Bruce Phillips is a surgeon of sorts.
His “operating room” is a parking garage between the Tacoma Park Volunteer Fire Department and a car service store on Carroll Street, and it currently houses two of his “patients.”
For Bruce, owner of Healey Surgeons with his wife, Inan, his work is carried out on Austin-Healeys, a British sports car produced from 1953 to 1967.
For nearly 30 years in the Tacoma Park store, Bruce, 64, has worked for clients across the region and country, mostly on cars (and their parts) with a design he says “pulls people in” to them.
“It was really, I think, one of the best looking cars of its day, and to this day it still retains its characteristics,” he said.
Inan Phillips, 63, shares the shop’s open garage space, orders and sells new and used parts from around the world that make these cars tick, nearly all of which are tested in-store.
“Bruce is my turkey,” said Inan, who worked with her husband during those decades. She called it a “specialized job” that she didn’t think would work at first.
One morning last January, Bruce sprayed soap off one of two Healeys, a black 1956 Austin Healey 100, which he had repaired and restored. He initially saw it as a bare tire with no engine or transmission and a lot of other things that needed work.
“I’m not driving it enough,” he said, “I’m kind of ashamed.” “Part of the problem is that I own a dog, and I’ve tried putting her in the car, and she hates it.”
Bruce worked on every model of the Big Hills, from the 100 to 3000 Mark III.
Annan said Austin Motor Company and Donald Healey have produced about 72,000 cars. She said the Austin Healey Spirits were produced until 1972 but are a “completely different animal” and are considered more similar to the MG family of sports cars.
Bruce said that Hillis “was very popular at first—a lot of college students drove it.” “And that’s why so many of today’s seniors, older professionals, want to go back and rejuvenate, so to speak, and buy these cars and are interested in getting them.”
Bruce said he was in his early twenties when he bought his first Healy, which was “tired and hit by bad transmission.”
He has since said, “We’ve owned some interesting cars.”
For the era, the cars were relatively fast, hitting speeds from about 100 mph to 120 mph depending on the model, he said. A rare version of the Model 100 can reach 160 mph.
The sports car also performed well in long-distance rallies in Europe, he said, such as “from Paris to Rome to Paris.”
Bruce said the costume designer for the Austin-Healey 100 was Gerry Coker, “a little kid in his early twenties,” adding, “I showed him a car once already.”
The Phillips family has also been in contact with the Healy family, including Donald Healy.
Bruce used to service cars on his Tacoma Park driveway, he said, but he was so busy he quit his job working with offset presses and opened a store in Hyatsville.
“I’ve been fixing cars since high school,” he said, “but I never imagined doing it full time.” “It’s something I just fell into.”
Bruce said that since 1984, when he moved his shop to Tacoma Park, he’s been working primarily on Healeys, including those that come with rats climbing out of the trunk.
“Now I’m at a point where it looks like I’m either working on really awesome cars or really well restored cars,” he said. “And I think I’m spoiled by beautiful cars.”
Bruce said there are other stores that operate and specialize in Healeys, but Healey Surgeons is the only store in the area that focuses solely on sports cars.
“I think I’m the only one stupid enough to do that,” he said.
Dave Doyle of Silver Spring said he knew Phillips “long before the store,” when they were all involved in a group of about 15 to 20 Healey owners who went to the National Auto Shows together.
Although some people have had doubts about how a company that specializes in Healeys would operate, Doyle said, “They’ve proven everyone completely wrong.”
Doyle, who was the first president of the Austin Healey in the metropolitan area, said his Austin Healey 3000 has been in the store for about a week.
“Bruce is a bit charming at that,” he said. “Bruce is the only other person on this planet who touches my car.”
Inan said he is the brilliant business mind.
Bruce prefers fixing gearboxes and engines, but he can work on the Healey from headlights to rear bumper.
“There’s nothing I haven’t done or can’t do in the car,” he said. “It’s just a matter of what the customer needs and what they want to spend.”
Bruce said his customers bring in or send out broken components for him to fix as well as entire cars, both paid and driven.
The Takoma Park store has a wide range of used parts he assembled, from carburetors to gearbox synchronization rings.
“I try to give them the best I can get rid of,” he said.
During busy periods, Bruce will work on one car per week and usually be buoyed by service requests — though they’ve been slower lately, he said.
He said the business has been slowing down in part because the cars only require routine maintenance after being restored and taken care of.
“It’s good to hear from people,” Bruce said. “People have actually said, ‘I made my car 10 years ago. I haven’t done anything for it since then except for changing the oil – and driving it. “
Another factor, Bruce said, is that people outside the United States are buying cars, and the Healeys are being re-exported.
Inan said the Healeys didn’t quite capture the hearts of younger generations as they did the older generations. Young people sought faster and less expensive cars.
Bruce said that although prices can go up depending on the quality of the restoration, the average Austin Healey ranges from about $30,000 to $60,000.
Since the three store employees have left over the years, Bruce hasn’t replaced them.
“It has gotten to the point where it is now up to me,” he said. “If I need two extra hands, I call on my wife to help clean the brakes or something.”
However, when the repair service side is slow, “the parts keep sort of keep working,” he said.
Most of Inan’s sales are to high-end restoration shops across the country and around the world, including England, Australia and Japan.
She said the Phillips family is also involved in reproducing Healey parts, which includes sending original parts to companies in the United States and abroad so they can be accurately copied.
“There is a lot of work that we do behind the scenes,” Annan said.
Bill Connelly worked for Healey Surgeons for 10 years after selling his Volkswagen shop to Phillipses. He said he enjoyed working on specialized long-term projects rather than “anything you have to do to eat”, as he used to.
“She’s much nicer,” Connelly said. “You are very good at what you do.”
It’s about to finish restoring the 1961 Austin Healey 3000.
Connelly, of Woodbine, who now owns Prospect Motors in Mount Airy, said he and Phillips continue to work for each other on various vehicles.
Steve Jarrett, president of the CAAHC, said that while he doesn’t know Bruce personally, he is well aware of his solid reputation as a Healy mechanic.
Garrett said Austin Hillis continues to draw people in for a variety of reasons, including their style and classic style.
“It’s kind of like driving a bit of history,” Garrett said.