This is my dad from back in the day. Click the photo if you want to see it in its true glory. I can only guess that this was taken between 1956, when he bought his Austin- Healey 100M LeMans brand new, and 1960, which is when I think he got drafted into the Army. I’m sure he will correct me with the dates.
My guess is 1958, as that would make him twenty-three years old. I had heard he had lost the hair on the top of his head by the time he was twenty-five, and here you can see it’s still thick.
That we can even see his hair blowing in the wind should rattle your cage, at least a little bit. Why isn’t he wearing a helmet?
This is because, back in the day, before there was autocross, there was gymkhana. Gymkhana was much more challenging. You didn’t just drive your car around some turns; you had to perform actual maneuvers, some that might send you in reverse, some that might require counting, maybe more complex math, geometry, even, with a protractor, maybe physical exercises that would get you out of the car, maybe push-ups. I don’t know, I wasn’t there, I’m just going by what my father’s told me, which is that I’ve always had it good. In his day, things were tough.
The first time he saw a gymkhana was driving on an overpass that went over a parking lot in Oakland. Down below, he saw something that defies even my imagination today. He had to bring his car to a halt to peer over the cement barrier to understand what he was witnessing. He saw an MG TD travel at full speed into a quasi-barn consisting of hay stacks and two-by-fours. Just before entering the barn, however, the car’s brakes were in a full lock, causing the car to skid into the barn. Before reaching the end of the barn, but while still skidding forward, now the car was in reverse, at full speed, blowing a lot of smoke before the tires finally engaged the asphalt.
Now that’s driving! So my guess is that this photograph is not an autocross but a real gymkhana. Notice the caption, which also mentions Wilma Kline in the “second ring”. What the heck is a second ring? Who’s Wilma Kline?
As I said, my father bought this car brand new, when he was twenty-one years old. He was working with the family at the printing press, in Oakland, and saved up his money. That’s what the family’s always done: printed stuff. His mother had told him, “Johnny, you can drive any car you want in the world, but you’re going to have to buy it yourself.”
This Austin-Healey still sits in my parents’ garage. I have only seen it move once, in my earliest of memories. My parents couldn’t believe I could remember back to 1971, but when I described the scene, they had to concede that I was right. I wasn’t even two years old in 1971. My mom was holding me in her arms, drinking a Coca-Cola. It might have been a Pepsi. I couldn’t read then. She was holding me in the arms, the sun was just going down the Pleasanton Ridge (nor did I know that it was called the Pleasanton Ridge), and my dad and a bunch of guys counted to three (I couldn’t count then, either), and they pushed the Healey into the garage on Virgin Islands Court. We had just moved there from Livermore.
It’s not that I knew that we had just moved there from Livermore; I’m just providing these key background details to help paint the picture.
The reason why I know I can really remember that far back is that I also remember my mother feeding me baby food. I remember spitting it up, not for any particular reason. I think it just took me by surprise. She calmly wiped my chin. I remember that, because I remember her expression, one that conveyed that she wasn’t exactly pleased. I was sitting in a high chair, and I noticed the right orange, red, and white wallpaper. There was a small jar filled with green stuff with a baby’s picture on it.
I remember this, plain as day.
The Healey has not moved from that location since 1971. I did sit in a few times, though. My mom and dad had cleaned it off for one reason or another, and Maggy and I would sit in it, pretending we knew how to drive. Its seats are made of leather. There was something about it that was spooky.