An American Experiences British Car Rallies in Germany
In 1984, while in the Air Force as a fighter pilot, I got assigned to Germany from Spain, and I immediately set about arranging shipment of my newer Healey from the U.S. where my friend had kept it in his garage in Dayton, Ohio for three years. He would drive it to New York and put it on a freighter to Bremerhaven where American Forces had their cars shipped. After 3 years of driving an old SEAT 800 on the goat trails that Spain calls roads, I was ready for some driving on the beautiful German roads.
I jumped on the military night train up to Bremerhaven and got to the port the next morning. I had my Army plates ready to put on and jump on the autobahn back to Bad Kreuznach, Germany, where I was stationed with the 8th Infantry Division as an Air Liaison officer. NOT SO FAST!! No seat belts, no four way flashers, no exit. Had to go over to BX auto shop and get them to install said items. Naturally, the squareheads would not let me in the shop so I could supervise the installation, and they proceeded to drill big holes in the floorpans and cut into my wiring harness. NOT PLEASED!! Late that afternoon I finally made my getaway and made the long trip back home. One of my headlights had burned out and three times the bulls made me follow them to the local autobahn gas station to get a new bulb. Naturally, they had no seal beam type lights, so on I would go. Home well after midnight, not a happy camper.
After a miserably cold winter where the Healey sat in a wine cellar at my German friend’s wine gut, I started cleaning up all the small items that needed attention and trying to find parts for a British car in a Teutonic world. While perusing a German classic car magazine at a mall one day, I spied an ad for the German Austin Healey Club. They gave the name of the president of the club, and his phone number in Stuttgart. I rang him up to find out where some good parts houses were and he enticed me to join the club, kind of like I do to new members of the BACLV that call me. He said they had over a hundred members in Germany, Austria and Switzerland and their next big get together was in early summer over near Nurnberg. The club sent a bunch of info and I signed up. I had just had my car repainted, bought new chrome wires from England and was really looking good. Chris and I motored over in early June to meet and greet the club and see all the cars. What a sight, not a single raggedy Healey in the group. Met some great folks who lived and breathed “Healey”.
Chris and I participated in a few more rallies and gatherings until winter put the Healey to bed. The next spring, the club sent out a notice that there would be a huge weekend gathering down at the Tergernsee south of Munich where the legendary Donald Healey would be coming, as well as a few members from the Pacific Centre Club in California. Since I had no intention of missing out on meeting Donald Healey, not only to talk cars but also because he had flown Sopwith Camel fighters in WW1 and I wanted to talk a little flying. The club stated that it would be a large gathering including some British Healeys.
Upon arriving at the hotel, which was right on the lake, there were scores of Healeys already there. It had been raining and the tops were all up. While talking with some club members, more cars continued to show up, including a guy and his girlfriend who had driven all the way from Hamburg in a Sprite with no top on it. He said it had rained the whole way down, over 1000km. We were all confident the weather would change, and by the next morning the sun was out. At the morning club meeting we found out that due to failing health Donald Healey would not be able to make it; lots of disappointed members. The next couple of days it got quite warm and there were trips to local attractions and some car shows with judging. I thought I had a reasonable looking Healey but I was hopelessly outclassed by most of the Healeys there. Most of the guys were real fanatics about their cars. Chris talked to an Austrian woman who said she had to take a bath at the neighbor's house for about two years because her husband was using their bathtub to clean his parts (my kind of gal). One member showed me his special shock absorbers he had designed and machined himself. There was a hopped up BT7 that had three Webbers sticking out into the wheel well and the owner said he could blow Porsches off the road. I believed him. On Saturday an American schoolteacher showed up with a bj8 that was really ratty, top torn, rusted out panels, etc. The Germans were aghast and kept asking me how he could let the car get in such shape. I did not have the heart to tell him lots of them in the U.S. looked like his.
Sunday was devoted to a long trip down into Austria and through the mountains. This trip was highly organized with lots of stops at gasthauses where the beer would flow. One gasthaus where we were scheduled for lunch the club had bought a barrel of beer and we were expected to drink it all. I had to politely beg off as repercussions were severe for driving while intoxicated. It did not seem to bother the rest of them, however, as we continued to stop about every ten miles and have some more beer. As our convoy of about 70 some cars wound its way through these small towns and villages they all had a band playing oompah music in the village square. Big tourist draw I guess. We ran into the Jaguar Club of Germany in one town in Austria. Everyone seemed to be having a great time and not one car broke down. Since Monday was a German holiday, we stayed Sunday night where there was another banquet of Bavarian food and lots more beer and wine. Trophies and awards were given out for the serious participants in the show and shine.
Chris and I were able to participate in a few more of these gatherings before we left for the good old U.S.A. We really enjoyed the rallies even though all directions and questions were in German. Needless to say, I never won a prize, but had a good time.
When I attended the last gathering, there were a couple of guys who were really disappointed that I was shipping my Healey back to the states. One offered me twice the value if I would sell it to him. He had been in the club a few years but had not been able to find a Healey he wanted (other than mine). Lots of Germans love British and American cars. On my way back from Bremerhaven after shipping the Healey to Oakland, I saw a car hauler on the autobahn carrying nothing but MG’s and Triumphs all with California license plates. All in all, I had a great time with the German Austin Healey Club and it made my tour very enjoyable.