A Healey in the Shadows

Unlikely stablemates

Whenever we feature a car that is sitting in a garage with other vehicles, there are always a few people who will focus more on the one in the background. Today’s In the Barn story is a good example of this phenomenon. It was originally published in Tom Cotter’s The Corvette in the Barn, but is offered for free here exclusively on BF. Be sure to pickup your own copy of the book at Motorbooks or Amazon and don’t forget to send in your own barn find stories because one is going to make it into Tom’s next book!

Women have tried to convince men to clear out and sell their extra things since the dawn of civilization. While the story of a wife convincing her aging husband to sell his cars is a barn-find cliché, Porsche enthusiast John Helgesen knows that those stories can have positive results.

In 2004, Helgesen got a call from his sister, a professor at Agnes Scott College near Atlanta, asking a favor on behalf of the wife of fellow professor, Seaborn Jones. “My sister had been friends with the Jones family for ages,” said Helgesen. “The professor’s wife, Penny, was trying to convince her husband to sell the two old cars in the garage and asked if I would help determine their value.”

He knew one of the cars was a 1963 Porsche 356B; the other was some sort of British car. The cars had been sitting for at least 29 years, their mechanical condition unknown.

Helgesen lived four hours away in South Carolina, so he posted photos his sister emailed to him of the Porsche on the Pelican Parts website and asked viewers to give estimates of the car’s value. The estimates ranged from $8,000 to $30,000.

One of the folks who viewed the website was Steve Drabant, 34, of Atlanta. Even though Drabant was also a Porsche enthusiast, he was more interested in the “British” car in the background. He was told by Helgesen that it was some sort of Healey, but those conversations quickly came to an end when Professor Jones decided he didn’t want to sell the cars anyway.

Helgesen stayed in touch with the Jones family and, in 2007, received a phone call that Seaborn had passed away. “They asked my sister to be the executor of the estate, and she asked if I could help out,” he said. “But I was a 911 guy, not a 356 guy. I thought it would be easier to manage if the car was at my house rather than four hours away. But my sister wanted the car to stay there for Seaborn’s memorial service; she wanted everyone to walk by the car on the way into the house.

Sometime after Thanksgiving, I drove down with my F-250 pickup and trailer to pick it up.” When he arrived at the Jones house, he found the Porsche had been parked since 1971 and had 57,000 miles on the odometer. Jones had purchased the one-year-old car from the original owner in 1964.

One of the wheels was frozen and had to be broken loose, and Helgesen noted a petrified rat under the car. After a few hours of work, the Porsche was sitting in front of Helgesen’s home. “But it sat in my box trailer for at least two months while I was finishing up a new garage,” he said. “During our New Year’s Eve party, we unveiled the Porsche.” Helgesen began to check over the car and discovered that it was in pretty good shape with very solid floorpans. “It was a 356B S-model, which had seventy-five horsepower,” said Helgesen.

Then Helgesen’s wife, Tonya, sat in the driver’s seat, the first person to do so in 36 years. “She said it was cute,” he said.

The couple decided to try to purchase the Porsche and began to negotiate with Penny Jones. “This would be an opportunity to have a car we normally wouldn’t own,” he said.

Preserved 356b

Ultimately they were successful and purchased the car. They invited all their Porsche friends over for a bratwurst party to celebrate their new purchase.

“I’ve decided to leave it as-is, because I might get lynched by the 356 community if I try to restore it,” he said. “It only has a few rock chips on the nose, but other than that, it is as solid as could be.

“I’m a little bit afraid to drive it on roads with all those soccer moms driving those big SUVs. I almost got wiped out just driving to Dunkin Donuts one Saturday morning. “I don’t want anything to happen to this car, because it means too much to me.”

That’s the story of the Porsche. But remember the other car in Jones’ garage, the British some-kind-of-Healey?

Well, Steve Drabant of Atlanta stayed in touch with Helgesen, and when Penny Jones decided to sell the car, he jumped on it.

“I saw this car in the background,” said Drabant. “Everyone wanted to know what it was. It turned out being a 1957 Austin Healey 100-6, a very early Longbridge car. Well, I’ve always wanted a big Healey.”

Drabant was a little bit short on cash at the moment, but he turned his father onto the car. Steve caught the British car bug from his dad, who also owns a couple of vintage MGBs.

Further investigation revealed the car was a 2+2, was Primrose Yellow with a black hardtop, and had only 49,000 miles on the odometer. “Seaborn Jones was actually the original owner of the car,” said Drabant.

“The best anyone could figure out, the car had been parked in that garage for forty years. It was originally purchased in Utah, then moved to Florida and finally Georgia, all dry states, which is why the body survived in such good shape.”

1957 Austin-Healey 100-6

A deal was struck for $3,500, which Steve is more than pleased with. “It was an incredible deal,” he said. “I’m so lucky that it was posted on a Porsche website, because there weren’t many potential purchasers for it there.”

Once he got the car home in December 2008, Drabant went through all the brake lines, fuel lines, fuel pump, and electrical system, and he installed new ignition points and had the gas tank dipped. But when he went to fire it up, there was no spark. “It turned out that one of the insulators on the points was backwards, so it was shorting out,” he said. “Once I got that sorted, it fired right up.”

For Drabant, the most fun was digging through the trunk and glove box and discovering the previous owner’s mementos. He found several TSD Rally plaques, an SCCA grille badge, and literature from a 1960 Savannah road race. Additionally, the car had Marchal headlights and driving lights, so Drabant suspects it was used in road rallies in the late 1950s and 1960s.

“Ultimately my dad will take possession of the Healey, but I’m just glad I was able to find it for him and work on it a little bit,” he said.

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Comments

  1. scot

    ~ a Sunday morning two-fer! i love when a plan comes together.

  2. paul

    I am speechless! … as for the part of the story about Fla.& Ga. being dry state’s, not , but free from snow & ice for the most part.
    Oh & yes don’t touch the P car, while not a huge fan of the 356 I am still a huge fan of anything kept original & to find this or anything with such low miles & largely rust free, pushes every button in my soul.

  3. Dolphin Member

    Two iconic sportscars from the ’50s – ’60s from designers with very different ideas of how to make a sportscar, but both about as successful as any designer could possibly wish for.

    Too bad they sat unused for so long, but good to hear they went to owners who might not have been able to afford perfect restored versions, but now have low mileage original cars at affordable prices.

    There’s nothing much better than that to put a smile on a car guy’s face.

  4. ConservativesDefeated

    Theres nothing like finding your “cool” car left, forgotten or ignored in someone elses garage, barn etc.

    Its that moment when your eyes focus and you think.”Holy Crap!”…

    To put it inelegantly..

    What a feeling…..a P car and a Healey!

  5. Don Andreina

    This a bit like you’re picking up Sophia Loren for a date from her place and when you get there Raquel Welch is also there and she’s sitting around with nothing to do.

    • Robert J

      I’m going to turn my computer off now and go to sleep while pondering this.

  6. jim s

    i always enjoy looking at the background of the posted pictures, even if there are no addition cars to be seen. great finds, a lot of work and another great story. thanks

  7. rancho bella

    When the cars were packed away they weren’t worth much………I recall when a ’63 Corvette Coupe could be had for $1500.00? and the list of cheap collectables goes on well beyond that, just look in the classifieds of old Road and Track magazines.

    • Don Andreina

      Classifieds in old R&Ts are a top read.

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