Early years of the Austin-Healey Owner's Club of Queensland
almost founding member Alwyn Keepence tells the story of the forming of our club
September 1970 to July 2010. 40 years of a car club! I have been asked to give a brief talk about the history of the Austin-Healey Owners’ Club of Queensland. Although I was not one of the founding members of our club, I did join shortly after its formation. In those early days, to find new members the club’s policy was to drop an invitation under the tonneau cover of Healeys found parked around town. My 100 was parked at Petrie Bight one night when Jim Bonham passed by. Jim was the club’s first Treasurer and had a supply of invitations with him. I found one on the seat when I returned to my car. “At last,” I thought, “they have found me!”
I had an idea that a club existed as I had seen a Yellow & Black Healey 100 around with the triangular sticker on the windscreen bearing the words “Austin-Healey Owners Club” so I was hoping to get in touch somehow. A mate had an MG TC and was taking part in MG Car Club “T Type Register” events and I thought it would be fun to do the same with fellow Healey owners.
A phone call got me in touch with 100-6 owner Ray Perry who worked at a service station in Indooroopilly. Fortunately, I was just in time to go to the club’s first “day run” the following Sunday. We started from Garden City at Mt. Gravatt and headed for the Gold Coast. We forgot to stop until we ran out of bitumen somewhere near Wooyung Beach on the Tweed coast! There were about 10 Healeys on this run, & many of the 100 owners saw their first 6 cylinder Healey that day!
Talking with these new friends, I learned that the club had been formed by Joe Jarick, Peter Thomas and other “Big” Healey enthusiasts who met in the pits at Lakeside. They gathered there to support Kees Koppenol’s exploits in his much modified 100. Kees had owned this car since his early teens, and having gone through the purple metalflake hot-rod phase, had gradually altered it until it was no longer suitable for road use. Kees was the first Club President, but he was rarely seen at club events due to his commitment to “the Sport”.
Another memorable early event was the club’s first Navigation Rally. In February 1971, we gathered at the southern end of the Centenary Bridge at Jindalee, rallied to Grantham on the Warrego Highway, then took various back roads to the Darling Downs, finishing in Pittsworth. A barbeque was followed by amotorkhana at the Showgrounds.
Ray Jorgensen, who owned a service station & smash repair business in Pittsworth, was virtually the club’s Patron in those days. What seemed like terminal mechanical problems were easily overcome with advice from Ray, and repairing Healey bodywork was a breeze, in the days when most repairers were unable or unwilling to tackle the idiosyncrasies of these rare English sports cars.
The club was formed out of necessity. Although a simple car mechanically, most “Big” Healeys were suffering from years of abuse and neglect. They had a fearsome reputation among sports car enthusiasts. MGs were the standard by which this class was judged, as they were by far the most common sportscar. Mediocre performance offset by light handling characteristics was considered desirable. The general feeling was that if a hoon in a Holden 179 X2 won the “traffic lights Grand Prix”, the better handling sports car would catch up and pass at the first bend.
Big Healeys had never conformed to this pattern but by this time in history, worn out shockers, sagging springs and questionable brakes but still strong engines meant that to drive one quickly required a certain amount of bravado, or if you like, insanity! To the owners of these machines, there was definitely a feeling of being under siege. Spare parts were still readily available, but because Brisbane’s main dealer was UK Motors at Bowen Hills they were difficult to actually buy. More interested in selling filters for Minis or Morris Majors, it was a battle to even get the blokes on the spare parts counter to dig out the 100 parts catalogue. “What model Sprite did yousay it was, mate?” was a common whine from them.
Consequently, “pesky” Sprites weren’t very well thought of by “big” Healey blokes, even though it was hardly their fault! As Sprites were more closely aligned with the MG type of sports car, even their owners shunned the “Big” Healey owners. On top of that there was already a club called “The Mark One Sprite Association” going, but I think this must have folded soon after. This might go a little way to explaining why it took so long for Sprite owners to be accepted as full members of the AHOCQ. Marque loyalty & the classic car scene were yet todevelop.
Big Healeys were rare; good ones were like hen’s teeth and I don’t think they would have survived much longer. Either we formed a club of fellow enthusiasts and supported one another, or we bade farewell to a great car! I won’t go into detail about some of the controversy that dogged the club’s early days but after a couple of good years, the club virtually collapsed. It was actually dormant for about sixmonths in 1973, but was revived by a small group who couldn’t accept life without “the Healey Club”.
National Rallies started in 1972, a development of the interstate events held between our club and New South Wales at Coffs Harbour (NSW) and between the Victorians and South Australians at Victor Harbor (SA). Interstate involvement was a feature of the club right from the start.
Alan Jones of the AHOC of NSW gave a lot of help and advice to the founders of the Queensland club, as had Iain McPherson of Victoria to the NSW “Healey guys”. Sydney at Easter was the venue of the first National Rally followed by Melbourne the next year. It was originally intended that the event should alternate between these major centres but the smaller clubs in South Australia and Queensland wanted to host a rally too. In 1976 South Australia held their first Rally followed by Queensland in 1977. I believe that some Victorians were a little upset when in 1979, Western Australia joined the rotation as this meant that it would be five years between rallies in Melbourne. I don’t suppose they realised that we would be still doing it 30 years later!
The club’s early days were marked by a severe lack of funds and an event which had a large effect on the club took place early in 1975. Due to Kees Koppenol’s involvement in motor racing, the club had become a Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (C.A.M.S.) associated club. For this privilege an annual “capitation fee” was paid to CAMS. One time there were insufficient funds in the club’s bank account to cover the cheque which was sent to pay this fee. On being advised of this the committee decided that there was not much point for us to stay in CAMS. A letter was written to CAMS advising them of our decision. Several months later the Treasurer was startled to find that a cheque, written to pay a different account, had bounced. He was sure that there were sufficient funds to cover this cheque but was advised by the bank that the earlier cheque which had bounced had been re-presented! This action by CAMS had emptied the club’s meagre deposit and needless to say, was not looked upon kindly by members of the AHOCQ.
For the 1975 Tasman Cup race to be held at Surfers Paradise International Raceway, a club member came up with the idea that to promote our club, we should offer to provide our cars for a parade of the Formula 5000 drivers before the main event of the race meeting. There were several international cars & drivers entered, so it was a big deal. The proposal was accepted by the race organisers and we set about making sure that we had enough cars ready for the event.
Less than a week before the big day, we were advised by the race organisers that CAMS had warned them that if the parade of Austin-Healeys took place, the permit for the whole event would be cancelled! They said that as the AHOCQ was not a CAMS associated club, we were not allowed on the race-track! It is hard to believe this action was not in retribution for our decision to withdraw from the confederation.
Apart from saving the marque from obscurity, the most significant thing achieved by the creation of the Austin-Healey Owners’ Club of Queensland is that today, there is a thriving British Sports Car “culture” in southeast Queensland. For proof of that go to the MacLean Bridge meet in May. Although it has been organised by the Triumph Sports Owners’ Association for many years, it was members of the AHOCQ who started it. Right from those early days, the club welcomed “Associate members”, sports car enthusiasts who owned other “orphans”, British Sports Cars that had no dedicated club.
When the club went dormant in 1973, these people drifted away and formed their own clubs. When things were revived there was the beginning of a Sports Car Club Association. At a meeting at the home of an AHOCQ member, plans were drawn for a massive get together of all types of Sports Cars. A date was decided on that suited everybody’s club calendars, and which didn’t clash with a Lakeside or Surfers Paradise race meeting or an MG Car Club Hillclimb at Mt. Cotton. The day was promoted with leaflets and by word of mouth. Only when over 120 Sports Cars assembled at MacLean Bridge did somebody pipe up that it was also Mothers’ Day! From that day in 1975, a loose association was formed.
In 1976 another meeting was held at a Jaguar owner’s home in Kenmore to discuss the formation of a formal association of similar clubs. We wanted “Combined Sports Car Association” but since Triumph, MG and Jaguar had tin-tops in their clubs, the somewhat unwieldy “Combined Sports & Classic Car Association” was decided on. From this association came “The Marque Sports Car Club”, but that is another story altogether