Mar­que guide

The now very de­sir­able MkIII 3000 was the fi­nal hur­rah in a long line of hairy-chested Austin-Healey badged sportscars. We trace the lin­eage of this highly re­spected mar­que.

Classics Monthly - - Contents - WORDS: IAIN WAKE­FIELD

Austin-Healey: A guide to the best cars built un­der this iconic badge.

T he Austin-Healey mar­que was the re­sult of an un­likely match be­tween a tiny War­wick­based en­gi­neer­ing work­shop run by Don­ald Healey and the mighty Austin arm of the newly formed Bri­tish Mo­tor Cor­po­ra­tion. A Cor­nish­man by birth, Don­ald Healey spent most of his early work­ing life em­ployed in the Mid­land’s mo­tor in­dus­try. As well en­joy­ing suc­cess on the pre-war rally cir­cuit when he was one of only two Bri­tish driv­ers to win the Monte Carlo rally, Healey was re­garded by his peers as a first class mo­tor en­gi­neer and would later go on to also prove him­self as a bril­liant sales­man.

Prior to the out­break of the Sec­ond World War Don­ald Healey had risen to the po­si­tion of chief en­gi­neer at Tri­umph where in the mid-1930s he was re­spon­si­ble for de­vel­op­ing the Dolomite straight-eight. When Tri­umph went bust prior to be­ing taken over by the Stan­dard Mo­tor Com­pany in 1944, Healey left to start his own en­gi­neer­ing busi­ness with col­leagues Achille Sampi­etro and Ben Bow­den at The Cape in War­wick from where the first Healey-badged car was launched in 1946.

Healey had de­signed the chas­sis for his new car and power for this aero­dy­namic sportscar came from a Ri­ley en­gine. Alvis en­gines pow­ered fur­ther cars built by the Don­ald Healey Mo­tor Com­pany and a con­tract with the Amer­i­can Nash Cor­po­ra­tion for the sup­ply of en­gines in­tro­duced the Healey name to en­thu­si­asts on the other side of the At­lantic.

Fol­low­ing the suc­cess of the 1949-launched Healey Sil­ver­stone, Austin boss Leonard Lord was cast­ing around for a sports car to com­plete with MG. Three small man­u­fac­tur­ers had come up with stud­ies for Lord’s con­sid­er­a­tion: Healey, Fraz­erNash and Jensen. By mid-1952, Healey and his chief stylist Gerry Coker were busy putting the fin­ish­ing touches to the new Healey 100, a body on frame two-seat road­ster pow­ered by a four-cylin­der 2660cc Austin A90 en­gine.

The in­ten­tion was to have the 90bhp 100 ready for the 1952 Earl’s Court Mo­tor Show that Oc­to­ber, but Healey wasn’t happy with the frontal as­pect of his new car; he thought the ra­di­a­tor grille was too tall. Right up the 11th hour, Coker was busy pro­duc­ing al­ter­na­tive grilles and the team had to work hard to per­suade Healey se­nior to take the fin­ished car to Earl’s Court. Even when it was fi­nally on the stand Healey still didn’t think his new car looked right, so the 100 was nosed up against a con­ve­nient pil­lar to pre­vent head-on view­ing.

How­ever, Healey needn’t have been so con­cerned about the shape of the grille, as the hand-built light blue 100 went on to cause a sen­sa­tion at the show. The pub­lic and press loved it. More im­por­tantly, Leonard Lord was so taken with the de­sign it’s re­puted that af­ter sit­ting in the 100 he promptly told Healey: “We’ll make it!” Pro­duc­tion of the Austin-Healey 100, des­ig­nated the BN1 series, started at Longbridge in May 1953. The body assem­bly and chas­sis were pro­duced by Jensen at West Bromwich and by 1956 just over 14,000 Austin-Healey 100’s had rolled out of Longbridge.

A ma­jor re­design that year pro­duced the six-cylin­der pow­ered Austin-Healey 100- 6 BN4 and two years later the pint-sized MkI Austin-Healey Sprite was launched. Known as the Fro­g­eye due to a pair of prom­i­nent head­lights mounted on top of the bon­net, Healey Au­to­mo­tive Con­sul­tants had been re­spon­si­ble for the de­sign and the lit­tle A-Series pow­ered Sprite went on to sell like pre­ver­bal hot­cakes. In 1957 100- 6 pro­duc­tion was trans­ferred from Longbridge to Abing­don, the home of arch-ri­val MG and in 1959 BMC in­tro­duced the heav­ily re­vamped 2.9-litre pow­ered Austin-Healey 3000.

In 1961 BMC launched the 130bhp triple SU carb equipped MkII 3000 and the first year of the new decade proved a busy one for Austin-Healey, as it also in­tro­duced the heav­ily re-skinned MkII Sprite, while MG got in on the act with the launch of the badge engi­neered Midget. MkII 3000 pro­duc­tion came to an end in late Oc­to­ber 1963 when the Austin Healey 3000 MkIII BJ8 series broke cover for the 1964 model year. This proved the fi­nal hur­rah for the big Healey, as mod­i­fi­ca­tions to com­ply with new US Fed­eral safety reg­u­la­tions were prov­ing dif­fi­cult to in­cor­po­rate and the MkIII 3000 bowed out at the end of 1967.

How­ever this wasn’t the end of this iconic name, as in 1970 Don­ald Healey was ap­pointed chair­man of Jensen Mo­tors where he as­sisted his son Ge­of­frey and Wil­liam Towns to de­sign the 2.3-litre Lo­tus 907 pow­ered Jensen-Healey. Launched in 1972, the JensenHealey was po­si­tioned be­tween the TR6 and E-Type. Al­though a fast back ver­sion broke cover in 1975, prob­lems with com­po­nent sup­ply, strikes and the ris­ing cost of petrol forced Jensen Mo­tors into liq­ui­da­tion and the fac­tory closed the fol­low­ing year.

Af­ter leav­ing Jensen, Don­ald Healey con­tin­ued to be in­volved with his con­sul­tancy busi­ness and re­tired to his home in Corn­wall were he died in 1988 aged 89. The demise of the Jensen-Healey in 1975 marked the end of the Healey badge on a masspro­duced sports car. To­day, the Austin-Healey mar­que be­longs to Nan­jing Au­to­mo­tive, the Chi­nese con­cern that bought the as­sets of MG Rover in 2005. There have been var­i­ous propo­si­tions to rein­tro­duce this fa­mous mar­que; in­clud­ing one in 2007 when it was sug­gested the badge could be re­vived to sit along­side MG.

An­other pro­posal to re­vive the Healey name on a sports car name came from Kr­ish Bhaskar, a Monaco-based in­dus­try an­a­lyst. Al­though Bhaskar did’t own the mar­que, he planned to pro­duce Project Tem­pest, a 155mph su­per­car based on a rad­i­cally re-engi­neered Austin-Healey 3000. The Healey name (with­out the Austin pre­fix) con­tin­ued to be owned by the fam­ily un­til it was sold in 2006 with the bless­ing of Don­ald Healey’s daugh­ter-in-law and her daugh­ters to HFI Au­to­mo­tive, an An­glo-Amer­i­can com­pany. While ru­mours of a new Healey con­tinue rum­ble on, the price of sur­viv­ing ex­am­ples con­tin­ues to rise un­abated.

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