It’s not hard to see why people love the Austin Healey: the big round headlights, the sleek chrome trim, the wire-spoke rims and a driver’s seat that hovers just above the ground.
“I had one years go and I always wanted another one,” said Michael De Wilde, who totally restored his BJ-8. “It’s just a joy to drive. It’s addictive.”
Healey owners will gather at the Heavenly Village this week to show the various models, makes and styles of the 1960s British sports car. About 135 cars were on display Tuesday as their owners shined, discussed and pined over the autos.
“It’s the way I relax,” said De Wilde, who drove from Vancouver, British Columbia, for the show. “There’s nothing like spending 900 miles in a Healey, especially when you’re 6-foot-2.”
The Golden Gate Austin Healey Club hosts this year’s rendezvous, which will last until Friday. The event has attracted Healey owners from Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Arizona and other parts of California. Healey owners across the West Coast gather once a year, alternating between locations. The last time the gathering took place in Lake Tahoe was in 2002.
All makes and models were on display Tuesday, from Bob Segui’s 1953 Nash Healey, a precursor to the Austin Healey, to Tom Sprangler’s bright yellow 1961 Sprite. The weather even turned out in a very rainy British form.
“This like British weather,” said Karen Thomas, who’d come up from Healdsburg with her husband for the rendezvous. “The cars run great in this.”
Of course, the rain did have a downside for the many convertible owners in the group.
“We’re waiting for the weather to get better so we can put our tops down,” De Wilde said.
Austin Healeys were first produced in 1953 in a joint venture between the Austin Division of the British Motor Company and auto engineer Donald Healey. The cars were produced until 1972 when the 20-year agreement between the two parties ended. Today, the popularity of the small cars is having a resurgence and the value of the certain models is appreciating.
Karen Thomas said her husband’s Austin Healy has been in the family since it was brand-new. When they travel for shows, she carries a binder with pictures of the car from its earliest days.
“It’s a tradition,” she said. “For a lot of people, (the Austin Healy) was their first car. It’s a family car.”
Car owners had an evening on the Tahoe Queen Tuesday. They will continue to show at Heavenly Village today. And they’ll cruise around the lake Thursday. Also on Thursday the group will have remote-control Austin Healey races and an awards banquet. The whole event is not only about the cars. It’s also about the camaraderie among the owners, De Wilde said.
“Its just a great way to spend time together,” he said. “That camaraderie, it’s not just in North America. It’s worldwide.”