By Charles Frick
I met Andy Dunning in high school in 1970. We hit it off immediately, and we were both car obsessed. I was driving my folks’ Beetle to school and he was sporting an AMC Sportabout. We desperately needed something cool to drive. One afternoon he said he was going to look at a Triumph to buy. Visions of TR3s and TR4s filled my head. But, he said, “This is a bit different.”
As we walked through the crop of dead cars alongside the service station, I knew this would not be the racy TR I had been imagining. Odd, faded blue fins greeted me. It was indeed a convertible though, and a walk to the front revealed two oversized chrome headlight surrounds à la ’57 Chevy. You’re sure this is a Triumph? “Yeah, a Triumph Herald,” he said. If you squinted hard, it was kind of sporty, and it did have the same engine as a Spitfire—and a four speed! This was my first time seeing one, but Andy had some history with them. His father fixed one up years back. He said it was easy to work on and parts were cheep. The coverall-clad garage owner didn’t mince words: “Ran when we parked it there. $125 cash,” he said. We towed it home on a rope.
Thus began an epic journey throughout the realm of British cars, ongoing to this day.
We got that Herald running and eventually rebuilt a MKIII Spitfire motor for it, with nearly half again the stock horsepower. I’ll never forget the test run. With only the cast iron manifold in place, and no transmission tunnel, we had flames shooting into the footwell. AWESOME!
Naturally, we found parts cars and at one time had four or five “spares.” Andy found another Herald for me, a 948 convertible—very rare today—and we often rallied around together. Although having nearly identical cars proved unfortunate one evening. We had both gone to an after-prom party and a disgruntled acquaintance of Andy’s (a girl issue, most likely) took his revenge by slashing the convertible top on my car by mistake. No worries, he later realized his error and got Andy’s as well.
We plowed through the Triumph lineup relentlessly. I got a GT-6, he bought a TR4. A raft of Spitfires filled the gaps. A TR2000 here, a TR250 there. I found a Bond Equipe GT4S, he found a race-prepped TR4A.
We made many road trips recovering unusual TR based cars, once even tow-barring a TR4 he got from his cousin in Santa Barbara, CA, back to Pennsylvania with my folks’ VW bus. Countless vehicles were recovered by this bus, many times with a rope. It often proved a daunting experience, like when the rope broke three times in rush hour traffic towing a Sunbeam Tiger.
We headed south to Mississippi to snatch a Triumph Italia (for $750… those were the days). Andy and my dog Skippy co-piloted down in the bus. We nearly froze to death in a rare southern below-freezing cold snap. Andy got in that Italia, fired it up and, tailed by the VW, drove it back to Pennsylvania. No issues, save for a snowstorm that shut down Philly as we returned.
Andy has a knack for finding great gems. He located our “Holy Grail” a Sports 6 (the first of half a dozen or so to follow) a car we had only seen pictured in repair manuals. He later spied another Sports 6, again from the seat of our VW bus, which I bought in 1975 and still own. Thanks Andy! That’s a debt I can never fully re-pay.
A very original TR250, which he snapped up and sold to chap in Illinois proved fortuitous; I bought a Peerless GT from a guy in that neighborhood. Our VW bus followed the siren song of that big 6 all the way to Chicago, and then we tow-barred the Peerless the rest of the way home. Miles and miles, and no worries. An 8-track tape player blasting, most often Allman Brothers, it seemed. We could crack jokes and banter for hours, our voices often hoarse when we arrived home.
Andy and I started a shop together. I was on the mechanical side and Andy did bodywork and paint. He painted my Sports 6 and my Bond and… too many cars to list. We worked our tails off, but when a restored TR3 went to South Carolina, that meant another road trip! Andy also worked for Mike Tillson, and when Tillson entered the Daytona 24 Hours in 1976, we ferried parts down for the team. “Hey Andy, remember when the spare tire flew off the roof of our Mopar wagon at 90 MPH on the way down? Tillson finished 5th!” “Oh, and then there was that pitch black rainy night when we had a wire wheel fall off on the freeway, never to be found.” “And hey Andy, remember that time when the Bond front wheels started to come off in the PA Turnpike tunnel?” “How about when we towed your Spitfire all the way to the autosprint with my Daimler Dart only to find they cancelled it. And then breaking first gear on the way to a picnic?”
Cars broke down sometimes, but laughter broke out often over the years. We even helped each other find our spouses. Thank you for that Andy! Marriages, kids, “real” jobs… we’ve weathered it all. I rely on Andy to supply many of the “back in the day photos” I share with Delaware Valley Triumphs, where we co-wrote many early newsletters and we can reminisce over a wealth of exploits both in and outside of cars. We ended up living quite close together here in Oregon and still collaborate on repairs and recovery. Forever dabbling in the British stuff, Andy just bought a pair of Triumph 2000s, a car he loved and drove back in the day. That trusty VW van is long gone. Now we actually have a proper trailer and Sprinter van to haul cars.
Here’s to my friend Andy and British cars! Cheers mate!