Once upon a time, Tucker owned the most beautiful red sports car one could ever imagine, a 1967 Austin-Healey Mark III. It was the mid-70’s, he was recovered (ha!) from his combat experiences and moderately successful in his profession. A grievance had been filed for wrongful termination by CBS, – the very first time he’d ever been fired – affirmed by an Emmy nomination for his work, two weeks later…and the settlement from CBS funded this new toy. She was about 7 years old and cost $3200 or so, if memory serves me well.
I’d always regarded the Healey as a very masculine car and considered various male nicknames…until I’d driven her for a few minutes. In short order, she made this very clear. “I am a lady. And if you treat me like a lady, I will take very good care of you.” And she surely did. She became “Herself”, a spirited Irish redhead who cornered like a cat and ran at 100 mph, all day long.
My self-destructiveness was then in its early stages, undiagnosed and there were nights I’d drove winding canyon roads at high speeds, seemingly determined to go over the side and end the pain. She would not overturn. WOULD NOT.
I drove her to California and back to NYC in ’76, a memorable roadtrip, lots of adventures. We returned to LA in 1980 and endured several misadventures (rear ended on the 405, submerged under six feet of water during LA spring floods.) Every car on that block was totaled – every BMW, Mercedes, Cadillac, Jaguar… (I was then dating a rather wealthy divorcee’;) They drained out the water, drained the crankcase, refilled the oil…and she turned over! I then had her completely restored; engine, body, electrics, interior, suspension.
Herself was now a stone fox, a head-turner…and was clocked doing 140 by the State Troopers early one foggy morning on the 101. SAG was then on strike and I was working as a longshoreman in San Pedro, needing to pay rent here at the Oakwood and a co-op note on Central Park West. Remembering the potholes and winter street salting in NY, I decided to garage her here when I returned to NYC to shoot Texas, a new soap opera.
I discussed all this with my mechanic, Russ, who’d become a friend. He assured me he’d start her up weekly, take her out to clean out the valves and keep her garaged and maintained until I returned. Russ said, “Not a problem. No, I don’t need anything from you, I’ll let you know if ever I do.” And I flew back to NY.
I was just beginning my emotional disintegration. After ten years, Vietnam was reasserting itself in my consciousness and I was unraveling. Several years passed as I continued to self-destruct. I spent hours each week in New York VA Hospitals with locked down vets in detox and psych wards. Yes, I knew I was ‘broken’…but the men I dealt with were so much worse off, I felt ashamed to ask for help. So I didn’t.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch in LA, Russ was struggling with his own demons – a serious cocaine problem. Long story short, he stole my car and sold it to a Japanese businessman. Herself was gone forever.
I got over it…and I got help, which is why I’m still around. I forgave Russ. I was insured…and I understand better than most, how fragile even decent people can become in the grips of addiction and depression.
So it’s a new day. My Healey is now a ’66 Mark III. I look forward to getting comfortable with…him…and revisiting the joys of operating a wonderful touring road car with a lineage to be envied.
Now if only I can find an eight track tape of The Doobie Brothers…
July 6th 2010