Grace, the Healey from Heaven

Posted on March 31st, 2014 by Dave under Austin Healey, auto restoration.

As many of you know or should, Grace is a now famous old ’53 Austin Healey which travels the US visiting children with a generally terminal cancer and their families. Grace and her care taker (John Nikas,  Drive Away Cancer on Face Book) have been dropping in at my shop for all the years that John has undertaken this truly marvelous project.

Grace has had some health problems of her own over the past 17 months. The past months have been used to slowly collect the necessary parts, some by donation and some from John’s own pocket to get Grace back on the road again. Seems that the past 150,000 miles she logged eventually holed all four pistons, wiped the cam lobes, and cracked the crankshaft to name a few.

The car was towed in from Iowa last week by Jim and Judy, an Arkansas family, who have taken up the slack with a Triumph Spitfire while Grace was on the mend. No, they didn’t tow it with the Spitfire.. Syn is the owner of Ginger, another DAC car who accompanied them on the cross country trek.

Here are a few shots of Grace as she sits today:

Looking a little forlorn

Due to the modern rear main seal and fitting the back plate it is easier to not use an engine stand at this point though my knees would argue..IMG_4751_1


The deck has been milled so many times that the pistons now protrude 0.042″ above the deck height. The steel head gasket measures ~ 0.060″ Pretty close to the head, but modern engine building dictates that zero tolerance is OK. This creates a “quench” zone, which keeps carbon build up to a minimum. The rod “stretch” is in the 10 thousandths range, so no worries on this build. Room to spare here. Modern piston design nearly eliminates any piston slap. The crank design has two additional counterweight throws and no offset, so this engine should easily rev well beyond the original 4800RPM red line. Sweet.

Misc. parts awaiting re-installation.

We are waiting for some parts from England that have been lost somewhere between Iowa and here. We hope to have Grace off life support before the end of the week. I’m going to eBay a bunch of misc. items to help cover some of my out of pocket expenses. Keep your fingers crossed if you are following the Drive Away Cancer thread on Face Book.

As it sits today. new wiring harness and LED lamps installed.

As it sits today. new wiring harness and LED lamps installed.

Just bought a new Windows 8 computer and switching computers has created the usual mess. I’ll try to get it sorted out. Suffice it to say that Grace is up and running and sounding healthier than ever.. more to come.

Installing the rebuilt engine

Installing the rebuilt engine

Starboard side

Starboard side

From a purely seat of the pants calculation I reckon that Grace is now making a bit over 130HP. It started with 110 in it’s 100M form, the small quench zone added 16HP according to the machine shop, the lightened reciprocating mass and the increase in bore and the lightened flywheel and sundry other items should get it there. A dyno test would be nice, but that isn’t up to me.. The best part is that it should be much more durable. On the busy freeway it was showing 105MPH in 4th gear at 5200RPM and still pulling like the  proverbial locomotive. With the Overdrive engaged I would guess 130 plus is possible. I’d like to drive it at sea level! We’re a mile high here.

Well that about wraps up this saga of Grace’s travels from my perspective. She and John are heading for NC in the next week, so we’ll see how it goes and what effect the rebuild has on gas mileage, which wasn’t especially good before.  Watch the DAC link above for the next reports from John.


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