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.
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.