A Tribute to Carroll Shelby’s Rejected Idea Was Built to Drive
Shop owner Tom Piippo honors Carroll Shelby’s concept of putting an American engine in a European sports car.
UNUSUAL PAIRING: Tom Piippo’s 1962 Austin-Healey is powered by a 383ci Chevy engine. Courtesy Tom Piippo
Tom Piippo’s 1962 Austin-Healey is nothing if not unique. Although, the concept behind the restoration wasn’t exactly original: It was inspired by renowned auto builder Carroll Shelby’s idea of putting an American V8 in a small European sports car. Austin-Healey turned Shelby down, and he went on to develop the AC Cobra.
But it’s that original idea that stuck with Piippo.
“I tell people it’s an Austin-Healey because I don’t want to give them the long story,” Piippo says, but he likes to call the car an Austin-Healey look-alike.
Piippo, owner of Tri-County Motors in Rudyard, Mich., started looking for a restoration project after knee surgery benched him from competing in triathlons, freeing up a lot of his time. He stumbled upon this ’62 Austin-Healey 3000 Z MkII that had been sitting in the original owner’s garage for 10 years.
Piippo road tripped to Colorado and paid $12,000 for the car, which at the time consisted of just a motor and a frame, with a fiberglass shell sitting next to it. He brought it back to his shop and spent the next year building his one-of-a-kind car.
“I worked on it 52 weekends, so I guess I had 52 challenges,” Piippo jokes.
He worked on the car 15–20 hours each weekend and would mull over solutions to his problems during the week while he waited for parts.
Piippo started the project by fabricating everything including the brake lines, drive shaft, shifter, steering column and steering linkage.
The custom exhaust system took a few attempts before Piippo found the right fit, settling on Flowmaster 50 series mufflers and full tail pipes, so it still has the rumbling feel but allows passengers to have a conversation or listen to the radio even with the top down.
A lot of care was taken when wrapping the fiberglass shell over the frame, and Piippo opted to leave the black gel-coat finish of the fiberglass. Although there is no easy way to fix the fiberglass if it gets scratched, Piippo hopes it never gets to the point where he will have to paint over it.
The two-passenger interior had pre-made seats that match the black-and-chrome color scheme of the car. A new soft top came with the car, but Piippo had to put it together and install it himself.
Then there were “all the little things you never think about,” Piippo says: installing simple lap seatbelts instead of racing seatbelts with a shoulder harness, putting in a stereo system and roll-up windows, and deciding how high he wanted the seat. He also completed the dash panel with a DVD player and a screen so passengers can watch movies.
The engine, honoring Carroll Shelby’s idea, is a 383ci Chevy backed by a THM 700R4 transmission. Putting out close to 400 horsepower, Piippo is too proud to not drive the Austin-Healey whenever the weather allows, even if it’s just to the grocery store.
“Every nut and bolt on it, I put together,” Piippo says. “I’ll be darned if I’m going to own a car that I can’t drive.”
Last year, Piippo drove it from Michigan to Orlando (a 3,500-mile round trip) for the Automotive Service Association mechanical operations committee meeting. The Austin-Healey brought home a top-10 trophy from a car show that was going on in conjunction with the ASA meeting.
When he lines the car up next to all of the Cobras at a car show, he’s usually the one bringing home the awards, typically a People’s Choice or Best Custom.
“A lot of people would give their left arm to own a Cobra,” Piippo says. “I hate to say it, but [all of those cars] are just another Cobra.”
Ratchet+Wrench encourages readers to comment and engage in meaningful, respectful dialogue with their peers on the issues that are important to them. Comments that include profanity, vulgarity, or personal attacks will be removed. Repeat violators may be banned from commenting. All comments are eligible for inclusion in Ratchet+Wrench magazine.