AUSTIN-HEALEY 100/4, 100/6 AND 3000
Discover what you need to know when buying one of the most iconic and desirable open-top sports cars from the 1950s and 1960s.
When it was first displayed at the Earls Court Motor Show in 1952, the Healey 100 bridged the gap between the cheaper MG sports cars and the more expensive Jaguar XK120. Donald Healey and BMC boss Leonard Lord struck a deal and production began the following year under the Austin-Healey banner. Production officially lasted until 1967, although Steve at the UK Healey Centre says three cars were built in 1968.
The first models were known as the Austin-Healey 100 from the start (also known as BN1) because the number 100 represented the power output from the car’s 2660cc fourcylinder BMC engine (as fitted to the Austin A90) and also the car’s top speed. They were equipped with a three-speed manual gearbox, which had overdrive on second and third – the gearbox was actually a four-speed Austin unit, but with first gear blanked off as it was too low. This was resolved in 1955 with the BN2 model, which had a four-speed gearbox with no synchromesh on first.
Despite their gearbox limitations, those early threespeed BN1 cars are now regarded as highly collectable. Both BN1 and BN2 models had a fold-down windscreen to reduce wind resistance and transform the sports car into a sort of speedster, a feature that’s also highly desirable nowadays. There was also the 100M in 1955-1956, which featured a louvred bonnet and several engine modifications (upgraded carbs, manifolds, head gasket, double-valve springs, camshaft and distributor). Ensuring one of these is a genuine example is often quite difficult, especially considering Healey dealerships offered various upgrades to convert a standard Healey 100 BN1 or BN2 to 100M specification.
The biggest and potentially the most noticeable improvement for the Healey 100 arrived in 1956 when BMC’s 2639cc six-cylinder engine was fitted to create the 100/6 (all previous models then became known as the 100/4). The new model’s bodywork and chassis were revised to accommodate rear seats in what was known as the BN4 model, although a two-seater was still available and called the BN6. With a mere 102bhp at the flywheel, the straight-six was no better than the Healey 100’s four- cylinder in standard tune, although power output was increased in 1957 by 15bhp. However, it wasn’t until 1959 when the capacity was increased to 2912cc to produce 124bhp that the Healey was back on track and became known as the Healey 3000 (nowadays it’s also known as the Big Healey, but according to A-Head 4 Healeys, all models were known as the Big Healey to distinguish them from the Austin-Healey Sprite). A four-seater (BT7) and a two-seater (BN7) were available, which were revised in 1961 to create the Healey 3000 MkII, followed by the MkIIA the year after that featured windup windows (BJ7 model) and a fixed folding hood (classed as a convertible). By 1963, the MkIII was launched (BJ8) with more performance (148bhp) and additions such as a walnutveneered dashboard and a centre console for a radio and speaker.
The Healey 100 and 3000 had a long production life and records show that nearly 15,000 of the four- cylinder 100 models were sold, and a total of approximately 73,000 of all models, of which roughly 90% of six- cylinder engine models were exported, approximately 80% of them going to the US.
If you want a fun, open-top sports car for a country lane blast to blow the cobwebs away, then an early 100/4 with a folding windscreen has got to be the ultimate, especially if its engine has been uprated to 100M specification. However, these four- cylinder models had drum brakes all round and no locking doors (locks were introduced around 1963 onwards). Thrill seekers who want six cylinders under the bonnet instead of four may want to be cautious with early 2639cc models that offer not much more performance than a 100/4. They also have drum brakes all round – the 3000 was the
first model to have front discs as standard. Anyone wanting greater creature comforts should find a post-1962 model with wind-up windows and a hood that’s less awkward to operate. Seat belts had to be fitted in the UK from 1965 onwards, so should you want them and they are missing on a pre- 65 model, be prepared to retrofit them (mounting points were fitted on the Healey 3000).
Whatever you desire from an open-top sports car, the Healey 100 or 3000 shouldn’t disappoint, but be prepared for some dated features, such as a worm-and-peg steering box instead of a more modern steering rack and a potentially choppy ride quality from the rear live axle that’s controlled with leaf springs and lever arm dampers. It’s worth considering whether you want a two- or four-seater (more of a 2+2), not only in the interests of fitting extra people or luggage in the rear, but also for reasons of potential claustrophobia with the hood up. Plus, with a twoseater 100/4 being 12ft 7in long (3.84m), there’s another 6½in on the later four-seater from 1956 and all subsequent models from 1958 onwards (the width remains at around 5ft, or 1.53m).
These models have always been more expensive than equivalent MGs, but never as costly as the Jaguars they once rubbed shoulders with, such as the XK120-150 and the E-type. Budget for at least £50,000 for a roadworthy example, whether it’s a four- or six- cylinder engine model. Restoration projects don’t often appear, but when they do, they can be around half this amount but still work out more expensive in the long run.
As mentioned, many Healeys were exported to the US and have found their way back to the UK over recent years, sometimes being converted to RHD and equipped with period or aftermarket modifications such as front disc brakes. Obtaining a Heritage Certificate helps to clarify the originality of any model, particularly an export if it has collectability. And it’s that evidence which can mean the value doubles or trebles, especially if it is a genuine 100M, but make sure there’s sufficient evidence and consult the specialists and clubs for guidance.
Tools and spares
Most of the nuts and bolts on the 100/4 models use Whitworth sizes, whereas the 100/6 onwards changed to UNF. These Healeys weigh around one ton, so a low 1.5-ton trolley jack and
axle stands should be sufficient to remove wheels and work on the suspension and brakes.
Parts availability isn’t too much of a problem as many of the specialists we mention manufacture a range of components. However, Steve at UK Healey Centre says that windscreen and quarter-light frames are no longer available new, along with rear axle casings. Keith at A-Head 4 Healeys says that new gauges and instruments are impossible to find, and only used fourcylinder engine blocks are available if you can find them – but don’t expect much change out of £4000.
Before probing around a car for sale to look for rust, start by visually inspecting the panel gaps for the doors, bonnet and bootlid. Misalignment may be fixed with some adjustment, but don’t assume this is the
case and it might be that there’s hidden corrosion or problematic repairs. As Steve at UK Healey Centre says: ‘Corrosion and weakness in the inner sills and outriggers can cause door gaps to close up.’ Check also where the bonnet and bootlid meet the front and rear arches because the aluminium shrouds can cause corrosion of the adjacent steel. Budget for between £615 and £975 for a front wing made of steel or aluminium, and rear wings are similarly priced, although cheaper repair panels are available to fix some common rot-spots. All outer panels are bolted, screwed or riveted in position.
There are plenty more rust spots to inspect on these vehicles, such as the outriggers, chassis rails, front and rear crossmembers and the chassis centre cross brace. As Phil Hotham of Hotham Restorations explains: ‘You need to inspect the lower 12in of the car as this