Improving the Safety and Reliability of Big Healeys

Owners’ recommendations for improving the safety and reliability of big Healeys

We recently polled a group of big Healey owners for their suggestions on what an average owner could do, with limited time, tools and expertise, to improve the safety and reliability of their cars. We received many good suggestions based on actual experience, and we’re happy to share them with you here. As always, we hope you’ll find some food for thought and benefit from others’ experience – that’s why we have a club!

Dick Brill of Fridley, Minnesota responded:

Global warming has invaded Minnesota and so I spent the day with my BT7 outdoors and did the following, for starters:

  1. Removed the three air cleaners, washed the elements in kerosene and reoiled. Then I buffed the air cleaner covers and spray painted them in Healey engine paint (the thin chrome is by now worn away by annual cleaning/buffing).
  2. Checked and refilled dashpots.
  3. Oiled all moving parts of throttle linkage.
  4. Tightened all clamps, especially those on the balance pipe for tri-carbs.
  5. Painted radiator top tank and brake reservoir AND TOPPED UP BRAKE RESERVOIR.
  6. Checked front shock bolts and topped-off shocks.
  7. Checked kingpins and wheel bearings by rocking wheels while jacked up (you know what I mean and how I did it don’t you?).
  8. Checked for broken spokes.
  9. Checked inflation pressures in all tires, INCLUDING SPARE.
  10. Made sure all lights were working.
  11. Checked engine oil level and oiled generator and water pump lube ports.
  12. Inspected plugs and points and re-gapped and reset. Inspected wires, rotor and distributor cap and cleaned cap with brake cleaner and blast of air to remove possible HV tracks.
  13. Topped up tranny oil.
  14. Checked differential oil.
  15. Adjusted rear brakes.
  16. Check tightness of rear shocks and topped off fluid level.
  17. Cleaned battery terminals and coated with Vaseline and secured holddowns.


I’m reminded to check ALL OF THE BRAKE LINES, especially the line that runs back to the differential junction block and then splits to each rear wheel cylinder. (The front lines tend to be protected by the oily environment of the engine compartment.) If ANY line cracks from vibration or corrosion all the fluid will be ejected on a single attempt to stop.

Neil Trelenberg of Steveston, B.C. Canada responded:

  1. On a regular basis I check spinner tightness.
  2. Every oil change I check shock mounting bolts and retorque to 40-45 lbs (much more and you may strip the front captive nuts).
  3. Every time a wheel is off I check shock oil, and I will retorque shock bolts as well if it’s a rear tire.
  4. I park on an old flattened fridge box (fits the car nicely) that can be recycled, and depending on how much oil is soaked in it goes to either the cardboard or oil dump. This also allows me to check for new problems... such as ‘that puddle wasn’t there yesterday.’
  5. Each outing I actually walk around the car and do a quick scan looking for anything out of the norm, including underneath. If you remember your driver training that’s what you should do each time you go out anyway...right?”

Simon Sabel of Petts Wood, England responded:

On limited funds and time, my biggest gains in safety and comfort were:

  1. Checking and replacing loose and broken wheel spokes.
  2. Replacing all rubber bushes on the front suspension with poly and fitting the negative camber top bush.
  3. Never assume that the king pins do not need replacing if there is any play or wheel vibration. There is a fantastic difference with new pins and bushes.
  4. Use STP oil additive as the lubricant in the steering box.
  5. Make sure you actually have full throttle as sometimes the linkage does slip back.
  6. Always use a full 35-amp fuse for the OD side of the fuse box.
  7. Assume there is always flaky rust in your petrol tank and fit a large inline filter between the tank and the fuel pump.

Scott Helms of South Bend, Indiana responded:

One thing I learned a few years ago was to make sure the tires’ inner tubes are in good condition. There are several things that can occur that could be a potential hazard, and here are a few. If an owner buys a wire-wheeled car with good tires, but the tubes were not replaced when the tires were mounted, the older rubber of the inner tubes could become cracked and prone to leakage or even a blowout. It’s always a good idea to replace the inner tubes when replacing the tires, especially if you don’t know how old they are. Looks can sometimes be deceiving. Make sure the inner tube is not coming in contact with the wire ends or any other jagged portion of the wire wheel. A wide rubber rim band is sold for this purpose and should be mounted on the wheel before the tubes and tires are mounted, to help protect the inner tube from those surfaces of the wheel. Some people even go as far as to place a dab of silicone sealant over the wire ends, then of course allowing it to cure before adding the rubber rim band. This also helps keep moisture out of this area. Another potential problem is that in some cases the hole in wire wheel for the air nipple can be sharp or jagged, which can wear or slice itself into the base of the inner tube nipple. The rubber of the inner tube is usually extra thick in this area, but over a period of time it can cut through enough that it is very unsafe. To remedy this situation I purchased a plastic shield that fits into the hole before mounting the rubber rim band, inner tube, and tire. It then protects the inner tube from the sharp edges. I could not find these shields at a regular tire store, so I bought them from a local farm implement store for about fifty cents each. When the tires are off the rims, it’s probably a good time to clean and check the splines, inspect the spokes, and then tighten the loose ones or replace the bad ones.

Fred Hunter of Parkville, Missouri responded:

Bearing in mind that these items should be ‘doable’ in a weekend, and should be safety/reliability related:

  1. Check spokes for any loose ones and tighten if necessary.
  2. Install a hidden ‘ignition ground’ switch for theft prevention.
  3. Install a fire extinguisher in a USEABLE location.
  4. Jack car up (use jack stands, too) and eyeball every inch of the fuel line from the tank to the carbs, looking for evidence of leakage. Don’t forget to examine the fuel gauge sender unit and gas tank filler neck on some models for leaks, too. And check condition of gas filler cap gasket.
  5. This next one is obvious, but how many Healeys are running around without this:

  6. Buy a quality set of jumper cables, find a nice cloth bag to keep them in, and LEAVE THEM IN THE BOOT – PERMANENTLY -- one set of jumper cables per household simply doesn’t do the job. EACH VEHICLE you own should have it’s own set (unless you know exactly which vehicle is going to have a battery problem before it happens!).
  7. Buy a nice little used scissors jack & handle (such as come with a Honda, Toyota, Nissan, etc.) from a Japanese car wrecking yard, find a cloth pouch for it, and keep it in the boot in place of the original jack.
  8. Make yourself up a set of four little hardwood wheel chocks, and put them in the boot in, you guessed it, ANOTHER little cloth bag.
  9. And how many of us actually own a set of real highway flares and keep them in the boot always?

John Soderling of Pleasanton, California responded:

This may not be the most important safety item, but I’d place it in the top five: Install a third brake light. With the small Healey tail/brake lights, low vehicle profile, and faster and heavier traffic than 30 to 40 years ago, getting rear-ended is highly probable. With no head restraints the likelihood of serious neck injury is high.

Olin Kane of Albuquerque, New Mexico responded:

One of the smartest and cheapest things you can do to improve the reliability of the Healey is to transistorize the SU fuel pump. Its costs about $5 and you get to keep the ticking sound (but now it just keeps on ticking).

Richard Crump of Enid, Oklahoma responded:

I have always felt that the ignition system and the fuel pump are the weak links. I always carry spare points and condenser in case I have to backdate my Petronix system, and frankly, I believe in updating the fuel pump too. And take your cell phone.

Bill Huck of White Bear Lake, Minnesota responded:

The stock BJ8 rear view mirror is barely useable when the top is folded down. Only the top _” sees over the tonneau. An auxiliary mirror attached at the top of the windscreen is the answer, with the standard mirror then folded flat. The new mirror is easily slipped off when the top is up.

To which Jim Werner of Louisville, Kentucky added:

How true! On my BJ8 I placed a piece of plywood under the dash pad at the mirror mount, raising the complete dash pad unnoticeably. I then added another piece above the dash pad, but under the vinyl, shaped like the base of the mirror. The effect was to raise my mirror and it helps tremendously. Don't forget on your BJ8 mirror the mounting post is not centered on the back of the mirror. Rotating the mirror may help you. (Look at a group of BJ8's at a car show sometime and you will be amazed how many are 'wrong'.)

To which Gary Lownsdale of Loudon, Tennessee further added:

We tour in a BJ7 so we have the same problem with rearward vision being restricted by the top cover or tonneau cover. We use a suction-cup-mounted mirror on the upper right hand corner of the windshield and have a complete side and rear view. These can usually be purchased in the children’s department of any discount store or in children’s stores. They are intended to view small children in the rear seat from the front seats, but they work beautifully on a Healey as a rear view mirror. And, they remove quickly for displaying the car at a meet.

Gary Anderson of Los Altos, California responded:

Doug Scranton and I made one change to my Healey last night that took fifteen minutes and gives me much peace of mind. We took an inline fuse bought from the auto store and soldered bullet connectors to both wire ends. Then we unplugged the red wire that comes up from the chassis harness under the fuse block from its double connector and plugged in one connector of the inline fuse. With an extra single female connector, we hooked the other end of the inline fuse to the red wire going to the chassis harness. Presto, we have fused the rear light power circuit (which, you may remember, also includes the nefarious license plate light with its potential for shorting out the entire harness).

Bill Moyer of Lancaster, Pennsylvania responded:

  1. Install 3-point seat belts. Keeps your face attached to your body and may even provide some space between the steering column and your heart. Your teeth will also thank you.
  2. Keep the knock-off hammer behind the passenger seat to “encourage” the fuel pump points.
  3. Put a fuse in the wiring harness in the boot. Never forget that you are storing sparks and gas fumes in the same space.
  4. Despite the fact that many of us like to go fast and make hairpin turns, remember that mostly you need to be able to steer and stop. Check the brake fluid level and don’t ignore squishy brakes. Keep the emergency brake adjusted for, well, an emergency.
  5. Check the knockoffs regularly, if so equipped. There’s nothing so exciting as running down the road on 3 wheels and a brake housing, take it from one who knows.

Mike Salter of Toronto, Canada responded:

Install a 35-amp resetting breaker (like from a Chevette rear defogger) in the brown wire that runs from the starter solenoid to the voltage regulator. This will provide an automatic battery disconnection from the wiring harness.

Marion Brantley of St. Petersburg, Florida responded:

I have added a fire extinguisher (mounted right in front of the passenger’s seat cushion); “Minilite” wheels with 195/70X15 Goodyear Eagle GT+4’s; Lucas PL-700 halogen headlamps with stone guards; Lucas SFT fog lamps with stone guards; halogen bulbs in brake and turn signal lights; dual fuel pumps with a separate switch for each; changed to negative ground; and added a heavy-duty Lucas alternator, a ‘Texas Kooler’ fan, CB radio, and a cell phone. The rearview mirror has been relocated – or I should say replaced – with an MGB mirror and mounting bracket that is attached to the top of the windshield frame. I almost forgot to mention the coolant recovery system for the larger cored radiator.

Reid Trummel of Portland, Oregon responded:

I’m going to go outside the parameters of this survey slightly. The premise of the survey is what an ‘average owner’ can do, but I want to make a pitch for professional mechanics here. Now then, if you think about what can get you in the most trouble, safety-wise, I agree with Bill Moyer that it is probably brakes, steering (which includes the tires and wheels) and personal restraints (seat belts/shoulder harnesses). If a professional hasn’t inspected these areas of your Healey in a long time, now might be a very good time to make that appointment. And if you think about what gets you in the most trouble reliability-wise, it’s probably the ignition system followed by the fuel pump. Again, a professional’s inspection is your best insurance.

So there you have some ideas from your fellow enthusiasts. These suggestions are based on actual experience. Please feel free to contact these owners directly for advice on “how they did it” or “where they bought it.” As our club staff always says, your fellow members are the greatest resource of all. Contact information for most of these folks can be found in the Austin-Healey Resource Book.

One final note: When contemplating the purchase of parts, accessories and/or service for your Healey, please remember our advertisers! Their support of the hobby is very important, and so, as they say in Texas, “Don’t forget to feed the horse that gave you the ride!”

Enjoy your Healey, safely and reliably.