My Emil Frey Healey

Photo©: Rose-Marie Kramer

While there are many events for classic car enthusiasts, those organised by Emil Frey Classics are always marked in red in my diary. I feel a strong sense of connection with Emil Frey because of my old Austin Healey “clunker”!

When I was able to buy this gem back in 2016, I had no idea how much it would change my life. Along with the car, I inherited a suitcase full of books about Austin Healey from the previous owner, an Englishman living in Switzerland. I learnt a vast amount about the history of this brand from these 30 kilos’ worth of books!

At some point I wanted to know more about the exact history of my Healey and did some research. There on the certificate from the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust (BMIHT), it was all laid out: the car was assembled in England between 13 and 17 November 1958 and delivered to Emil Frey AG in Zurich, Switzerland – a direct import – on 21 November of the same year. The vehicle was first registered in the canton of Zurich, though after that, there were no traces of it for some time…

I was finally able to track down the owners from 1980 onwards. They were absolutely delighted by the fact that 1) the Healey still exists, 2) it is still being driven – and by a woman! “It really suits you,” they said.

That Emil Frey was the one to import this marvellous car to Switzerland, all the way back in 1958, is somehow a stamp of approval. The Healey’s start in life, on Swiss roads, can be traced back to one noble address. This is why I feel this sense of connection with Emil Frey. Even though I have been to the company’s museum countless times, I give silent thanks to Mr. Frey every time I visit. I’m still grateful for this incredible vehicle, which gives me so much joy and passion 65 years later!

Text©: Rose-Marie Kramer

Interview with Rose-Marie Kramer, based on her beautiful story

The story behind your Austin Healey is very emotional – and the love for your collector’s item palpable. How would you describe the connection you have to your classic car? Are there any special experiences you associate with it?

I bought this beautiful Healey in 2016. In a particularly dark phase of my life, this vehicle was like a sudden ray of sunshine. Austin Healey is a real charmer and door-opener because no matter where I go, it seems to make others happy. People often come up and ask questions – with men wanting to know how old, how much horsepower, how many cylinders etc. and women complimenting both the car (especially the colour) and me. Or people just start telling me about their lives. Without exception, everyone has been very friendly towards me and my Healey.

Every drive in the Healey is a real experience, and I celebrate it by always dressing up a bit. I was particularly proud when my Healey was voted the people’s favourite at a Concours de Sympathie for classic cars. I also took part in the centennial of the famous Klausenrace. I got to take the winner’s prize from 1923 in my Healey: a fine pendulum clock with the inscription Klausen-Rennen 1923 – Schnellster aller Tourenwagen auf dem Urnerboden (Klausenrace 1923 – Fastest Tourer on the Urner Boden). The race had been won by Werner Risch, a man not entirely unknown in racing circles at the time. It was a special honour for me and my Healey.

Photo©: Jürg Rohr

How would you rate the emotional significance and sense of attachment that come from owning a classic car versus the purely rational aspects, such as performance and value?

For me personally, the emotions and my connection with this “clunker” are the most important thing. Everything I experience with this car is incredibly emotional – just being on the road! In so many ways, the car is just right. I feel it’s a great privilege to be able to drive one of the most beautiful cars ever made. Horsepower just doesn’t matter.

What tips or advice would you give other classic car owners to help them build a similarly strong bond?

Take to the road! Go on adventures and simply take a trip somewhere new. Travelling a lot also gives you confidence in the vehicle.

What role does sharing your personal story play at classic car meetings, events and in the community as a whole?

Positive stories can encourage others to take an interest in classic cars or even own one.

What advice would you give other women who are interested in classic cars and want to get involved in the scene?

Contact a classic car expert who seems friendly and positively disposed towards women and ask to find out more about the classic car of your dreams! The fact that 95% of classic car drivers are male should not be a concern. At some point, your classic car will find you – and your new life can begin. Enjoy it!

How did you become interested in classic cars?

I find old cars simply beautiful – elegant, sporty, and such an incredible variety of colours!

What role does the history of your classic car play in care and maintenance?

When I took over the Healey, quite a few “sins” from the previous owners came to light. In the garage, with all the removed parts lying on the mechanic’s workbench, we had to ask ourselves: What do we do with it now? That’s when I said there would be no more botched jobs or tinkering because the car simply deserves better.

The built-in XK Jaguar gearbox was replaced by a used but original sideshift Healey gearbox that we found in England. After the first major repair, which almost brought me to the brink of ruin, I’m now having minor repairs or improvements made all the time. The fake whitewall tyres were replaced with real ones. The defective roof was completely replaced. Another example was the removal of the carpet, which the previous owners had glued in to discreetly cover everything in the cockpit, and replacing it with removable carpets. The list could go on and on! But I just love cleaning and polishing the Healey – it’s like meditation for me.

Photo©: Ueli Moos

In your opinion, what would the most important steps be to further promote the participation of women in the classic car scene?

I could imagine, for example, that a fashion show with vintage or retro clothes, presented at a classic car event, would appeal to women and draw them into the classic car scene. Or a visit to a wellness hotel, with the guests chauffeured around in classic cars, of course.

How important to you are classic car get-togethers and networking opportunities? 

The classic car scene is a form of community and a good place to build friendships. But this always requires an organiser that can provide the platform for the community – like Emil Frey Classics!

What is your proudest moment or favourite memory in connection with your classic car?

Was it arriving home after the drive from Brescia to Lucerne, with over 500 kilometres covered straight and not even a peep from the Healey? Or the stop-and-go when it was 36 degrees (nearly 97°F) outside, or the 300 kilometres in steady rain, mixed in with a few snowflakes over the pass? Or would it be the air and silence on the Ofen Pass, in the golden evening light?

There have been many unforgettable moments I’ve had as a woman travelling solo with the Healey. This incredible car has never let me down and allowed me to experience so many beautiful sensations and emotions. Its reliability has moved me to tears, and that’s why I’m just so damn proud of my Healey! The previous owner said it perfectly at the handover: “There’s life before the Healey and then life with the Healey!”