Gerry Coker (1922-2020)

     The club is saddened to mark the passing of Gerry Coker on November 13, 2020. We were privileged to have Gerry as a 26-year member of the club. He had a long career as a designer in the auto industry, most notably for LBC fans with Austin Healey. He was a respected Healey history resource, in demand both near and far. With the generous permission of Gary Feldman, President of the Austin-Healey Club of America, I have copied their tribute below. Our hearts go out to Marion and her family. Gerry was very popular and will be greatly missed.

     “Gerald Charles Coker, known to all as ‘Gerry,’ was born June 24, 1922 in Northamptonshire, England. He is known in the Healey world for his body design of the Healey Hundred introduced in 1952.
     Gerry’s design talent showed up early in life with his childhood “doodles” of motorcars. He began his training as an engineer in 1939 when he apprenticed at the Rootes Group, where he worked with experimental designs for armored vehicles and other military vehicle components prior to and during WWII.
     He joined the Donald Healey Motor Company as Healey’s body engineer in 1950. His first job was to look after the Nash Healeys as they came from Panelcraft, the Nash Healey body makers.
     Early on at the DHMC, Healey challenged Gerry to show him a sports car design, and in late 1950, he created the body design for what would become the Austin-Healey 100. This timelessly beautiful sports car stole the show in October, 1952 when it debuted as the Healey Hundred at the London Motor Show at Earls Court.
     Gerry also styled the Austin-Healey Streamliner (the “pretty one,” he says) that was driven to 192.7 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1954 while establishing records in speed and endurance. And just before moving on from the DHMC, Gerry developed the preliminary body design for the forthcoming Austin-Healey Sprite, which made its very successful first appearance in 1958. Budget considerations caused the Sprite’s final design to be altered considerably. This early design did not include the unique headlamps which caused the first Sprites to be called “Bugeye” in North America and “Frogeye” in Great Britain.
     Gerry and his wife, Marion, were wed in June, 1953 near Coventry, Warwickshire. Their engagement coincided with Gerry’s design work for the Healey Hundred. Their wedding almost didn’t take place, as that June weekend was also the race weekend at Le Mans. Donald Healey had entered four cars (two Austin-Healeys and two Nash Healeys) and wanted Gerry to attend the race. He did not. Marion recalls that “I won that one!”
     In 1957, the Cokers left England for life in America. Gerry worked at the Chrysler Corporation for about five years before a move to the Ford Motor Company, where he worked until 1987, when he retired as a Senior Product Design Engineer. It was Gerry who designed the famous dual action tailgate for station wagons; he and Ford hold a patent on his ingenious design.
     Gerry and Marion Coker are familiar faces to most Healey club members who have met them over the years at various Austin-Healey meets. Gerry passed away surrounded by family Nov. 13, 2020.
     When you see an Austin-Healey, you can thank Gerry Coker for its timeless design.”

Wheel Base Garage Condos Car Show

Members of the Suncoast British Car Club responded to the car show invitation for the Grand Opening of Wheel Base Premium Garage Condos by bringing 13 excellent examples of bygone British automotive craftsmanship.

On October 30, 2020, the club was invited to display our cars at the grand opening of Wheel Base Premium Garage Condos. The garage condo complex offers car collectors a secure location in which to store and work on their rolling assets. There are 46 units in a wide range of sizes (and prices) at this facility. The grand opening featured food & drink, live music and several other car clubs.

While the event brought out many exotic cars from the area, as so often happens at these shows, our contingent of classic LBC’s captured the largest share of interest for attendees.  We had three Jaguars, two Triumph TR3’s, one Triumph TR6, one MGA, one MG Midget, two Morgans, one Austin Healy, one Jensen Healy and a Daimler SP250.  Not only did we have a really good vehicle turnout, but we had a chance to socialize with (masked) members who have been sequestered all summer, either locally or up north. 

Wheel Base is located roughly 12 miles inland from Sarasota Bay and the Gulf. It sits at 41 feet above sea level, well outside of flood zones, and is built to withstand Cat 4 hurricanes. Each condo has a half bath and can be further customized to suit.  With the minimum addition of a bunk, refrigerator and a well-stocked bar, owners have a backup safe haven in which to ride out a hurricane with their most prized possessions. There’s also room for family members.

Thanks to Bruce Skaggs for the photo and input on club participation.

Stu Mullan Races at Sebring

Stu in his SRF3 ready to roll.

On September 5, 2020, SBCC member, Stu Mullan, was at Sebring International Raceway for a series of races under the auspices of the Sports Car Club of America. Stu races in the SRF3 class and he invited President Jim Wilson to attend as one of his crew members. This was a rare treat because no spectators were otherwise allowed due to the coronavirus. Everyone also had to wear a face mask at all times. Jim filed the following report.

The SRF3 (3rd generation of the Spec Racer Ford class) dates back to 1994 when the SRF was introduced by SCCA as an economical, purpose-built race car. This is what they call a “spec” class, meaning components are built by one supplier and then sealed so modifications are not possible. This makes all cars equal, leaving driver skills the determining factor in the races. The SRF3 has a rear mounted Ford 4-cylinder engine with dual overhead cam and five speed transmission. With the driver, the car must weigh 1,560 lb., resulting in a very high power to weight ratio with speeds up to 140 mph.

Stu has owned his car for 10 years, and he has it garaged and prepped by PM Racing in Lakeland, Florida. The company does all the maintenance and repairs, transports the vehicle to the race track, and provides race day support at the track. On this occasion, there were five other SRF3’s besides Stu’s car running out of the PM stables. On Friday, Stu broke the transmission and clutch during a practice run, but PM had spares and had the car ready to go for the first event Saturday morning. Jim recalls that as a pit crew member in the past, he’s done plenty of wrenching to get broken racers ready for the next day so it was great to be a member for once with nothing to do but spectate! It was an enjoyable day, but unfortunately, afternoon lightning forced the cancellation of the latter portion of the program, including Stu’s last race.

Jim plans to go to the next SCCA Sebring event in January. Obviously, that depends on the status of the coronavirus and whether the track is open to spectators again. If anyone else is interested, let Jim know.

July & August Drives

Drivers practicing CDC guidelines right up to start time.

Although much of the state remained in partial shut-down mode over the summer, the club has not been idle. President Jim Wilson has continued to lead stirring “drives to nowhere” so he and other interested club members can blow the dust off the tonneaus and keep the fluids circulating. Alas, while we miss the breakfast and lunch destinations we used to have on these trips, the driving is still a great way to enjoy our cars, not to mention the psychological benefit of just getting out of town. There were four such excursions during the months of July and August.

Joe Malaney had the following to report about the July 19 drive, which was typical: “…Jim led several intrepid motorists from the club on a 100 mile ‘Tour to Nowhere’ on Sunday. We soared through Myakka City, past Solomon’s Castle and across the wooden bridge. Cars participating were Jim’s TR6, 2 MGB’s, 2 Jaguar XK8’s, a Morgan and a Lotus.”

Jim Wilson’s interest in Triumphs began at an early age and he has owned a 1973 TR6 now for 39 years. The origin of this attraction has been captured in the following vignette submitted to The Marque recently by ace corresponding reporter, Bruce Skaggs (This incident has been edited for length and family content.):
     “At the ripe old age of 15, Jim got an invitation to a SCCS regional race at Grattan Raceway in Belding, Michigan, about 75 miles from his house. This invite came from one of his older friends who happened to own a Triumph TR4A. His friend, Karl, thought it would be fun to drive the TR to the races with Jim as shotgun. The two spent the day at the track, doing what two teenagers do at such races. As they got ready to return home, Karl turned up deathly ill and unable to drive the 75 miles back. So, Karl told Jim it was up to him to get them home with two caveats, don’t grind the gears and don’t go over 70 mph. With this, Karl went to sleep in the right seat and Jim, with no driver’s license, no experience with either a clutch or a 4-speed and really no knowledge of a Triumph, headed for home. Jim describes this as the defining moment when Triumphs became a part of his inner self.”

Thanks to Joe for the photos from the July 19 drive which accompany this report.

Father’s Day Drive, June 21, 2020

Although the drive was on Father’s Day, the highlight was to salute Jim Wilson’s mother on her upcoming 97th birthday. Carolyn Skaggs made birthday wish signs for all club members who hadn’t brought their own.

Although not comparable to the coronavirus, “Cabin Fever” can grip those of us who have cut back outside activities drastically because of the virus. Fortunately, Jim and Debbie Wilson organized another drive to help liberate the many who were starting to feel the walls closing in. Unlike Jim’s other Drives to Nowhere, this one organized for Father’s Day, June 21, actually had a destination, along with an intermediate point of interest. We had 19 cars, including four from our partnering club, the AACA.

Starting at the Stottlemyer’s Smokehouse parking lot on the eastern edge of Sarasota, the group was led over tree-lined back roads to Venice. The intermediate destination was a drive-by of Jim’s mother’s house to wish her a happy 97th birthday! Jim’s dad worked for Oldsmobile for 45 years and his mother, June, loves cars.

We did two circuits around the block where her home was located, allowing club members to salute June twice. She was clearly delighted and the neighbors were also impressed with the free show! This event was followed by a drive through the newly landscaped Venice downtown, and ended at the Nokomis Groves fruit store for some of their special ice cream. Nokomis Groves has been in the area for 50 years and their outdoor shop is a local favorite. This stop gave us all a chance to get out to stretch our legs and enjoy a cold treat.

Thanks to Jim and Bruce Skaggs for input to this story. Additional thanks to Carolyn Skaggs for providing the handmade signs, and to Debbie Wilson for assembling goodie bags for everyone to enjoy on the trip. It was a great turnout for a special lady and a wonderful way to enjoy our LBC’s during these trying times.

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