Is it worth importing a Big ’Healey? Marque specialists are giving it a rest, but that shouldn’t necessarily put you off doing it yourself
The Austin-Healey belongs to that post-war generation of British sports cars that found most of its buyers in the United States – more than 80 per cent of them, in fact. But while stocks of some cars of its era – such as the MGA – are drying up Stateside there are still good ’Healey 3000s to be found, says Chris Everard of Warwickshire-based JME Healeys (01926 499000, www.jmehealeys.co.uk). The main problem is today’s exchange rate (down from around $1.7 USD to the pound a couple of years ago, to less than $1.2 today), which has undermined the profitability of importing for businesses such as JME. So the cost-effectiveness isn’t great, but should you wait for the exchange rates to shift in our favour?
Probably not. Availability won’t last forever, and Chris has watched the price of project cars double in the past seven years. He reckons that it can still be worthwhile for the individual buyer (who doesn’t need to make a profit margin) to consider importing from the States. ‘There are deals out there to be had, and some of the ’Healeys from the west coast of America look like they’ve been in a timewarp compared to cars that have been living in the UK. Buy a car that’s as complete as possible from the US and it can be worth it.’
American ’Healeys have different wing mirrors and headlamps – and the steering wheel on the ‘wrong’ side, of course – but are otherwise similar to British models. If you want a right-hand drive car from a dry country, without the cost of conversion to RHD in the UK (parts are readily available but it can cost £6000 plus VAT for a Mk III), you might find what you’re after in Australia. Some ’Healeys from Down Under originated in the USA anyway, so if they’ve been converted to RHD you’ll have to take a gamble on the quality of the workmanship.
Left-hand drive cars can also be found across Europe, offering the potential of combining a purchase with a summer holiday, but the real benefits of importing can only be had by sourcing from a dry continent, and the USA still offers by far the greatest number available.