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Restoring Original Austin-Healey 100/6

Restoring Austin Healey 100/6
Restoring Original Austin-Healey 100/6
Image of white Austin Healey 100/6
Photo credit: Matthew Randell

Restoring an old classic car to its former glory is by no means an easy task; it takes time, dedication and patience - not to mention a potential catalogue of replacement parts - but it is a passion keenly undertaken by thousands of classic car owners from all around the world.

Matthew Randell from Australia is one such owner who to date, has restored four vintage and classic cars in his spare time; the latest of which is his gorgeous original Austin-Healey 100/6.

Image of Matthew Randell sitting in his white Austin Healey 100/6
Photo credit: Matthew Randell

Matthew began documenting the restoration on video for his own records but then decided to share his progress on YouTube. Over time Matthew's progress grew into a series of 58 videos that attracted a dedicated following of viewers who took great interest in his work.

Matthew's videos are indepth and informative as he describes his unique approach to tackling each problem and his thoughts on the results. Definitely recommended viewing, especially for those of you in the middle of restoring your own Austin-Healeys; you may get some ideas and solultions to issues you may yourself be currently facing.

A.H. Spares caught up with Matthew to ask about his video series, the restoration of his Austin-Healey 100/4 and the challenges he faced.


"I think that most people can do most things if they are patient enough."


A.H: Are you a full-time restorer or is this a personal project you enjoy in your spare time?

M.R: No, unfortunately I have to work to pay bills. The car is a personal project, but I do spend many hours on reconstruction. I have some workshop space and tools, but not a professional outfit; however, I think that most people can do most things if they are patient enough.

Everything that I can do myself, I do. The only things I farm out are jobs that require specialist machinery: block re-boring, re-facing etc.


A.H: Tell us a bit about yourself.

M.R: Well, this could be the boring bit. We live in a place called Carey Gully in the Adelaide hills; surrounded by vineyards, kangaroos, koalas and the odd deer. The climate here is generally wonderful: great Healey weather. When I read about rallies in the UK or North America, Canada I realise how lucky we are. Of course, it can get hot: 45 C if we are unlucky, but not often. We are about 20 minutes from Adelaide and my work. I am head of Drama at Loreto College and I also teach English.

I play guitar and piano and I’ve worked quite a lot as an actor over the years: film and theatre, including musical theatre. I have played Sweeney in Sweeney Todd, and Javert in Les Miserables to name two; and the occasional TV commercial. As I said earlier, I was born in Hereford and migrated here with my parents when I was twelve.

I still have relatives in wales and England. We are travelling there for a couple of weeks in July this year. I have three sons and five grandchildren; and I’m too young!

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Image of Austin Healey 100/6 without outer body panels
Photo credit: Matthew Randell

A.H: Have you restored many cars?

M.R: This is the fourth car, plus one that I sold unfinished in the early days. I’ve had this hobby/sickness for about 35 years. Really, it’s all about the process, the challenges along the way. Every time I do a car I feel like I improve in my skills. Initially, I was more interested in Vintage marques - pre 1930.

My first car was a 1923 Overland. I sold that ½ restored because I had the option to buy a 1927 Morris Empire Oxford: a very rare car. This was a wreck having sat in the open for about 30 years. Of course, in Australia the climate is a bit more protective. It was still a basket case and needed a total restoration. I still have that car. I always had a soft spot for British cars.


Image of 1927 Morris Empire Oxford
Photo credit: Matthew Randell


The next restoration was a 1925 Bullnose Oxford. This had no body and I built a ¾ Folding Head Coupe on the chassis. That required a lot of thinking and planning. I made everything, even the cog-driven window winders. I even did some of the nickel plating. The car looked beautiful when I finished it, but I sold it and I believe it is now back grazing in England’s green and pleasant land!


Image of red vintage car
Photo credit: Matthew Randell


My foray into classic motoring started with an MGB. I drove this car to work for five years and really came to love it: the slippery slope. My ownership of the MG introduced me to classic motoring and the ‘illness’ took hold. I was a bit over the vintage stuff. As I’ve got older I don’t find them as much fun to drive: hard work.

Then I set eyes on an MGA and was hooked. I had to have one. So, I borrowed (invested) money and bought one for restoration. This was an Australian assembled car (CKD) so the rust wasn’t too bad. That took me about four years to restore, I still have it and I love it!


Image of red MGA
Photo credit: Matthew Randell


That restoration was also the start of the Youtube videos, although not as complete as the Healey’s.


"Even though it was a ‘dry climate’ car, there was still quite a lot of rust."


A.H: What made you decide to restore this Austin-Healey 100/6, is it an attraction for this particular marque or just the challenge of restoring an old classic?

M.R: I always wanted a Healey but thought I could never afford one. I knew that if I could own one it would have to be a restoration project. This car came up for sale at the Healey Factory in Melbourne. It was pretty well complete and although it had been ‘restored’ some time in its life, it really was unmolested.

The car came from New Mexico, imported by someone else who intended to restore it but never touched it. It wasn’t cheap, really: Healeys never are; but I found myself again able to borrow/invest money, so I bought it! Even though it was a ‘dry climate’ car, there was still quite a lot of rust. However, the chassis was generally good. I was also pleased to find that the date stamps on all the ancillaries, even the coil, were 1958/59. As the car was built in February ’59, I believe everything is original. I am still running on that original coil. (I do carry a spare just in case).

As it turned out, the car was a very good restoration candidate.

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Image of Austin Healey 100/6 in a garage
Photo credit: Matthew Randell

A.H: How long from start to finish did it take you to restore your Healey?

M.R: The restoration ran from about January 2013 to March 2017: about 4 ½ years. It’s still not quite finished though. I need a hood and side screens, not that I will ever use them. I started filming some of the process for my own records and as evidence of the restoration if I ever sell the car.

I never intended to put them on Youtube. I’m glad I did though. Restoration can be an isolating process, working in a damp or very hot garage in the evening, by yourself. I felt that I was sharing the process with lots of like-minded people. I have had lots of positive comments from people who have followed me and quite a few questions; I get treated like some kind of expert! Untrue! One of my followers in Canada even bought an original owners’ manual at a swap meet and sent it to me. Really, there are some fantastic people out there. At last count I have about 250,000 views and 660 subscribers. Not bad. I’m really glad I did it.

I must point out that I also have a very supportive wife. While Sue is not that interested in the process, she never complains about the time spent: probably glad to get me out of the house so she can watch her own T.V. programs!


"I find that the best approach is to treat each part as a project in itself, rather than look at the big picture, which can become daunting."


A.H: What were the biggest challenges you encountered during the restoration?

M.R: There have been many challenges along the way. I have never re-built an overdrive before; never trimmed a Healey before; never rebuilt wire wheels before. One of the challenges was improving my welding. The vintage cars I have restored had wooden framed bodies, so I have built up a few good coachbuilding skills. These are different and the Healey is more difficult than the MGA in many ways. The semi-monocoque bodies make a lot of the welding and cutting difficult to get at.

Fitting the doors, another. I know MGAs are notoriously difficult, but I found getting the shut lines right on the Healey, no easier.

Really, the biggest challenge is ‘keeping the faith’. It is hard to keep the enthusiasm for such a long term project over the years, particularly when time or money is tight. I guess that’s why so many projects are left unfinished. I find that the best approach is to treat each part as a project in itself, rather than look at the big picture, which can become daunting.

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Image of Austin Healey overdrive unit on a work bench
Photo credit: Matthew Randell

A.H: What challenges did you face when sourcing parts and spares for your Healey, both locally and from abroad?

M.R: Well, fortunately the spares for the Healey are generally easy to come by and on the whole, prices are good. I had to find a R/H drive steering box and because of the cost, I looked around more for that; ended up buying a new one.

Most of my parts came from A.H. Spares. Sounds like an ad, but they were brilliant to deal with. It’s always a bit worrying ordering parts from overseas, but everything was carefully packed and, as far as I remember, I had no issues with quality and service. Excellent! I could not believe how quickly some parts arrived. Australia is a long way under! I remember one instant when I ordered on a Friday and took delivery on the following Monday. Quite unbelievable. It takes longer to move parts around Australia. Of course, the freight costs can mount up, so I had to be clever with the ordering. There is no VAT and no local GST tax if the purchase is under A$1000.

I have found that even with freight, it is cheaper to buy from overseas than local. I haven’t totalled it up, but I must have spent thousands over the four years. As far as body and chassis panels, we are lucky to have Kilmartin KAS here in Ballarat, Victoria. Although they are about 800 km from me, I did visit once.


"I got some good advice from the British Car Forum members and did a lot of reading on the subject."


A.H: Did you encounter any truly head-scratching problems during the restoration; what sources did you use for help and advice?

M.R: The brakes gave me a lot of trouble and proved almost impossible to bleed and adjust. When I first got the car running, I bled the brakes; at least I thought I had. I had absolutely no 'peddle'. This completely flummoxed me and I found myself going through the system bit by bit. I got some good advice from the British Car Forum members and did a lot of reading on the subject.

Eventually, after much bleeding and about 3 litres of brake fluid, I managed to get some resistance on the peddle. Then, I discovered a strange grinding noise when I rotated the rear wheels - the story goes on!

Finally, I figured out that the return springs on the rear brakes were incorrect: straight springs that rubbed on the hubs. I discovered this from advice from the British Car forum and checking the spare part picture on your website.


"[A.H. Spares] were brilliant to deal with. It’s always a bit worrying ordering parts from overseas, but everything was carefully packed and, as far as I remember, I had no issues with quality and service."


A.H: Looking back at the restoration now, is there anything you would do differently?

M.R: That’s difficult to say. Not really anything major. I replaced the bottoms of the door skins from the swage line, when really it was only the bottom 3 inches that needed replacing. That made for more work and exacerbated the difficulty of getting the gaps right. I forgot/ignored the saying “only cut out what you need to”.

I also tried to repair the steering wheel. While this looks quite good, there are some cracks appearing. I need a new one when finances permit. However, this is all part of the process. I’m sure there were other things that I had to re-do, but they’re all forgotten now. Generally, the restoration went well.

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Image of an unrestored steering wheel in an Austin Healey 100/6
Photo credit: Matthew Randell

A.H: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of starting a restoration project?

M.R: Choose the best car you can afford; a car that is a suitable candidate: not too much structural rust. Unless it’s an Aston or Ferrari or the like, worth squillions when finished.

Don’t start stripping the car until you are ready and label and keep EVERYTHING. You will be surprised how quickly a familiar part looks like it belongs to a different car. Assume it will take longer and be more expensive than you expect. Be prepared to do things twice (or three times) when they don’t work out. Seek help from other sources: clubs, forums, friends etc. Most people are always prepared to offer advice.

Set a standard of restoration before you start and try to stick to it: driver, original, concourse, etc; and don’t care what other people say.

Treat each part of the car as a restoration project in itself: you won’t be so overwhelmed.

Have deep pockets but unless you have very deep pockets, do as much as you can yourself. That’s the only way I could afford to own a Healey. That way, if you don’t count your time (remember, it’s a hobby) you won’t lose much if/when you re-sell.

Give it a go! You will be surprised what you can achieve. I am no expert but have self-taught over the years. It’s a wonderful hobby. You will become cleverer, more inventive and more skilful than you would have believed.

Have patience! Oh, and an understanding partner/ wife.


"Set a standard of restoration before you start and try to stick to it: driver, original, concourse, etc; and don’t care what other people say. "


A.H: Do you have plans to restore another classic car?

M.R: I think a break is in order, until I get inspired again. We have moved to a new house and I’m in the midst of serious renovations so that will take most of my time. Besides, I think I’d have to sell one to finance another. Given the choice, which child would you sell?

I’d like to restore a Healey 100 one day. I rather fancy the four cylinders. I’d like to restore an XK 120/140, but they are really out of my price range. A friend in Lincoln has an MGTC he has offered me, but I don’t know.

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Image of Austin Healey 100/6 with new red carpet interior
Photo credit: Matthew Randell
Stay Up To Date

Matthew's YouTube channel includes a few restoration videos of his 1960 MGA; definitely worth a look if you're interested.

You can watch all 58 episodes from this handy playlist on YouTube

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