Posted in: 100S Austin Healey 100 (BN1) Engine Engine

AHS3903 The story of my 100S years.

When I first saw AHS3903 sitting in Bill Wood’s driveway in Massachusetts, after an 8-hour drive from Toronto, it would difficult to describe my impression as favorable. This 100S, the last to be delivered to the U.S., was the first of several that Bill acquired in the years before anyone wanted them and was certainly the most badly ravaged.

My first recollection of a 100S dated back to 1956, when I was 6 years old, and my late father, a closet motor-head, took me to a beach in Queenstown, New Zealand where the only black 100S ever built, the famous Vickery Motors car, AHS3601, was on display. To this day I can remember him saying “Take a good look at that car it is a 100S and it is probably the only one you will ever see”

His statement was however soon to be proven wrong because, a year or 2 thereafter, he and I watched two 100S’s racing in the Festival Road Races in our home town Dunedin, New Zealand. Many years later I was to learn that one was AHS3908 driven by Ross Jensen and the other was AHS3802 owned and driven Dr. Fred Losee.

The early history of my “S” remains a mystery and the earliest photos I have of the car date back to 1967 when it was owned by Jack Meilahn of Bloomingdale, IL. He had bought AHS3903 and AHS3505 from “an old guy” in Hinsdale, IL. He and his friend William (Bill) Cannella called the car “The Golden Egg” (apparently it was painted gold at the time) and after installing a Cadillac V8 used it as a “fairground racer”. According to Jack it was “as quick as a rabbit” and cleaned up every time they ran it.

Unfortunately by the time they had finished with it 3903 was looking a little worse for wear and in 1969 was sold it to Paul Haus of Princeton, NJ who in turn sold it Bill Wood a couple of years later. Coincidentally Bill also ended up with AHS3505.

As the years passed many people asked Bill to “give me a call” if he ever decided to sell AHS3903; so many in fact that Bill was faced with a bit of a dilemma when he finally decided to move it on. He came up with an ingenious solution and, in early 1982, decided to hold a “draw” for the car, the details of which were published in Chatter, the AHCA’s monthly newsletter. The idea was that any Healey owner could, for $20 and the submission of a register form for any Austin Healey they owned, enter the draw. There was no limit to the number of times one person could enter but the details of a different car for the register had to accompany each entry.

Unfortunately, before the draw date Bill discovered that this type of lottery was strictly illegal in Massachusetts so he had to return everyone’s money.

After this I had fairly well given up on the idea of ever owning an “S” until a customer came into the shop one day and mentioned that he had heard the Bill Wood had decided to part with AHS3903, I was on his doorstep, cash in hand, within 24 hours.

When I got 3903 the front half of the front shroud was missing as were the original front fenders, rear shroud, dash panel, instruments, engine bonnet frame, seats, windshield, gas filler, front hubs and brakes, brake master cylinder and lines, gearbox tunnel and most importantly engine and gearbox but it did come with a genuine”S” rear shroud from another car.

Most of the parts that were with the car were in pretty bad shape. Some enterprising individual had taken a hole saw to the door frames in an effort to add lightness and must have eliminated all of 10 ounces in the process and someone else, or perhaps the same genius, had used about 30 pounds of ½” thick steel plate to make engine mounts for a V8. The rear fenders had been cut away to make room for big wheels, there were more holes in the inner body and frame than craters on the moon and the rear half shafts had a ¼ turn twist in them as a result of the Cadillac power.

The hunt for parts to restore 3903 took me to some “interesting places”. You have to remember that this was before the days of e mail the internet or even digital photography and at a time when international phone calls were a big event!

One of the funniest episodes involved my search for an original Tecalemit oil cooler. I was in New Zealand at the time visiting truck graveyards because I had been told that the same oil cooler was used in a Leyland Hippo truck. I had found a yard with a Hippo but alas the oil cooler was gone.

I had this photograph of a 100S cooler that I was showing to the owner of the yard when an old guy who had been sitting in the corner glanced at the picture and said “They used them on the English Electric Railcars that New Zealand Railways used to have. There are a couple of derelict railcars lying down in the rail yards which probably still have them on the engines.”  After receiving permission from the yard foreman and almost getting killed when one of the massive engine covers broke off its hinges and crashed to the ground, I was indeed confronted with a Tecalemit oil cooler but was hugely disappointed to see that although it was identical in appearance to what was used on the “S” it was about three feet long and one foot in diameter and must have held 10 gallons of oil. Not quite what I had in mind.

Fortunately, when I received the car the original rear axle, all be it with the wrong pumpkin in it, and the original Dunlop rear brakes were still fitted however, the fronts including the special hubs were long gone. I had a friend in Chicago, close to where AHS3903 had spent many years, who was restoring AHS3507 the car originally owned by Vince Sardi of New York. He had spent a lot of time scrounging up 100S parts in the Midwest for AHS3507 and had ended up with an extra pair of 100S front calipers which I purchased from him. When the box containing these was opened, I was amazed to discover that they had been carefully marked, using a center punch, as to where they were positioned on the car in exactly the same way as the rear calipers on AHS3903. The original front brakes had been found.

While I worked away to restore the frame and body, I slowly acquired parts from all over the world including, amazingly, the original engine which showed up in California of all places. The person who had the engine initially refused to sell it stating that he intended to find a car to go with it! However, as luck would have it, there was a bit of a real estate slump in California in the late ‘80’s and being a real estate agent, he needed money. A deal was struck and the engine, together with its original oil cooler, manifolds and carburettors eventually arrived at my door.

Many people provided invaluable assistance with details and hard to find parts, in particular Steve Pike of Australia and Tom Kovacs of Four-in-tune in Wisconsin and finally, after 5 years, I had all the necessary pieces gathered up and could start assembly. When I had bought the car from Bill one condition of sale that he insisted on was that I would race the car upon completion so, when the 1990 Healey Challenge Series was announced, I decided that that was to be my goal. Many late nights were spent during the fall and winter of 89/90 to get the car ready in time. With literally hours to spare, and, despite having only driven it around the yard a couple of times, AHS3903, my young family and I made it to the first event at Mid Ohio.

For me that series was one of the highlights of my life. My Mum and Dad came over from New Zealand to watch and Geoff Healey, after giving the car a serious “once over”, announced that it was “a beautiful restoration”. Over the next two years I raced 3903 at many tracks in the northeast including, Waterford Hills, Mosport, Shannonville, Watkins Glen and Mt.Tremblant. It proved to be a fierce competitor and with its very torquey engine and powerful Dunlop disc brakes I managed several class wins.

After breaking the crankshaft In 1992 I decided that I had pushed my luck far enough and went back to racing my Bugeye which, although not as fast, was actually more fun to race and much less expensive to maintain. I picked away at some minor details on 3903 and took it to some shows, but most of the time it sat in a corner at Precision Sportscar gathering dust. When it comes right down to it a 100S, with no top, and very few creature comforts, is not a very useful car, particularly in a place like Toronto where everything is ice and snow for six months of the year and a large percentage of the drivers are blind, or seem to be.

However, in November 2001, a new type of racing event, at least for North America, was announced. This was to be the Targa Newfoundland and, after a lot of soul searching, I decided that AHS3903 was not built to languish in a corner and that it would be an ideal car for the Targa. I had built up a spare “S” engine from the excess parts that I had accumulated and set to finishing that and preparing the car.

The “100R” engine, as we called it, was a beast. Using a diesel taxi crankshaft and lots of very special performance parts it produced over 180 horsepower and 180 lb/ft of torque. With that engine installed the car was incredibly fast. In three months I managed to transform 3903 into a Targa Rally car without having to drill even one hole in the original metalwork and off to Newfoundland we went.

The format of the Targa was of a series of “special stages” on closed roads. The whole thing kicked off with a “Prologue Day” which gave competitors and their crews a taste of what was to come. Newfoundland was at the time experiencing the tail end of a hurricane so heavy rain with slippery conditions was the order of the day but it was great fun.

Unfortunately my racing luck ran out on the first stage of the 2002 event and we crashed heavily into a Volvo P1800 which had flipped and ended up across the road at a blind curve. With nowhere to get by I aimed at the back end of the Volvo and our momentum spun it around 180 degrees and back first into the ditch. (They have very big ditches in Newfoundland).


AHS3903 was too badly damaged to continue so it was “back to the shop” as the saying goes.

As money and time become available I started restoring AHS3903 to its former glory again however, my heart really wasn’t in it. Restoring a car for the second time was just a bit depressing.

In association with my good friend Blair Harber we moved the 100R engine into his pre-production car AHX12 and since then have successfully completed the Targa Newfoundland several times, picking up class wins twice. You can read about the build of that car here:

Steve Pike in Australia had mentioned that should I ever decide to sell AHS3903 he knew of several people who would buy it and I had given him a verbal “right of first refusal’. After much deliberation a deal was struck and AHS3903 went off to Australia for restoration by Steve before winging its way to its new owner in Switzerland where, I understand, it resides to this day.

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