately the Ballistic battery is only around 10 amp hours which presented problems in such conditions.

Additionally the Ballistic Battery company had closed down which called for some more research.

Fortunately some other batteries have come to market in recent months and I found this one.

With 480 cranking amps, a capacity of 22 amp hours and just small enough to fit inside the original Lucas 6 volt battery case. I decided to give it a try.

One of the nice things about Lithium Ion batteries is that they are easy and light to ship around so I had a new one on my doorstep in days.

In addition to changing to the Antigravity battery I decided to include a 200 amp reset-able breaker into the circuit because a couple of readers had pointed out that, in the event of a dead short, lithium polymer batteries have been  known to catch fire and getting to the battery in an Austin 100 is not easy. This is the type of breaker selected, readily available on Ebay. These have a test button on top and a reset lever.

Combination breaker mounting bracket and conductor.

I made a combination conductor and mounting bracket and attached the breaker to the side of the battery.

Getting this battery inside the case required some careful measurements but once installed it works like a charm!!

Test fitting the battery inside the case. These batteries can be mounted in any position so is mounted on its side.

Breaker reset lever accessible through the battery filling port.

I also managed to arrange the positioning of the Antigravity battery such that the breaker reset lever is accessible through one of the “dummy” filler caps so that in the event that the breaker should trip it can easily be reset through the filling port.

In an effort to further improve things I also decided to convert the headlights to LED and purchased a pair of “Double Dipper” bulbs from Classic Dynamo & Regulator Conversions along with an electronic conversion of my original regulator which will eliminate the possibility of overcharging the lithium ion battery.

Delighted to report that so far the results are brilliant. The generator is easily able to keep up at full load, the headlights are brighter and none of these changes can be seen.

Posted in Healey Stuff, Restoration Techniques, The Restoration of Healey #174 | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Smiths and Jaegar Fuel Gauge Solution

This gallery contains 2 photos.

After having all the original Smith’s instruments in my latest Austin Healey restoration entirely rebuilt I was rather disappointed to discover that the fuel gauge reading was so erratic that it was difficult to know just how much fuel I … Continue reading

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Low Mileage Austin Healey 100. A Rare Opportunity to Look Back.

Recently Bob Yule of Autofarm Ltd was kind enough to allow me to take a close look at a very early 1954 Austin Healey 100, with only 5300 miles on it from new, that he had in his shop for service.

One does not often get the chance to examine such an original car close up so I am very grateful to Bob, Tom and the owner of the car for this opportunity.

Having just completed the restoration of my own BN1 I had a number of details that I was very keen to check and during the course of the inspection I photographed several interesting and little known details about these early cars.

The car in question is C. BN1L 151405 body number 1267 and the engine number is 1B205529.

Car LH front

The car’s original paint is a very unusual “Gunmetal Grey” colour. Records have been found for around 6 cars painted this colour at around the same time so it is thought that this was a “trial balloon” to see if it was a seller.

The interior is bright red (persimmon), which is also original.

Although the car is in outstanding condition for a 60 year old vehicle a couple of small “additions” have been made to the electrical system and unfortunately the engine and gearbox have at some stage been out and reputedly rebuilt. Whoever did the engine rebuild did a good job but some details of the re-installation have been done a little carelessly meaning that those areas affected by this work are somewhat suspect insofar as originality is concerned.

The following are some very interesting details that I noted on the car which were previously unknown to me although I’m sure some at least are well known to others.

 Generator terminal phenolic separator plate.

Plate on generator terminalsI suspect that the paint was applied after the engine rebuild. I believe that this was an original, but often discarded part, as it can be seen in the in Fig.8 on page O/7 of the factory workshop manual.

Small tag on wiring harness.

Wiring harness tag

Handbrake lever finish.

Handbrake plating and tunnel paint. Handbrake polish

Shift knob lock nut.

Shift knob lock nut

The vent duct material.

Good shot of the original fresh air ductingMost restorers use “Kopex” tubing in this location but that is definitely not what was used originally. I think it may also have been used in early Sprites. If anyone can tell me where to get some of this I would be very grateful.

Horn rim securing screws.

Horn screwsI had always thought that these screws were painted with the horn but on these horns they most definitely were not. What is strange is that overspray of the horn paint is often seen on the black spring disc under the sounding disc..

Low tension connection at distributor.

Distributor low tension leadOf note here is the unpainted engine number plate. I suspect that this is one of the things done incorrectly during the engine rebuild. It is pretty well confirmed that these were painted engine colour.

I should also mention that the rubber sleeve was used on most connectors on these early cars other than grounding points.

Notch in bottom on RH inner sill. (this one really surprised me)

Fender and inner sill knotch On the right side there is less than 4″ between the inner sill and the pedal shaft support bracket. On the left side there is 7″. There was no sign of this notch on body #174.

My guess is that someone didn’t check the build sheet and installed the pedal shaft on the wrong side on this car and, after the engine was installed, the only way to get it out and move it to the correct side was to cut this notch in the sill.

The bonnet latch parts appear to have been plated.

Bonnet catch striker pin and cap finish

Bonnet latch sliding plate finishI have pointed these finishes out because there are errors on this point in the 2015 Concours Guidelines

Fuel line in trunk painted black.

Fuel line in trunk

Seat runner reinforcement plates under floor.

Seat runner reinforcement plates

Tonneau cover and windshield spring parking posts on scuttle.

Scuttle posts left Scuttle posts rightI believe that the windshield springs are meant to be “parked” on the inner post. There was no reason to believe that these posts had ever been changed so I have no idea why they are different side to side. On later cars a “Lift The Dot” post was used for the springs but on earlier cars all 4 were Tenax posts.

Bumper splash pan securing screws.

Splash pan outer screwsBy installing these 10/32 screws with the nut forward only the head was visible inside the fender which looked tidier. This is common to all 100s other than on very early BN1’s where  self tapping screws were used here again with the head visible inside the fender.

 Harness clip secures cables at gearbox cover adaptor plate.Cable clip at tunnel adaptor plateAgain common to all 100s and sometimes hand painted black.

Poor panel alignment.

Door alignmentThe panel alignment is really quite poorly done with the crease line on the drivers door being almost 1/4″ above that of the fender.

Boot lid seal is installed in the shroud gutter not on the lid.

Lower right corner Lower right side Right side Top left side Top right side Upper left cornerThis is something that I have been pretty sure of for some time so it is nice to have it confirmed. With the aluminium boot lid it would have been very difficult to install the seal on the lid because of various obstructions. The seal itself appears to be very similar in section to that used on the steel lids but it has a strange “mesh” surface texture.

The parts book refers to this seal being 4 pieces but on this car it was definitely a single piece of foam rubber.

There are several other interesting details on this car that were new to me so more later.


Posted in Healey Concours Information, Healey Stuff, Restoration Techniques, The Restoration of Healey #174 | 7 Comments

BN1 Gearbox. A Plethora of Threads

Back in the days when I was a really poor British sports car mechanic I managed to pick up a Suzuki LJ80V all-wheel drive van with a badly slipping clutch to use for winter transportation.

Suzuki LJ80V

Suzuki LJ80V

It was a horrible little thing but great in the snow and all I could afford at the time. Before I could use it I had to replace that clutch and in doing that job my opinion of Japanese design improved immeasurably. The only tool required to change the clutch, which required that a gearbox with a 4WD transfer case be removed, was one 13 millimeter wrench. ONE!!!



For a guy who was accustomed to using almost every tool in his 15 drawer tool cabinet and a few borrowed ones just to change a fan belt in an MGB this was a revelation and made me realize just how far the British motor industry had to go in 1953 when they started producing the Austin Healey 100.

From the manufacturers perspective such simplicity can produce extensive benefits because not only is the vehicle easier to construct and service but the parts inventory required both for construction and after sales service is dramatically reduced.


The Austin Healey 100

The Austin Healey 100

1952/3 must have been interesting and challenging times for the Austin engineers as the Longbridge factory was geared up to produce the new Austin Healey 100. Britain was desperate for overseas sales but their factories were old and funds for new machinery and imported materials were just not available.

Unfortunately as a result of the shortages the new car had to use an old power train. The engine, with two cylinders lopped off, was a copy of a pre-war six cylinder Bedford lorry power unit which had been adapted from a 1929 Chevrolet design. There was no time or money to “modernize” the engineering so it was still being produced with outdated British Standard threads, British Standard Fine (B.S.F) and British Standard Whitworth (B.S.W) at a time when all new designs were being produced using the modern SAE thread system of Unified National Fine (U.N.F) and Unified National Course (U.N.C.). This was not ideal situation but there really weren’t any viable alternatives.

However, if the engine was not exactly “start of the art”, the gearbox was even less suitable for the latest in sporty motoring vehicles. Adapted from a column change saloon car “cog box” it was never designed to handle even the modest 144 lbs. ft. of torque delivered by the lump ahead of it but, again, it was all that was available within the budget so it had to be used. I suspect another factor was that Len Lord the president of the newly formed British Motor Corporation had hundreds of them lying around as a result of the Austin Atlantic disaster.

The BN1 Gearbox

The BN1 Gearbox and Overdrive Unit

Studying the threads used in this gearbox gives us an idea of the lengths the engineers at Austin needed to go to in their efforts to get those Healeys out the door.

The starting point was a 4 speed box designed to be used in vehicles like the Austin 16, a staid family car with barely enough power to “pull the skin off a rice pudding” as my Dad used to put it. The first job was to come up with an inexpensive way to produce a floor shift as no self-respecting “sports car” could have anything resembling the “three on the tree” gear change that the gearbox was designed around. This was achieved with a nifty adaptation of the original gearbox side cover and the addition of an Austin Taxi “change speed control box body” upon which a gear lever could be pivoted.

The Change Speed Control Box Body

The Change Speed Control Box Body

Everything worked out just fine but the threads… oh my, the threads.

Change Speed Box Cover Stud

The interesting thing about this “change speed control box body” is that within the design of this small cast part 3 different threads were used and that is just the beginning!

Two Different Threads in Very Close Proximity

Two Different Threads in Very Close Proximity

It was found that because of the 4.125/1 Austin Healey differential ratio (another saloon car legacy) 1st gear in the four speed box was useless and reputedly produced “nothing but wheel spin with anything like a spirited take off.” (See note below). The solution was that the 1st gear in the box would need to be blanked off producing a three speed gearbox.

One can only imagine the wails of anguish from the marketing department as no sports car of the day could be sold with a three speed gearbox even if it was all synchromesh … an overdrive unit was required. Fortunately the Laycock-de Normanville unit selected was a modern design which used U.N.F. and U.N.C. threads.

Speedometer Pinion Bearing Locking Screw

Speedometer Pinion Bearing Locking Screw

This clever addition appeased the marketing department but really complicated the thread issue as it required an adaptor plate with BS threads on one side and SAE threads on the other; not a design achievement that any engineer could be very proud of.

Joseph Lucas’s Switch

As a further complication the overdrive unit required a plunger switch on the side of the gearbox to prevent the overdrive being engaged when the gearbox was in reverse as doing so would destroy the overdrive unit. Enter Joseph Lucas. Now Joe was a very traditional guy and, apparently, a big fan of BS threads which the Lucas Company stuck with right through into the 1970’s so the switch he supplied used yet another thread form namely British Association (B.A.).



So now we have five different threads in this unit; B.S.F., B.S.W., U.N.F., U.N.C., and B.A….but wait… there’s more! We have to consider the drain plug for the gearbox.

The Tapered B.S.P. Threaded Drain Plug

The Tapered B.S.P. Threaded Drain Plug

Rather than use a standard parallel thread screw with a soft washer under its head the gearbox incorporated yet another thread system British Standard Pipe (B.S.P), which is tapered, in order to stop the oil from leaking out and to save the cost of a sealing washer.

Surely at this stage the engineers must have been tearing their hair out; six different thread standards in one gearbox unit but we aren’t finished yet.


As a grand finale the box incorporated this 1 7/16” LEFT HAND THREADED nut with fourteen threads per inch to lock the front bearing of the gearbox onto its shaft. As far as I can figure there is no “standard” for this gem.

The Front Bearing Nut

The Front Bearing Nut

Seven different thread forms in one gearbox unit that’s quite an achievement. You can see why I was so impressed by the Suzuki.


I have a theory about why the 4.125/1 rear axle ratio was used in the 100.

Geoffrey Healey states in “The Healey Story” that ”Austin did not have a high* enough gear ratio for the A90 rear axle” but that is not strictly correct. The Austin Atlantic convertible used a much better 3.66/1 ratio which, incidentally, was even offered as an option on the 100 and a 2.92/1 and even a 2.69/1 ratio became available in the 100S and those cars used the same rear axle housing .

Conventional wisdom has it that the 1st gear in the BN1 gearbox was too low and produced excessive wheel spin but I think that is a marketing myth. Donald Healey in “My World of Cars” states “The only disappointing part of the A90 was its gearbox, which was not man enough for the job in a sports car”.

My bet is that it was discovered early on that the torque of the engine was just too much for the gearbox and “The New Austin Healey 100 with enough torque to rip the teeth right off its 1st gear” didn’t sound like a winning slogan. The decision was made to stick with the lower diff ratio, which meant that 2nd gear starts were satisfactory, and “block off” 1st gear in the interests of reliability. Unfortunately that limited the top speed to 90MPH at maximum RPM, a problem solved by fitting an overdrive unit.

* A “high ratio” differential has a low ratio number whereas a “low ratio” has a high rati0 number.

Posted in Healey Concours Information, Healey Stuff | 2 Comments

Laycock-de Normanville Overdrive Installation Tool

Many years ago I made up a little tool which has proved invaluable when attaching an “A” type Laycock-De Normanville overdrive unit to a gearbox.

For those not familiar with this operation a little explanation will help. If you have “been there, done that” skip this part down to the picture with the tape measure in it.

The rear shaft of the gearbox mated to these overdrive units has to be aligned with three individual splines while compressing an oil pump spring and 8 clutch springs as the two units are joined together.

One of the splines is located on the inside of the oil pump cam.

Oil Pump Cam With internal Spline

Oil Pump Cam With internal Spline

The other 2 sets of splines are away down in the middle of the overdrive unit, one in the clutch sliding member and the other in the unidirectional clutch.

8 Springs, 3 Splines, Big Problem

8 Springs, 3 Splines, Big Problem

As can be seen in the above picture when the pump cam is positioned on the pump plunger roller the plunger spring holds the cam out of alignment with the rest of the bore of the unit.

Conversely when the cam is fitted on the partially installed gearbox shaft the pump plunger roller protrudes below the cam and will not allow the cam to slip by into its correct position against the overdrive centre bushing.

The Pump Roller Blocks the Pump Cam

The Pump Roller Blocks the Pump Cam

The factory workshop manual for the Austin Healey 100 illustrates the “recommended” method of installing the overdrive. They suggest “placing the oil pump cam in position on top of the center bushing (as in the photo above) then carefully threading the mainshaft through the oil pump cam and into the center bushing.”

Try Holding a Gearbox at Arms Length Like This for a Few Minutes

Try Holding a Gearbox at Arms Length Like This for a Few Minutes

What they don’t mention is that the gearbox weighs in at some 25 kg so holding it with one hand as illustrated while attempting to align the various components with the other is just a little difficult.

They also add as a NOTE: ”the gearbox mainshaft should enter the overdrive easily provided that the lining up procedure previously described is carried out and the unit is not disturbed.”

Well, if I know of one sure way to become “disturbed”, it is to try to mate the gearbox to the overdrive the way that they describe!

This is where the little tool mentioned above can help you maintain your sanity.

The Tape Measure is For Scale. (In Case You Didn't Guess)

The Tape Measure is For Scale. (In Case You Didn’t Guess)

This very inexpensive “Special Tool” is made from a piece of coat hanger wire. After you find out how well it works you may want to get it chrome of even gold plated!

So…How does it work?

In the filter cavity of the overdrive unit there is a conveniently located hole.

Tool in Place Viewed From Below

Tool in Place Viewed From Below

The “Special Tool” is inserted through this hole and up the side of the pump plunger.

Tool in Place Before Installing Springs

When the pump plunger is pushed down against its spring the hooked end of the “Special Tool” engages into the plunger just below the roller and holds the plunger in the down position. It is easiest to install the “Special Tool” before placing the clutch springs in position.

The shape of the little hook on the top of the “Special Tool” is very important but not difficult to form.

Again..Pencil Tip is for Scale

Again..Pencil Tip is for Scale

Now when the cam is placed in its correct position there is plenty of clearance between the lower section of the cam and the plunger roller allowing the cam, while installed on the gearbox shaft, to pass into position against the overdrive centre bushing without contacting the pump roller.

No More Interference Problems

No More Interference Problems

Now the installation procedure is much easier.

Use a little heavy grease to hold the pump cam in place on the gearbox shaft with the high part of the cam uppermost.

Position the overdrive unit with the drive shaft flange on the ground.

If You Can't Find Anyone to old the Overdrive Bolting The Flange to a Piece of Wood Works.

If You Can’t Find Anyone to old the Overdrive Bolting The Flange to a Piece of Wood Works.

Use a dummy shaft to check the alignment of the internal splines and then ensure that all the clutch springs are correctly installed (short ones innermost).

Put the gearbox into 1st gear then carefully lower the gearbox down onto the overdrive unit. You may have to turn the gearbox input shaft to align the splines inside the overdrive. When the gap is down to about 1/2″ peer in using a flashlight to ensure that the clutch springs are all correctly positioned at the top.

The gearbox and overdrive should pull together easily.

Don’t forget to extract and save your “Special Tool”.

Posted in Restoration Techniques | 9 Comments

LUCAS ALTO HF1748 Horn Rims

At last after months of back and forth with various die makers and die casters I have received a shipment of horn rims for the Lucas HF1748 horns.

These 12 volt horns were used on Austin Healey 100-4 (BN1 and BN2), 100M, 100-6 (BN4, BN6), and 3000 Mark I (BT7, BN7), Jaguar XK 140, XK150, Mark VII VIII & IX, Mark II, and Aston Martin DB3/S vehicles. The same design of horn was also available in 6 and 24 volt versions.

This whole process was initiated by my being unable to find a pair of the original, zinc die cast, rims for the horns on my 1953 Austin Healey 100.



Because the horns are mounted low down under the radiator they are very vulnerable to damage and corrosion. The first and often only part to break is the rim which is secured by six steel ¼” B.S.F. cheese head screws. Galvanic corrosion of the rim produces zinc oxide which swells and causes the rim to crack. The ones on #174 each came off in completely unusable condition.



As the last of these horns were fitted to cars over 50 years ago spare parts are very hard to find. After trolling the internet for over 2 years I was only able to find one already cracked rim so I started investigating methods by which the rim could be reproduced

The work required to produce these accurate reproductions has given me a new respect for anyone who undertakes small batch production of any cast component, that said however I still don’t have much time for companies who make “close approximations” when, with a little more effort and time, they could produce parts which are indistinguishable from the originals.

The first idea that I investigated was 3D printing. Because I don’t have access to a 3D scanner the first step in that process was to produce a CAD drawing of the rim. Fortunately I have a very good friend with vast CAD drawing experience who was kind enough to work on this for me. Everything went swimmingly until the time came to find the correct font for the “LUCAS” lettering as was on the original rims.

I had no idea that there were so many fonts in the world and we were unable to find one which had the straight side on the “U” and an “S” that looks like a mirror image “Z” as the lettering was on the original. The only solution was to painstakingly draw each letter and individually position them on the curve of the rim, a very time consuming process.



Finally the drawings were done and sent off for 3D printing in nylon.

Although the plastic rims produced by 3D printing were pretty good they required quite a bit of post-production work which included filling the surface indentations with spot putty followed by careful sanding and painting to produce a reasonably acceptable part. The biggest problem however was the cost of the 3D printing process which is, after all, intended for making prototype parts.

I was not satisfied that this process would ever be practical for making even a small batch of accurate rims at a reasonable price so started looking for a more viable alternative.

Given the difficulty that I had encountered in finding replacement rims I decided that it may be possible to have a set of steel cavity molds made and produce the parts using the “Cold Chamber Die Casting” method.

Die casting of high volume parts is very economical but the initial outlay to produce the die is substantial. I figured that if I could sell 100 rims that could cover the cost of the die and the manufacturing of the rims. The die maker was very helpful and by modifying a die used previously and fitting my work in between other jobs he managed to produce a very accurate die within my budget and the casting process started.



The quality of the finished parts was absolutely astounding and the rims can be installed without any hand finishing at all.

I decided to send one to Roger Moment, the world renowned Austin Healey expert, and his comments were as follows:

“I have been able to inspect one and it is truly accurate.  The only variation I can find is that on the back side of the ring there are 5 marks where the vents and fill sprue on the mold were located.  These marks are all flush or slightly recessed so they won’t affect the mounting and are totally hidden.  …The cast metal surface is totally smooth, as-original.”





My efforts and investment were all worth it but it is a very complicated and expensive way to get a pair of horn rims. I certainly won’t be casting any more in the foreseeable future.

If you require accurate replacement rims for your Lucas horns please don’t hesitate to contact me.

They cost $US109 ea. which includes N.A. shipping.  SOLD OUT


1. The original tone disc was made from magnesium allow, not aluminium!! If you are buying these on line be sure to check that magnesium is being supplied … ALUMINUIM JUST DOESN’T SOUND RIGHT (Lucas used magnesium for a reason).

2. The original mounting bracket plates were made from SPRING STEEL … mild steel plates will break. If you are buying these on line be sure to check that they are spring steel.

Posted in New British Sports Car Parts | 7 Comments

Early Austin Healey 100 Steering Wheel Detail.

When I was a little nipper back in Dunedin, New Zealand our family car, the first I remember anyway, was a 1948 Austin 16.

An Austin 16 BF1 Our Family Car 1954 -63

An Austin 16 BF1 Our Family Car 1954 -63

I have 4 siblings so journeys in the Austin with 3 in the front and 4 in the back were cozy affairs.

The Austin's Dashboard

The Austin’s Dashboard

There was always a race for which of the kids got to ride up front between Mum and Dad, whom of course always drove. As a result I spent many hours at pretty close quarters with the dash and controls of that Austin and many of the details are etched indelibly in my memory. I remember the combined ignition and lighting switch with the little window within which the words “OFF”, “SIDE” and “HEAD” showed and I remember the cream coloured instruments with the brown centers.

The Lucas Combined Headlight and Ignition Switch

The Lucas Combined Headlight and Ignition Switch

I recall the turn signal switch in the center of the steering wheel, with its chrome handle and the brown Bakelite steering wheel center.

Among my recollections, for some reason is the finish on the hub of the “banjo” style steering wheel. It was “wrinkle” paint with the same texture as my Dad’s Philco radio which was “wrinkle” brown. It is amazing the details that one remembers so clearly from one’s childhood.

The memory of the hub of that steering wheel immediately sprang to mind when I studied the original steering wheel for the 1953 Austin Healey body #174 that I have just finished restoring but first a little background.

The first 1000 Austin Healeys did not have the luxury of seat slides. If you needed to adjust the distance between the seat and the pedals a half inch wrench was used to unbolt the seat and move it to another of the 5 pairs of holes provided in the seat base.

The "High Tech" Seat Adjustment System on #174's Driver's Seat

The “High Tech” Seat Adjustment System on #174’s Driver’s Seat

Not really convenient but I presume that the tooling required to produce compact seat slides had not been produced at that time, so compromises were required.

Additionally those first 1000 cars had a steering wheel which, after loosening a locking nut, could be moved forward or backward on the steering column. This feature was dropped for the later 100s when seat slides were eventually fitted but reintroduced, as an option, on the six cylinder cars.

The adjustable wheel on the early 100s used a hub with locking nut which had the manufacturer’s name “BLUEMEL’S” stamped on it. Interestingly the profile of the early hub was considerably different from that used on the 6 cylinder adjustable steering wheels.

Early 100 Steering Wheel Hub Profile. (Mike Lempert Photo)

Early 100 Steering Wheel Hub Profile.
(Mike Lempert Photo)

But the really interesting thing is the finish on this early hub which was, I believe, black wrinkle paint just like the wheel on my Dad’s Austin 16.

The Steering Wheel Hub Profile of a 6 Cylinder Austin Healey

The Steering Wheel Hub Profile of a 6 Cylinder Austin Healey

As can be seen in the picture below the finishing material on the early 100 hub is is only microns thick and crumbles into dust when peeled off. It is like normal paint in this respect.

Detail of The Finishing Material Used on The early 100 Steering Wheel Hub (Mike Lempert Photo)

Detail of The Finishing Material Used on The early 100 Steering Wheel Hub
(Mike Lempert Photo)

The material used on the later six cylinder adjustable steering wheels is not paint, is very similar to powder coat being about 0.025” thick and it can only be peeled off in larger pieces.

The Thicker Finishing Material Used on the Later 6 Cyl Adjustable Wheel Hub

The Thicker Finishing Material Used on the Later 6 Cyl Adjustable Wheel Hub

The other interesting difference between these finishes is what happens to them when they are polished. The later hub coating easily polishes up to a deep gloss black surface.

The Later Hub Finish After a Little Polishing

The Later Hub Finish After a Little Polishing

The material on the early wheel appears to be pock marked and rough with pitting on the surface and will not polish to a glossy surface.

Detail of The Original Finish on #174's Wheel

Detail of The Original Finish on #174’s Wheel

Unfortunately most of these early 100s have be restored over the last 60 years and it is very difficult to confirm for sure that they had this unique “wrinkle” finish on the steering wheel hub but there is no question that the material used to finish the hub was very different from that used on the later cars and it was also different from plain gloss black paint.

I have decided therefore that, in light of a lack of evidence to the contrary, it is most likely that in addition to being used on the heater housing and air filters black wrinkle paint was the finish applied to these steering wheel hubs and that is what I have used in the restoration of #174.

The Refinished Wrinkle Black Steering Wheel Hub on #174

The Refinished Wrinkle Black Steering Wheel Hub on #174

I think it looks great and very much “period correct”.

Posted in Healey Concours Information, Restoration Techniques, The Restoration of Healey #174 | Leave a comment

What is an Oakenstrong Washer?

I received a copy of an SU information bulletin from Earl Kagna during my research into whether or not identification tags were fitted to Austin Healey 100 carburettors. Our local SU guru Blain Hughes was good enough to send me pictures of what he had in the way of ID tags from SUs with the type of float chamber lid held on by one center cap nut.

ID Tags..other models

These tags are a different shape from the type used on SU carburettors having float chamber lids held on by 3 screws which look like this.

MGB TagNone of the 4 tags that Blair’s photo show are from a 100 as the number for those carburettors is AUC718 (1953) or AUC739 (1954 M).

Anyway, back to Earl’s SU bulletin.

Healey Hundred Carb Sheet

On the third page of the bulletin one item description caught my eye…#48. This is the large washer or gasket fitted between the float chamber lid and the float chamber itself.

Oakenstrong washer

It’s called an “Oakenstrong washer-lid”. What is an Oakenstrong washer?? I’ve been around old British cars and machinery all my life and I have never heard of an Oakenstrong anything.

Does anyone know where that name comes from?

BTW the jury is still out on whether or not Austin Healey 100s had carburettor tags but, as no one has been able to come up with one or even a photo of one, it seems fairly likely that they were not fitted.

It is possible that they were not used because of the extra space required under the float chamber cap nut for the support strut that is used between the carburettors and the inlet manifold as can be seen in this photo of #174’s carburettors.InstalledInterestingly the cap nut used on the H6 (100M) Item No. N1 is noted as being “long”. Perhaps it was lengthened to accommodate the tags on the 100M, if they had them.


Posted in Healey Concours Information, The Restoration of Healey #174 | Leave a comment

Wear Resistant Suspension Materials

Wear of suspension bushes has been a problem that has plagued vehicle manufacturers since the days of horse drawn coaches. To combat this wear modern automobiles use complex and expensive ‘ball joints” which, as long as the protective rubber boot covering them remains intact, last almost for ever.

However, as anyone who owns a utility trailer will know, wear in the pivot points of leaf springs is a constant problem.

A load of of Wine Barrels Wedding Decorations

The “Carcamel”

One of the most interesting things that I have discovered in using my Carcamel for 10 years and 200K kilometers is the longevity of the suspension arm bush design that I came up with. I believe that with a little ingenuity this could be adapted to improve the reliability of almost any leaf spring or trailing arm suspension.

Susp armTaken during construction this photo shows the general layout of the suspension arms. This is the left side forward “trailing” arm.

Visible above, where the arrow indicates, is the 1 1/4″ schedule 80 pipe (pivot shaft) upon which the suspension arm pivots and the 2″ pipe on the end of the suspension trailing arm into which the 2 “top-hat” type Nylatron GSM suspension bushes are pressed; one in each end of the 2″ pipe.

Trailing Arm PivotThe outer rim of one of the outer Nylatron GSM suspension bushes can be seen in this photo. The arm itself  is prevented from sliding off the pivot shaft by the keyhole shaped plate. This is the left side rear “leading” arm.

The bushes themselves are about 2 1/2″ long and are a “press” fit into the arm. Once installed in the arm the bushes become a “push” fit onto the pivot shaft. An “O” ring groove is machined into the outer end of the inside diameter of each bush to accommodate a standard rubber “O” ring. This “O” ring prevents the entry of moisture and dirt.

The big secret to this whole system is, I believe, the fact that the pivot shaft is galvanized. In fact the entire rear deck assembly including the suspension arms is galvanized.

RR Susp The completed and installed left front (trailing) arm assembly can be seen in this photo.

During assembly the pivot shafts and ID of the bushes were coated with wheel bearing grease and care was taken to ensure that the “O” rings remained in place. Provision was made to allow these pivot points to be lubricated during servicing but I have never actually done that.

In normal road use the arms only move through about 5 degrees of arc although the total available range of movement, limited by the extension of the shock absorbers, is about 26 degrees of arc.

Here is the amazing thing. When I initially installed the arms the bushes were tight enough to just prevent the arm from pivoting to allow the wheel and brake assembly to drop under its own weight when the chassis was raised. Now, after 200K kilometers and 10 years, the arm will still not quite drop under the influence of the weight of the wheel and brake assembly indicating that there has been absolutely no wear in the pivot.

I’m  huge fan of “maintenance free” anything!!!

Posted in My Transporter The CARCAMEL | Leave a comment


One of the cars that I own is a 1992 Mitsubishi 3000 GT VR4.

photo rearI purchased this car many years back and use it quite a bit in the summer months. It is absolutely stock and a real pleasure to drive however, a couple of years back, the clutch started to give some trouble.

If you know all about clutches you can skip the next bit because it is just a primer for those not familiar with how they work.

Modern clutches, that is clutches designed after the mid sixties, are called “diaphragm “clutches.

Exploded clutch small

This type of clutch replaced the “spring” clutches in use at the time because they were less complex, lighter, stronger and cheaper to make.

There are various styles of diaphragm clutch but they all operate in the same way and are based upon the principle of a diaphragm spring (know also as a Belleville spring and named after its inventor Julian F Belleville) and use the pressure exerted by the diaphragm spring to clamp the clutch disc between the pressure plate and the flywheel.

Clutch operation smallBecause they are friction devices all clutches are subject to wear and, when they wear, they fail to transmit the torque to which they are subjected and start to slip.  Because the diaphragm spring, which provides the clamping force in the clutch has a very limited range of movement these clutches tend to slip when they get worn.

Because the VR4 is all wheel drive and produces over 300 BHP the clutch is a pretty substantial unit that it uses a vacuum assist unit to decrease the required pedal pressure.

The problem I encountered was that the clutch pedal was getting harder and harder to depress but the clutch was starting to slip under high loads. My initial suspicion was that the servo assist unit was starting to fail but, when I expelled the entire vacuum and tried to operate the clutch without its assistance I could hardly press the pedal to the floor with one foot. When I tried this with the clutch in a friend’s Stealth Twin Turbo, essentially the same car, the pedal was noticeably heavier without the servo assistance but could still be operated, with difficulty, with one leg.

These symptoms just did not add up. All my experience prior to this had been with British cars. In those cars clutch slip was always associated with a decrease of required pedal pressure because as the clutch slipped it overheated and weakened the diaphragm spring.  In fact I’ve seen MGB clutches which have been overheated to such an extent that the diaphragm spring had become a flat limp piece of blue steel which had absolutely no resilience at all!!

The symptoms exhibited by the VR4 clutch bore no resemblance at all to what I was used to.  Finally, despite my policy of diagnosing a problem before trying to fix it, the clutch became unbearably heavy so I decided that I had no option but to replace it to see if the problem went away.

I changed the clutch, not my favorite job on any car and particularly difficult in the AWD VR4 and voila, everything was perfect…

So…what was wrong with the clutch I removed? It appeared to be the original and although the friction disc was well worn it was still in very good condition with no sign of having been overheated.

After a bit of study I did finally figure out what was wrong…

Can you explain the cause of the symptoms that I was experiencing?

Posted in Mitsubishi 3000 GT VR4 | 5 Comments