In 2002, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the first roll out of the British car the Austin-Healey, the Austin-Healey Club of America held its annual Conclave car show in Lake Tahoe. Welcoming cars from around the world, it marked one of only four International Conclaves since 1976.
Leading up to the momentous event, retired U.S. Navy Captain and Bird Rock resident Dave Grundies spent 18 months restoring his award-winning 1965 Austin-Healey, which he simply calls “The Healey.”
Deliberate in his restoration choices, it was painted in car designer Donald Healey’s favorite color (known as Healey Blue) and cream, and restored to meet the standards of classic car shows.
“I took it apart, right here in my garage. It’s amazing how much space a car takes up when it is taken apart. But a neighbor let me keep some boxes in his garage and I got to know other neighbors that way. A garage redid the motor, and another shop painted it. The rest of it was taken apart and put back together by me,” he said. “I only finished the night before I left for Tahoe.”
When he arrived, he said, “there must have been 500 cars,” at the show. “It was a judged event, but it wasn’t your car versus the car next to you, it was your car against an 11-page book of standards,” he explained. “It doesn’t have to be beautiful, but it has to be original.”
The first thing the judges did, Grundies added, was put on white gloves and check the car for dust. “He ran his hand along my (tire) spokes and I had to tell him ‘I just drove up from San Diego!’ but the other cars had been towed or been on a trailer and were dust-free.” So he lost a few points on that.
Further, the battery and wiring had been redone so he could install a powerful radio without short circuiting the car. “The judges were more or less OK with that because it looked and operated like something from the ’60s, but they still dinged me,” he said. “The judge spent 30 minutes looking in my trunk — the spare tire, the jack and everything back there — I felt like a nervous parent watching them inspect my car.”
All said, The Healey got a Bronze medal.
Soon after, he participated in a car show that awarded prizes based on a popular vote. At that event, Grundies won the Silver medal.
In 2017, Grundies’ Austin-Healey won third place at the La Jolla Concours d’Elegance car show in the Austin-Healey (100 and 3000) category.
Grundies owned his car since 1974, when he was in the Navy, and bought an Austin-Healey while his buddies were buying Corvettes. “I just had a hankering for a Healey and I still have mine, but I think they all sold their Corvettes,” he said. “A dear friend of mine had one and I always thought it was neat car. And when you have some money from the Navy, you want to buy things and I wanted a new car. I first bought a sports car, and borrowed against that car to buy the Healey. It was $2,500 then. It’s worth a lot more than that now.”
The car served as a daily driver for many years in many states.
“She (the car) followed me around throughout my Navy career. I was stationed in, and brought the car to, Florida, Texas, Maine, Virginia, back to Florida, Rhode Island and California. I took it everywhere but Hawaii because I didn’t want it to rust,” he said.
Grundies said when he got The Healey, it was in a two-tone gray and in “great shape.” Before that, it was a dark green color often found on Austin-Healeys, which signifies that the car was used for racing. Grundies’ model is considered the last of the series, because in the years after, Austin-Healeys had additional safety features such as turn signals and more exterior lights. Grundies’ model also lacked air conditioned and a “decent” sound system.
“We drove it to Yosemite, which was a great trip. But it’s a little ragged and noisy, so a long trip can be rough. But all those negatives are far outweighed by the positives. People are jazzed these cars still exist. There is a satisfaction to driving a classic car, it gets a lot of attention. We’ll do a British Car Day (with the local Austin-Healey Club) and there will be 100 of us rolling down the street, the looks we get are amazing,” he said.