Waren Friberg revs up his British racing green Austin-Healy 3000, grips the wheel and -- just before taking off a race through dozens of bright orange cones -- turns to Cheryl Friberg. She calmly puts a Sears bag over his head, and ZOOOOM! It's a helluva way to drive.
"Hard left!" Cheryl Friberg shouts. Since she is the navigator, and the only one who can stop their vintage chasis from crumbling before her very eyes, he obliges.
But not enough. "Harder left!"
The Fribergs are competing in the Healey Funkhana in the parking lot of the Spotsylvania Mall in Fredericksburg, where driving blind around cone after iridescent cone is only part of the trick.
Warren Friberg has to flip a frisbee at a concrete stanchion. All part of the Funkhana. Obviously not a Californian, he misses. Now he rips off the shopping bag and makes the race for home, straining against the stopwatch. His navigator grips the dash. Before the afternoon is out, more than 60 Austin-Healeys will test the Spotsylvania Funkhana course.
The Healey Funkhana is but one event in the four-day Austin-Healey national convention running until tomorrow at the Sheraton Inn in Fredericksburg. The Sheraton Parking lot is filled with Healeys of different colors, designs and vintages. Forget the usual convention garbage. Forget the beer and the name tags. Forget the T-shirts, mugs, patches and pins. Forget the $1,700 raffle and the "Bring in Your Favorite Healey" invitation. The cars are sleek and fast -- capable of conjuring any and all fantasies of speed and sex. The Sports Car Mystique.
Developed by British automobile designer Donald Healey with the coperation of the Austin Motor Co., the prototype of the car, a pale blue Healely 100, shocked audiences at the 1952 London Motor Show. Until 1967, when new environmental guidelines forced a halt in production, Austin-Healey models continually triumphed at Sebring and Le Mans, and became a favorite of American sports car enthusiasts.
At 83, Donald Healey is a kind of vehicular Siddhartha to the more than 300 Healey owners who have flocked to the convention. They speak of him in hushed, reverential tones. "He is Mr. Car," says Nick Harrison.
Healey's pale blue eyes grow a little distant when he talks about his car: "I wanted to make a motorcar that would go 100 miles per hour, and one that would be inexpensive.Something distinctive." Although the Austin Healeys -- from the original model to the 1967 Sprite -- were relatively inexpensive, they now run anywhere from $2,000 to $30,000.
The environmental guidelines came along at the same time as the British Labor Party's demand that Austin-Healey be taken over by British Leyland. l"A man named Stokes, Donald Stokes, who was a truck salesman, took over, and, I don't mind saying this, her made a hash of it," says Healey. The result of the conglomeration was the modern Triumph. "Today these big corporations are run by accountants and you lose the distinctiveness. tThey put in managers but no motormen. I've got a great love for the Triumph even though they make such terrible cars today."
Will the Austin-Healey eventually disappear from the roads?
"Regulations will stop it, take them off the road. Some old clown'll do it," says Healey. "But from the point of view of the car itself, they can go on forever if they're kept up."
Visitors stream in and out of the hospitality suite to hear Healey talk "motorcars." One of the disciples. Inan Phillips, dotes on his every word of automotive wisdom. She and her husband, Bruce Phillips, run a shop called Healey Surgeons. The name is an indication of how seriously they take their work. Grave matters, these cars. The Phillipses' business is to make the Healey go on forever.
"I own one of every model made. Six of them," says Inan Phillips. "The one we drive, the Mk II 3000, is pretty quick. There's this nice little stretch of road on the Eastern Shore but we've never gone flat out because I'd panic and my child would start screaming. We went 100 mph, but don't tell the police."
The conventioners talk with each other about their Healeys the way most people go on about their own progeny. Christine and Gary Oddi, in fact, might be the most overbearing Healey parents of all.
Do they have any children?
"No, just two cars," says Gary Oddi.How about later on?
"No, I think we'll keep the cars."
Just call their kids Healey 3000 and Bugeye Sprite.