John's Garage

A Place for John to Share His Opinion and Store his Stuff

My Blog

Arizona Auto Auction Week – Chasing Classic Andy Reid

I attended my first Auction Preview a few years ago here in Scottsdale when our Austin Healey 100R was at Bonham’s. Normally I’m not much of a guided tour kind of guy so I figured I would just walk around with the catalogue and do my own research. But then I...

Arizona Auto Auction Week – Judging the Future Classics

My friend Andy Reid was asked to be the chief judge for a new car show here in Arizona to compliment the already crazy week of activities. The show was titled “Future Classics” and the main sponsor was www.classiccars.com, where Andy is their East Coast editor. In a...

Arizona Auto Auction Week – Let’s Get Started!

Let's get this week going!! Arizona Concours d’Elegance today at the lovely Biltmore. What a great backdrop for the fine cars shown. I'll be posting more pictures this week as I check out the auctions, beautiful weather, and car values. Stay tuned! [gallery...

Arizona Auto Auction Action – More Than Just Barrett Jackson

Back in 2014 I made my first trek west to Arizona Auction Week here in Scottsdale. It was so successful, and I had so much fun, that it is now an automatic repeating event on my January calendar. Aside from the fact that the weather in Illinois is typically miserable...

Guest Blog: Peter Conover’s Road to Restorations

I first became interested in the restoration British cars about 20 years ago when an acquaintance agreed to sell me his long-dormant Triumph TR-6. For that learning experience I did a basic mechanical and cosmetic restoration. It wasn’t a “ground up” restoration, but...

Roadog DNA at Sport and Specialty

Small World, Big Bikes Turns out that some years ago Mark Baker (former S&S owner) rebuilt a BMC A series motor and Austin America automatic transmission for a custom motorcycle. I went to look at it for some work last weekend. It turns out it was for an Auto...

My Cars – Blasts from the Past

Since I wasn’t much of a camera guy before iPhones, I don’t have a ton of pictures of many of the cars I’ve had and loved in the past. My first British car was a ratty TR3, (not as nice as the picture I’m using here) followed by some American iron, a 69 Road Runner and then a Pontiac Grand Am, (which had a four speed) because I had to get to work in the mornings. I had an MGB in the late 70s that I loved, mostly because I had a huge Ford LTD company car for every day use. My territory sales career pretty much dictated I have a reliable and easy to use vehicle, which was a baby crap brown 1977 Impala with a tan vinyl top. I drove that car with a bag over my head, but it ran every day and never failed me.

Once I started traveling mostly by plane I bought a BMW 320i. I had been a BMW geek since forever, and could finally afford something fun again. This started my love affair with BMWs resulted in owning at least eight, not including the MINI Cooper S, which is a debate for another time. Anyway, here are some of the favorites that I have pictures for. Somewhere is there is also an S10 Blazer that I used as a Winter car when I had the Porsche 944 Turbo which totally sucked in the snow. 50 / 50 weight distribution tended to make it a nicely balanced propeller when it was icy. There were a few more, but none worth mentioning. These were the fun ones, take a look. I’ll add more as I find them.

1983 Mercedes 380 SEC – AKA Christine

In 2011 Bill Oakes called and asked if I knew of any Mercedes geeks who might be interested in an older coupe that needed some work. I asked him what it was, and he told me it was a 380 SEC. I remembered those cars from road tests and asked how many miles this one had. When he replied 39,000 or so, I wanted to look at it right away. The only rub was that it had been sitting for a few years and had been popped in the left front. We went to look and it was pretty nice except for the damage. These cars were $50K plus in the day and parts are still dear so I wanted to be careful about needed repair costs. After some homework, I made an offer and located a car that had been popped in the rear down in St Louis. After some much needed maintenance and clean up, “Christine” was back on the road. The only car I have ever named, and so named after the Stephen King book about a car that fixed itself. Indeed, after driving her for a while, Christine’s electrics and climate control pieces started working again. This car was my daily driver for a few years. She still has her original spare and tool kit in the original plastic bag. When there is a long drive to a motorsports or classic car function, this car is just great for making the long run.

1963 Austin Healey BJ7

This is the car that brought me down the rabbit hole. I was looking around for a fun classic car after a long wait to get back into the cars I truly loved, the vintage variety. My requirements were pretty simple, I wanted a car that could keep up with modern highway speeds and had decent weather gear. I wanted to be able to use the car whenever I wanted on any roads I choose. I looked at 1960s Corvettes, E Type Jaguars and Austin Healey 3000s. I also wanted to be able to generally service the car myself once I got it sorted to a level I could rely upon. This was in 1996, and the nice Vettes were starting to bring a premium, as were the Jaguars. (Little did I know, right?) This was generally pre-internet classic car marketing, so I ended up finding the 3000 in the classified section of the Chicago Tribune. As it turns out, I knew the seller, and had seen the car many times years before. It turned out to be one of Tom Kovac’s first cars done at Fourintune and was in generally good, if not perfect mechanical condition. A deal was struck and continued a journey that has led me to writing this overview.

I bought the car in August and heard about the British Car Fest in September. While asking around as to who should service the car amongst the Healey owners, I was directed to Mark Baker and Sport and Specialty. I introduced myself to Mark and we ended up hanging out for the rest of the day. Obviously, we became fast friends and the car has been kept pretty fresh since. I’ve had this car for nearly 20 years and it still wears the paint from it’s early 1980s repaint. While the paint is a bit faded in spots and lacquer cracking a bit in a few others, mechanically it is a very solid car with a fresh motor and transmission rebuild last year and a wiring harness and interior the year before. Every time I get into the car I am reminded of how many roads; asphalt and metaphoric she has taken me.

1967 Austin Healey BJ8

A customer contacted me who had tired of the BJ8 project he had started, and wanted to know what the value might be. We had helped him straighten out some issues and delivered the car to him as a family project. As it turned out, what the family really wanted to do was go racing, and finishing the Healey was not a priority anymore. There was still tons of work to do, but we had done all of the body and paint work over a brand new Kilmartin chassis. In essence, this was a brand new 3000. We came up with a price and Ryan and I picked up the car the following week.

Progress is slow, as my stuff usually comes last. The car is Old English White over the blue coves and will have a blue cloth top and blue leather interior. Except for some usual detail and clean up, the engine is essentially stock. I will most likely install a five speed also. The transmission and OD on this car are really junk, and I wanted to learn a little more about the conversions, as the car won’t be AHCA concourse judged anyway. The build will be first rate and I hope to have it on the road in 2017 sometime.

1993 Caterham Seven Super Sprint

I must confess to having a longtime crush on these cars. This was before Caterham had bought the rights to Colin Chapman’s minimalistic design. For some reason the proportions, height and general pedigree caught my attention at a very early age. (As did the BMW 1600 Alpina, but that’s another story, and explains why I’ve owned so many BMWs.) After I bought Sport and Specialty I ended up owning two AH 300 race car projects, one was Mark’s, and the other mine, Each in different staged of completion. I was trying to interest a friend in my project, which had most of the new, cool and high ticket pieces, but needed to be totally assembled. Instead, we struck a deal to trade for a 1993 Caterham Seven that had basically been raced since new.

I already had two race cars (GTV and Sprite) but really got interested when I was told the car had all of its street trim removed when new to go racing. Hmmm, I thought, street seven with track creds. I’m in!! The exchange was made and I was reminded once again why race cars are lousy on the street. It had a steel Tilton button clutch and a 1600 X Flow that wouldn’t idle or make power under 4500 RPM. But who cared? I installed the street gear and drove it around until I hated it. Basically that was my initial plan anyway. For fun I re-installed the race gear and hit a track day and went to a V/H race with MCSCC. Apparently the gauges were accurate and it was really hot. After cooking a rod bearing and a nice billet crank, I got serious. I planned and built a street / track motor and the car currently has a solid (139 hp) 1600 X Flow motor that runs on 93 octane, idles happily, and can be launched at any light. Still sorting it a bit, but it will be loads of fun next season. See you then.

1960 Austin Healey Sprite

After a year or so back into the classic car world I wondered what I was going to do next. I went to another British Car Union show was restless pretty early on. I had been looking into vintage racing, but knew if I wanted to get into it, it wouldn’t be in the 3000. I wandered over to the North Suburban Sports Car Club tent and started talking to the nice folks there who were promoting the Midwestern Council of Sports Car Clubs Vintage / Historic racing program. I would soon turn 40, and figured it was now or never. My research led me to Sprites as being great first race cars.

I found this one at a dealer in Florida. It was an ex H Production SCCA car that had run some vintage races, even though it had the big flares front and rear. It did have all of the safety gear, and a roll cage that NASCAR would approve. I immediately took it apart and cleaned it up, and made it mine. It took a while, but after a few seasons it became a very reliable car. It has well over a hundred races in MCSCC alone. It was built to be ultra reliable as I didn’t have any spare time due to my travel schedule to do much between events other than bleed the brakes and check the pads. I upgraded to a 1275 to take advantage of an o-ringed block, installed a close ratio gearset, and upgraded the brakes. I still take the car out at track days from time to time and recently rebuilt and upgraded the front and rear suspension. It’s still a really fun car to drive!

1969 Alfa Romeo GTV

Shortly after starting my vintage racing obsession, I met John Wheeler. John and I became fast friends, and we have been racing together for almost twenty years now. John has been racing his 1973 Alfa Romeo GTV for about twenty-five years. Looking at his car in our paddock brought me down the Alfa path. I figured it would just be a matter of time that I would buy one. Plus we could race against each other as opposed to me pointing him around me near the end of the race.

I acquired this car from a fellow VSCDA / MCSCC racer in 2008. The car was pretty solid, and I knew who had started the build some years before and had faith the car would be a good platform to develop. I once again took it apart and virtually started from scratch. It’s a 2 liter car with a Giken close ratio gear set prepped by Mike Besic, who also set up the rear end. I have been building the engines using Paul Spruell sourced pistons and parts for the car which have usually come in at the mid 180s range in dyno HP. The suspension is basically stock, with new Ward and Deane components at the front and rear. The brakes also are basically stock with ATE calipers and Porterfield pads. I also installed a Tilton pedal set up from Paul Spruell to move the pedals to the firewall. The Italian flag paint job on the nose was done in my garage before I bought Sport and Specialty, and shows it. I initially painted the nose red to manage all the chipping, since I couldn’t match the yellow paint, but really didn’t like it alone. I added the green and white and the car now has it’s own flavor and identity. I truly love racing this car. Alfas have a very special feel. They respond like no other car I’ve driven. The harder you push them, the better they react. If the car understeers, simply add more power and turn into the apex. Then you wipe the grin off your face and pay attention!

1963 Austin Healey 3000 BJ7 Race Car

Fifteen years ago Mark Baker and I set about to build two 3000 race cars. We worked out a deal, and planned to build the cars with fresh chassis components from Kilmartin in Australia. We worked out a complete and aggressive build spec for the two cars and bought a significant amount of parts needed. The progress was slow, as other projects came and went through Mark’s shop, and my time became less available due to business travel. The end result was Mark’s car went first, with my project lagging. After Mark’s death, I acquired both cars, trading mine for my Caterham. The chassis and body are done. Currently it needs paint, and the engine needs assembly, but I think this will be a fun project as soon as I have some time to devote to it.

Two Wheels

As most car nuts I know, I too began my affair with the wheel by balancing on two of them. I think I spent most of my youth pedaling. Mt first job was making deliveries for the local drug store on their Schwinn delivery bike. After some mini bikes and a pretty ratty Vespa, my first motorcycle was a Honda 450 CL. A friend had one and I really liked the scrambler look. Plus it was about all I could afford at the time. After I sold the CL due to lack of storage, I went without any motorized two wheel toys for quite a while. In the early 1990s I saw and fell in love with a low mile BMW R90/6. I still have it today and use it occasionally when I can find someone to ride with. I also found a 1960 150 Vespa that I can do some close-in errands on. I tried to use it at the track, but found it tough to transport without beating it up. I saved another Baker project, his 1954 AJS. I purchased the bike from the family and have ongoing plans for upgrades to make it more user friendly. Otherwise I still love to pedal, and have thousands of miles on my Trek.