Gerry Coker Memorial

Newly installed Suncoast British Car Club president Walt Mainberger led the Celebration of Life for notable member Gerry Coker who passed away in November.

A Celebration of Life for Gerry Coker was held on January 9 at Twin Lakes Park in Sarasota County. A stiff, chilly wind off the Gulf, along with the still-present threat of COVID-19, did little to affect the attendance. Over 40 members from both the Suncoast British Car Club and the Healey Club from Tampa were present. Gerry was an avid participant and long-time member of both clubs right up until the end of his 98 years. [Gerry’s Bio is in the Nov. 30, 2020 Events post.]

The memorial was organized and presided over by Walt Mainberger, the new SBCC president. Other speakers sharing their memories of Gerry included his daughter, Faye, Jim Wilson, outgoing SBCC president, Bill Borja, president Tampa Bay Austin Healey Club, Bill Emerson, president Historic Healeys and John Nikas, author (with Gerry) of Healey – The Men & The Machines. With a number of Healeys as a backdrop, we were all reminded of Gerry’s long and interesting career, the highlight of which was responsibility for the body design of the Austin Healey 100, which debuted in 1952, and the preliminary body styling of the Austin-Healey Sprite. Still, the two themes that emerged from all of the speakers were Gerry’s keen sense of humor and his love of family. Perhaps this combination was a key to his longevity.

It was an honor to have Gerry Coker as a member of our club, and a privilege to have known him.

Photos by Joan & John Magine and this contributor. Thanks also to Anita Woods and Bruce Skaggs.

Roundup of November & December Events

Club members enjoying a destination lunch at Stottlemeyer’s Smokehouse after cruising through the countryside.

In the last couple of months, the combination of the Covid-19 pandemic and harsh winter weather have relegated much of the country to housebound status. In contrast, the beautiful weather on the Suncoast has afforded club members numerous opportunities to get out their LBC’s and participate, socially responsibly, in activities here. 

November 14th saw a Cars and Coffee at one of the local Culver’s restaurants. According to sources, our five cars stole the show from the American classics and street rods.

On November 15th, we resurrected one of our popular lunch drives, an event not undertaken since last March. President Jim Wilson led 11 cars over a spirited one and half hour journey that ended at a local BBQ, where other members joined us for an outside lunch.

Then, on November 22nd, we had a leisurely 25-mile drive to Anna Maria Bayfront Park on the northern tip of Anna Maria Island. For health protocol reasons, attendance had to be capped at 23 members (and 12 cars). Everyone packed their own food and drinks and enjoyed a picnic lunch in the outdoor shelter just off the beach.

On December 3rd, the club joined a holiday lights drive-thru of the decorated, expansive grounds of the Ringling Museum. Organized by the museum for the community, this was a “bring a toy” event to benefit the Toys for Tots.

Finally, on December 20th, we had another of our popular “drive to nowhere” events, again led by Jim Wilson. We had six cars start the drive and, for once, all cars finished. Attending were two Triumphs, two MGB’s, a Jaguar XK8 and a Lotus.

Thanks to Bruce Skaggs for the reporting and accompanying photos.

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.