Many of you know that I recently acquired a 1954 Swallow Doretti “project”. The car has been in my shop for a couple of months now and I am beginning to realize just how lucky we Healey owners are! But more about that later.
By way of background, the Swallow Doretti is an English sports car built in 1954 and 1955. It has a bit of a Healey look from the side, somewhat MGA from the rear, and Italian up front. The vehicle was the brainchild of Dorothy Deen, a rather famous car gal in Southern California in the 50’s. She had a successful car accessory business and was the local distributor of Standard-Triumph cars. Dorothy was adamant that Triumph needed an upmarket sports car and with the help of the folks at Swallow Side Car Company (ex-of Sir William Lyons of Jaguar), this nifty little two-seater was born. It was based on TR2 mechanicals installed on a custom tubular chassis wrapped in an all alloy body. The moniker Doretti was suggested by Dorothy as an Italian sounding variation on her name.
Roughly 275 cars were built and were selling well, especially in California, despite being priced at almost double the going rate for a new TR2. Then the above-mentioned Mr. Lyons came calling. Seems the fellows at Swallow were also supplying a lot of parts for Jaguar production, and Mr. Lyons wasn’t welcoming the competition for his XK120. He is reputed to have said, “you boys need to make up your minds, either you are going to be in the car business or the parts business, but not both”. With that, the door came down on Swallow Doretti production and no further cars were built.
My particular car was “in restoration” when the restorer suddenly passed away. The owner got cold feet and decided to sell the car rather than try to Tind someone to pick up the pieces (literally). Much very nice body work had been done and the fender Tlares that were added in the 50’s for racing put back to original. At some point, someone had the car apart and the frame, inner body panels and many parts and pieces were powder-coated and put back together. At Tirst glance, a reasonable start on a body off restoration, at least all the greasy work had been done.
When my partner and I went to pick up the car, we were told “all the parts in the back corner go with the car or might be parts from one of many other restorations done previously”. Nothing was labeled, bagged or tagged. We ended up with about ten industrial sized plastic bins full of “stuff”. Many hours of sorting later, we had discarded at least half the parts as obviously not for our car. We had a sizeable stack of “for sure Doretti” parts, including many new items (wiring harness, brakes, bearings), and many, many brackets, braces, bolts and bits that we have no idea where to Tit. And we still have a sizable stack of “maybe Doretti” parts.
Subsequent investigation revealed that much, if not all, of the prior mechanical work was substandard if it was done at all. A lot of shiny powder coating had been sprayed right over the top of greasy suspension parts, etc. Some critical components like front hubs (made of unobtainium) and rear differential are missing. So, this project is going to be a lot more work, and potentially more expense, than originally planned. In for a penny.............
I will keep you informed as our project proceeds. I am sure there will be many “notable” events. Now for the Healey comments. With only 275 Doretti’s made, there are no parts sources, no shops that specialize in Tixing them, no shop manual, no wiring diagram, and so far, we have only found one unmolested car in Southern California that we can go look at to see how things are supposed to go together. The TR2 community has been helpful, but beyond the basic mechanicals, we are on our own and in uncharted waters.
Think about that the next time you need something for your Healey. Call up Moss Motors by 10am and have even the most obscure part delivered the next morning. Pop open the factory repair manual to see how to install it, or just call up one of the local Healey doctors to do it for you! I all to often hear from Healey owners, “I would be there, but my Healey is not running at the moment”. The only excuse for a non-running Healey (other than lack of funds) is lack of motivation. The parts are there, the information is there, the help us there. You (as Nike says) need to “Just Do It’.
Hope to see you at a Healey Event soon!