Skip (MarinaMan) Harris’ bio

Skip Harris’ Bio (as published in the Autumn, 2007, issue of “Understeer,” the Marina/Ital Drivers Club of England’s newsletter)

Greetings to my fellow Marina aficionados! I am very happy to be writing this as it means there are people who share my (as some of my fellow car buffs are prone to call it) affliction. They are simply quite ignorant of the true dependability and worthiness of the car.

I’ll begin with a bit of history:

My very first auto was a 1960 Austin A55 Cambridge Mk.II. I found the poor dear in the rear of a shop in Atlanta, GA, in late 1964. To say it had led a rough life is an understatement. It was crumpled on both ends from having been pushed and shoved, presumably by some Cretan who knew little enough about the systems to make it run in the proper manner. Reverse gear was inoperable having been stripped, either from the pushing and shoving, or from inept engagement by the operator. The engine, though knocking like a hammer mill, ran… Undaunted by this, I bought the poor thing and drove it 100 miles to my home and a safer clime.

In those days, one could find good replacements in the local “junkyards.” (Breakers here are known by such an epithet.) I found a gearbox from an MGA which had met its maker. Another soul had a fair Metropolitan with a good 1.5 engine. (Would that I still possessed all the Metropolitans I’ve owned! But, I digress.)

I installed these items forthwith, and I was now driving my Austin. On the outside, she was tattered. I located a pair of tail lamps, but the grille and bumpers were too much expense for my young pocketbook. I drove this car for some 18 months. In the meantime, I married my first wife. She was not especially enamored of English cars, so (forgive me, please) I traded my Austin for a year-old Mercury Comet Caliente with a small V8 and 4-speed gearbox. Egad, such a travesty! I do penance to this day.

I drove that monster until early 1967. When I’d had enough, I traded that beast on a brand-new Sunbeam (nee Hillman) Minx, Series VI. Nice enough car, but not as civilized as my old Cambridge. Still dwelling in my ignorance and owing to the success of Andy Cowan and group in the London-Sydney Marathon, I traded that one for a Sunbeam Arrow (nee Hillman Hunter.) Here I learned that it is always better to be lucky than good. That is the only reason this car won the Marathon—LUCK! It proved to be the poorest automobile I have ever owned.

In late 1972, I went to work for a BL Distributor who was based in St. Louis, MO, and was opening a new dealership here in Arkansas. I was to take my Parts Manager training in St. Louis, so I drove the Arrow there and offered it for anything BMC/BL in inventory at one of their dealerships. I became the proud owner of a 1964 MG1100 2-door saloon. Honestly, as worn out as that poor thing was, it was a far better thing I had done! I returned a new man. What I did with that car is a complete story in itself. I took some trophies rallying and autocrossing it. Again, I digress.

When we opened, we had no sedans to sell. The Marina and the TR7 were not being sold here yet, and the 1100-1300 range was discontinued. I was driving an MGB as my company car wishing for the Marina to arrive. In late 1973, our service representative was in New Jersey at the national headquarters of BL in the US when the Marina was unveiled to us. He drove one all the way to St. Louis. His enthusiasm was unbridled. We had a winner on our hands, he said.

Some weeks later the first truckload of Marinas arrived, and I chose a 4-speed saloon in Aconite. Ergo, I drove the first Marina in the state of Arkansas. This was my vehicle for some five months until the 1974 models arrived. I chose a Braken coupe’ with automatic transmission. I drove this car for several months, and as the mileage approached the 12,000 mark, the manager was about to put it back in the inventory to sell it. Rather than do that, I bought it. I still have that car and will restore it fully in a future project.

I was driving that car daily when I got the blue GT you can see on my website. The Braken coupe’ had over 215,000 miles on it and was ready for retirement. I did a complete mechanical refurbish on the blue car, and put it into service. It was my daily driver until March of 2007, when I put the Damask coupe’ on the road. Ol’ Blue had over 300,000 miles behind her!

I purchased the car(s) which were to become the Damask coupe’ in the late ‘80s. A good friend in the paint and body business had just retired and was doing jobs at his leisure to keep busy. As he was the paramount craftsman when his business was operating, I was thrilled to have him take my project. He undertook a full evaluation of the car, after which it was decided that the entire right rear quarter section would have to be replaced due to some heavy corrosion and external damage. Fortunately, I had another coupe’ with damage to other parts, so we cannibalized that car for this one.

By now, we are in the early ‘90s. Before he could complete the grafting of the new parts to the old body, he suffered the misfortune of contracting cancer and passed away. He had done the repairs to the other three corners of the car, so I was deeply invested and therefore committed to this project. However, the job languished for some 12 years owing to other commitments and lack of a suitable paint and body man. The project was shelved since I had a suitable Marina on the road. But, the project was growing and evolving in my mind.

Comes the turn of the century, and a good friend opens a paint and body shop. His work is good, so I turn the project over to him. He completes the welding in of the section, preps and paints the car. In order to minimize costs, I allowed him to put it on the back burner should he need to finish up other items and deliver them. Therefore, I did not get the painted shell into my shop until late 2003. I then sent it over to my friend’s interior shop for the installation of a new genuine BL headliner, then to the glass shop for installation of the front and rear windscreens with new seals from Edgware Motor Accessories. (I was fortunate enough to have found a new rear heated windscreen for this car.)

After doing my calculations, I purchased a set of Superlite 6.0×13 wheels with 13mm offset. On these, I installed a set of 205-60 tires. The offset on the wheels is perfect, as it gives about 1/8” clearance on the gaiter of the steering rod ends. And, the tire size gives the proper ratio for the speedo/odo calibrations. Koni dampers and an Addco anti-sway bar complete the rear suspension. Up front are standard dampers with a ¾” Addco anti-sway bar. When reassembling the suspension, I used SuperFlex urethane wherever I could. Chris Witor has a full complement for this car. He didn’t have the steering rack mounts in urethane, but those can be obtained through Rimmer Bros. The difference in control is striking!

‘Neath the bonnet is an MGB forged crankshaft with an improved camshaft, Aldon modified distributor with Pertronix, and the full factory twin-carb installation. This gives a great deal of performance without sacrificing street manners and durability. (Not to mention the fact that it is a totally unique car this side of the pond!)

To keep tabs on what’s going on, a custom instrument panel was created using a bit of maple paneling and instruments out of a Midget Mk.IV complemented by a set of GP accessory gauges from Smiths. In the Amco lower console is another panel with driving and fog lamp switches and the fuel gauge taken from a Stag. A custom-made wiring harness couples all these items together.

The remainder of the interior is original Marina except for the seats which were taken from a Miata. With a little welding, a custom set of brackets was made for their installation. They are a great improvement over the stock seats, plus they have speakers in the headrests.

The car is still a work-in-progress as it was placed into service a bit prematurely in March, 2007, in order to take it to the annual meeting of the British Motor Trade Association which occurred this year in Dallas. While there, I cajoled the fellows from Classic Motorsports magazine to take some photos for publication. You can see them in the July, 2007, issue.

The car draws quite a bit of attention everywhere I go. Flying down the motorway, I have drivers pull up beside me and yell questions to me about it! Makes a fellow proud, indeed.

Your faithful fellow member,
Skip Harris

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