When you see NASA Northeast racer Bill McMahon’s 1967 Austin Healey at a NASA weekend, it stands out, largely because of the car’s age. Nearly 50 years old, the car is a bit like a raisin in a box of popcorn. It’s easy to spot.
When you hear it, however, it really stands out. Gone is wail of the 2.9-liter inline six-cylinder. In its place is the raucous of a 347-cubic-inch Ford stroker-crank engine packing 450 horsepower. How’s that for a power upgrade?
Then you get up close to it and see that there are precious few stock components left on the car, including everything in and under it. McMahon built the tube-frame chassis for the car in his garage during 2008. By 2009, he had it on track, turning laps and heads, and photographer lenses.
“I’ve had Healeys with different V8s in them, and I was doing hillclimb racing, and I wrecked pretty badly up at Mount Okemo in Vermont,” McMahon said with a deep New England brogue. “So I took some time off and decided to build a chassis with a Healey body on it, and I built this one in 2008. “This was the first time I’ve built a chassis, I’ve got to be honest with you. I’ve got a lot of bent tubing in the garage if you need it. That was the stuff that didn’t fit. I’d build one side and couldn’t replicate it on the other side.”
Eventually, McMahon got everything to fit. The main rails are 2-inch by 3-inch .120-wall box tubing. McMahon built the rest of the chassis using 1.5-inch .120 wall seamless tubing. The interesting is that there were no plans for building a tube chassis for a 1967 Healey. McMahon spit-balled the whole project himself, using Factory Five chassis as examples of how things went together in terms of safety and construction details. McMahon looked at those cars, made some drawings and started bending tubing.
“I borrowed a set of I beams and I set them up in my garage, welded them together, parallel and even, and I welded the box frame based on those, using that as a platform to build the car on,” he said.
The shop where McMahon was buying the tubing gave him a crucial tip as he was nearly finished with the chassis: Don’t cut the chassis loose from the I-beams till you heat every single weld on the car. By heating them with a torch, the frame could “take a set” instead of twisting when he cut it free of the I beam jigs.
McMahon did all the work himself. A self-described tinkerer, McMahon also fabricated the aluminum interior, fashioned all the vents on the hood himself, made the fender flares and even painted the car and did all the suspension work.
“It does run pretty good,” he said. “That’s just in a two-car garage inside my house. I’m not a big-time racing fabricator. I’ve been into cars my whole life. I just enjoy them. It’s not my background. My background is in accounting.”
The results of all his work are impressive. The car weighs just 2,100 pounds without the driver, which sounds like fun, but it’s even more mind-boggling when you consider a stock Healey weighs 2,800 pounds and came with a 140-hp six. The car is good for 1-minute lap times at Lime Rock and 2:14s on the full course at Watkins Glen. Pretty impressive for a street-legal 49-year-old car with a 76-year-old man at the wheel!
“I still get it inspected every spring through the registry of motor vehicles,” McMahon said. “It’s insured and meets all the road specifications here in the state, with lights, directional signals, wipers, all that sort of stuff, so it is a street worthy car. The only thing I have to do is change the exhaust system when I have it inspected because it has to meet a decibel level of 83.”
One of the more memorable experiences McMahon has had with the car was during a car show one year. A father and his deaf 8-year-old son asked McMahon of the sign on his car was genuine, one that said that they could sit in the car for pictures. McMahon sat the boy in his car, let him wear his helmet and put the steering wheel on when he was seated.
The boy was deaf, but McMahon knew he would be able to feel the rumble of the V8, so he fired the car up for him and let him rev it up a few times. Other people at the car show were a little taken aback at the gesture — and the decibel level put out by a 450-horsepower Ford engine — but the boy loved every second.
“Well, that little boy was so full of smiles, it was incredible, and when he got out of the car, he gave me a hug that you wouldn’t believe,” McMahon said. “I thought he was going to squeeze me to death. But it was very satisfying for me, to have someone like that enjoy the car. It’s not a show car. It’s a car for people to enjoy.”
We sure have.
|3000 Mk III BJ8
|2,100 lbs. w/o driver
|Ford Windsor 347 stroker, 450 hp
|Front: dual wishbones with coil-overs and Koni shocks Rear: 8.8 Ford axle with 3:27 rear axle, coil-overs and Koni shocks
|Front: Hoosier 245-40-17 Rear: Hoosier 295-40-17
|Front: Wilwood, six piston, Hawk pads Rear: Wilwood, four piston, Hawk pads