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Mike Dwyer - Jamaican

General information about the Jamaican
   One of biggest kit car manufacturers in the 1960’s was Fiberfab.  They had one-and two page ads in Road & Track for a while and even had a road test of the Jamaican in that magazine in March of 1969.  There were production facilities in Steel City and Milpitas, California. Fiberfab made many different cars, some the most popular being the Avenger and the Valkyrie, inspired by the Ford GT40. Their most popular car was the MG TD replica. Around 1000 were being sold a month.
Before it went out of business, they had sold about 25,000 kit cars.  In 1968 Fiberfab started making a group of cars called the Jamaican, Designed by Chris Bebee, they were inspired by the Lamborghini Miura, but most of them had the engine in front.  It was a fiberglass sports coupe and it came in many forms, depending on the ‘donor’ car (the car the chassis was taken from).  One came on a VW platform. Then there was series of three that used MG, Triumph & Austin-Healey chassis.  Lastly, there was one called the Jamaican II V8 with a chassis made by Fiberfab. It had a Corvette independent rear suspension and front suspension made of various GM parts.  There were about 250 to 300 Jamaicans built and I think there are very few, maybe a handful, on the road today.  Most were never completed.  The Jamaican had a Corvette windshield, Porche 911 rear window, and Karman Ghia door windows and window regulators.  The windshield wiper motor was the Lucas unit from the British donor car.  Most of them had Ford Maverick-Pinto taillights because they looked a little like the Miura units.
   The Jamaicans had their own set of personal quirks. The doors didn’t fit the car, & had to be reworked. The factory just bolted the doors on and left it to the buyer-builder to finish them. The doors had to be raised, usually by making a U-shaped shim and inserting it between the lower hinge & door. Then the trailing edge of the door skin had to "adjusted" (I used a disk sander) so the door would close.  The door curvature was different from the body of the car, which would probably be prohibitively difficult to fix.  I left mine the way it was.  Then the builder notices that the shape of the top of the door window is different than the window frame. A custom window can be made by a glass shop, or the frame can be reshaped. The body is made of ‘chopper gun’ fiberglass, which is cheaper, but it is heaver & less strong than hand-laid fiberglass cloth.  The tilt front end is a nice feature, because it shows off the engine better (If that’s what you want to do) and it makes the engine, front suspension, etc. easier to work on, especially if you remove it completely.  The downside is that it’s less convenient to open for quick things like checking oil, etc.  There is no opening trunk lid, although one could be fabricated.  You can easily store a lot of luggage behind the seats, however.  The instrument panel is in the middle of the dash, not necessarily a bad idea, because the gauges are easier to work on (you will have to install & connect them, remember) and if you want, you can put a fancy tach or video screen on the dash in front of you.  If you plan to put a monster motor in the car, you will have to move the steering over, which is not that difficult.  The Healy has a strong rear end, and will hold up well, if you do not try to play Mario Andretti with it.  Standard ‘slapper’ type traction bars can be fitted to take the torque.
 

Building a Healy-Jamaican

First, the body is removed from the Austin-Healey (presumably a wrecked one). Then the fiberglass body is installed (this usually takes a lot of time, because it has to be hand fitted). Then the doors are installed, which also takes a lot of hand fitting. Then there are a lot of details, like wipers, seats, upholstery, windows, redoing the gauges & wiring, etc. Many builders put a V8 in the car, which involves motor mounts, different radiator, etc. Then the body must be prepped and painted. Usually the wheels are ‘upgraded’ to custom alloy. This is usually a bigger project than the builder anticipates and the project often goes unfinished. There is not very much headroom in the Healey-Jamaican and the floor cannot be lowered because the frame rail goes under the driver. Some builders have solved the headroom problem by putting ‘Gurney bubbles’ on the top, similar to the ones on the early vipers. For all his effort, the builder gets a unique (I have never seen one in a car show or cruise night) lightweight attention-getting car that he can drive & enjoy for little cost. Austin-Healey chassis are far too valuable now to be used for donors, and many owners of unfinished Jamaicans have scrapped the body and sold the A-H parts to collectors. One result of all this is that a lot of A-H parts (chassis, suspensions sometimes the motor) were saved that would have been scrapped.

My project
I bought a Healy-Jamaican in 2003 for about $2000. It had been cobbled together with a Chevy engine and was presumably driven or raced.  Then it was stripped and stored in the weather for about 30 years.  First, I converted it from wire wheel hubs to bolt-on wheel hubs and got some good alloy wheels for it.  Then I filled the holes in the firewall with sheet aluminum. The doors had never been properly fitted (they wouldn’t even latch) so I had to do that. I also reworked the window regulators so they would function. I am now in the process of rewiring the car and fixing, fabricating and redoing many things. The plan is to put a BMW V12 in the car with a standard transmission. I have the engine, but it will be a challenge to get the complicated engine management system to work outside of a BMW.   Also, I will probably have to get a transmission adaptor made, as there is only one BMW standard transmission in a wrecking yard in this country, and they want $5500 for it.

Jamaicans were made by Fiberfab in the late 60's. My is a 1968. It is inspired by the Lamborghini Miura. Mine has a BBC 488 cu. in. motor. I actually have two of them, one of which is a Healy-Jamaican.

Mike D.

 

February 9, 2006 update:

I finished the 496 BBC engine & started it in December 2005, then 5
weeks later I got the car so I could drive it. I came back from my trip (around the block) with a list of things to fix, including the pedal & steering wheel placement. I am in the process of doing those & raising the front of the car. I hope to have it ready for the Knott's show on April 22.

 

May 2, 2006 Update:

I ordered a fan from Scott's fans, a 2500 cfm pusher. I drove my car
around my 3 - mile test loop twice yesterday & it didn't get overheat.
I'm getting that fan because I have only a marginal cooling system now.
Mike at Supreme muffler talked me into Dynomax mufflers. We will see
how it goes.
That car is a beast. It is a rough, crude hot rod.
 

 

 

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