Article by William Hall. Photos by Rich Heinrich.
There are those of us old enough to remember when the classic cars now gracing concours fields and auction stages were simply daily transportation. Many were bought with wages saved from paper routes or busboy jobs, and they were constant companions through our formative years in adolescence and adulthood, witness and participant to many life adventures.
These cars were certainly utilitarian, but always had a sense of fun. Seating capacities were exceeded by rowdy friends, trunks became erstwhile storage lockers, and convertible tops (if you were lucky enough to have one) dropped before the first cherry tree blossomed. Footwells were filled with cups and wrappers, coins collected in seat cracks, and cassette tapes spilled from gloveboxes. As you might imagine, they accumulated their fair share of bumps and bruises. These cars were deeply and seamlessly integrated into our daily lives.
Somewhere along the line that changed. We started treating our old cars with so much “respect” that they became strangers to us. So many are now sterile investments, prized for their perfect appearance and adherence to original specifications. We sit in them like guests at a formal dinner, careful to exercise proper manners lest we offend anyone.
In this light, a slight engine tick becomes a nagging worry. A stone chip or paint scratch is a catastrophe. Naturally, we conclude that the best way to avoid such risk is to reduce use. That’s the moment we have fallen off the wagon.
If you’ve ever restored a car with such overkill that upkeep becomes a full-time job, or detailed a car for hours only to have a rainstorm roll in, you may have finally exceeded your threshold on this value system. At a certain age, we all strive to reduce anxiety and allocate resources. It’s the reason many part with their valuable and exotic cars. Too much hassle, too little reward.
Enter Rich Heinrich of Phoenix, Arizona. Rich has been an industry professional in the restoration and curation of classic cars for decades. The collection he manages affords him access to some of the world’s greatest cars, all kept in meticulous condition. But the car which gives him the most enjoyment is his daily driver, a brush painted, fire-scarred 1960 Triumph TR3, aptly dubbed “The Cookie Sheet.” It most closely resembles that hot dog that rolled off the grill and into the coals. You know – the one that nobody wants to eat.
The car acquired its unique patina after being caught in a garage fire at the home of longtime owner Gerret Van Hylckama. Rich met Gerret back in 1967 on the campus of Arizona State University, when he struck up a conversation about the Triumph’s Abarth exhaust. The two have been friends ever since. After almost 50 years and 140,000 miles of ownership, Gerret received an ominous medical prognosis, and decided some housekeeping was prudent. Disheartened about the fire damage, he assigned the charred, non-running TR to Rich in a living will, knowing Rich would get it back on the road. The Triumph, the initial catalyst for their friendship, was now in Rich’s hands.
It’s the car he’s always wanted to own.
Rich wanted to get the car running and driving again as soon as possible. He’s gone through the drivetrain, brakes and electrical system to make the Triumph completely functional. But not a moment’s worry was given to restoring the car’s aesthetic. Indeed, the left rear taillight is so thoroughly melted that the lens screw cannot even be accessed to remove it.
You could call it a rat rod, but that movement seems to be only another extension of the show-car mentality. Too many of those cars look contrived, and too much money has been spent to make them look dirt cheap. This is more of a “found rod” showing the well-earned, asymmetrical battle scars and open wounds that only Father Time can apply. Like the beloved, imperfect classics still roaming Havana, this is a car that celebrates functionality while maintaining a certain unvarnished charm.
Granted, Rich lives in a climate conducive to regular use of the Triumph. The garage fire consumed the ragtop, but that’s not much of an issue in Arizona. And a parking lot ding – if it were noticed – wouldn’t be much cause for alarm. But the real plus is that the money, energy and consternation he’s saved allows room in his life for another of his dream cars, an Austin Healey Bugeye Sprite. He’s had his eye on a car sitting behind a shed, just like the one he grew up with, so many memories ago…
William Hall is a writer, car collector and classic car broker based in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.