In this episode of the Auto Owner Story podcast Kevin Hughes tells the story of purchasing his first car from his grandfather. It was a 1960 Hilman Husky, that he transformed into a surfer’s car with a musical twist for transportation to the beach and back. He tells about getting the car running and then dressing it out with a stereo and paneling.
I was the third child of eight kids. And so I had an older sister, an older brother and my younger brother Tim. I had three younger sisters. And the youngest child was my brother Jack. We had a lot of fun times together. Of course, in the 60s life was pretty simple. W didn’t have all of the electronics that kids have today. So we would just do a lot of things like going to the beach, play football or softball out in the street, and do all those kinds of things to entertain ourselves. We rode our bicycles everywhere.
My first vehicle has a lot of memories and it’s fun to talk about the events that surrounded getting the car and learning about fixing and caring for it.
I was 17 years old when I got my first car. It was actually after I graduated from high school. My parents didn’t want me to have a car in high school, so after high school I found out my grandfather, who had passed away just recently, had a car he’d used to drive back and forth to work. That car was a 1960 Hilman Husky.
A lot of people have never even heard of it. Hilman was a brand name for cars made in England. The Husky was a car that had a tiny little four-cylinder engine with a stick shift. It was a little station wagon that only had two doors. The back had a door, which they call an ambulance type of door because it swings across from left to right instead of lifting up like a hatch.
I’d found out that my grandfather was selling it for $75 bucks. And so my dad and I went there in his pickup truck. When we got there, I found out it wasn’t running.
I said I would pay $75 for the car but my dad volunteered for me to pay a hundred. He negotiated me up instead of down. We connected a chain and towed the car 30 miles from Santa Barbara to Ventura.
The year was 1966 so the car was about six years old and I don’t think I’ve mentioned that the car had low mileage so it was in nice condition. It only had like 28,000 miles on it.
The car wasn’t much bigger than a Volkswagen bug. In England most of their cars had radiators and inline four cylinder engines that had very little horsepower. You had to take a run at hills because they had so little power.
It was really an important car to me because at that time I was into surfing. So I really liked the idea of this car because it was perfect for putting the surfboard on top or even a smaller surfboard on the inside.
Over a two-week period, I started to figure out how to work on cars and how to fix things and identify the problem areas. I asked a bunch of questions of friends and neighbors and different people to try to get the car running.
I finally got it running to after a lot of help from the neighbors. I installed a new battery. And then a quirky thing happened as I realized that my grandfather had put four different size tires on the car. So I had to replace all the tires. While the tires were off I checked all the brakes and they were good.
I got to the point where I wanted to fix it up and make it really fun to take to the beach. One of the earliest things I did after cleaning it was put a 4 and 8 track stereo in the car. I installed the player and installed six speakers. And the reason I put in six was because I didn’t want four. Four wasn’t enough.
Then I paneled the inside of the car after installing the speakers. I did some other cosmetic things on the inside. Then I cleaned it up. I wanted to have a small mattress behind the back seat. So when I fold the middle seat flat, it would have created a flat area. So I wanted a small full mattress in there. I went down and got some foam rubber and cut it to fit the back. My older sister, Coleen, was good at sewing. She made all her own clothes and prom dresses. And so she said she would make me a cover for it. So she made me a cloth cover to slide over the mattress.
My brother Tim and I worked on the car together. We would go out there every day and crawl underneath it. We put it up on jacks and at first we couldn’t figure out why it wouldn’t run. We kept going to our neighbor who was two doors down. He was a born mechanic. His name was Swede Larson. He was Swedish and he worked for the navy. Any question you ever asked him, he always had an answer and he had all the tools too. So we would go down and say, well my car is doing this or my car is doing that and what do you think it is? And he would say, Oh wow, that’s probably this or it’s probably that. And so then he would say to fix that you need to do this thing. So we would do that next thing.
And finally one night, I think it was late like 11 o’clock at night, I was out in the driveway with my brother and we kept trying things and finally we got it started and the car roared to life. But there was a problem. The muffler had a big rusted hole in it so it roared like a V8 but it was this tiny four-cylinder engine. So we were pretty excited about it. We drove it around the block even though it was roaring with the loud muffler. And we thought we were pretty cool at that time for getting it started after two weeks of time working on it.
We had to fix the hydraulic clutch so we learned how to bleed the lines to get the air out. Once we got all that done, then it was just cleaning it up and making it look good and getting it ready to go to the beach.
I had to get some surfer racks that bolt to the rain gutter on the top of the car. At that time my first surfboard, which I think I still had at that time was 10 foot, two inches. I used rubber straps to hold it on, and then I was able to go to the beach.
So I would take the car and turn on the 4 and 8 eight track player with my six speakers and play a little rock and roll, a little beach boys music to go to the beach, surf for a couple hours, and then load everything up and come back playing music.
I would drive the car to the beach a couple times a week at least to go surfing. I have so many memories of how important that car was, how fun it was and how practical it was for going to the beach and getting around.
Most of the time I was by myself just because everybody was so busy. But sometimes I’d take my younger brother Tim who is two years younger than me. He was into surfing also. We’d put our two boards on the top and drive to the beach playing our music.
Dave asked Kevin what his next car was after the Hilman.
Kevin said my next car, which is pretty exciting, was a 1969 Opal Cadet Rally. Buick sold them and my brother’s friend’s dad was the sales manager at a Buick dealership. I went down there and he was showing me all these cars and I really liked them. They had a four-cylinder engine with 102 horsepower. Well that was pretty much unheard of in those days in 1968. He told me that I could buy this car brand new for $2,433. And so I thought, okay, I could probably afford that because at that time I was working for Raytheon. They made aerospace parts for the navy and I had enough money that I could pretty easily make a car payment.
So I ended up buying the Opal Cadet Rally. The Rally was an upgraded model. It was a metallic gold color. It had black stripes on the side and the hood was partially blacked out. Compared to the Hillman, it was amazing. It had twice as much horsepower, I think, as the Hilman.
I set it up with surf racks on the top and put a stereo in it also so I could play all my music and set it up similar to the Hilman. It had black interior bucket seats. It was quite the little car. It was really fun. It was fast and got good mileage for a car in that time.