Healey heart starter
IT’S hard to believe, but it is 60 years since the Austin Healey sports car was first released to the public. The low-slung two seater was unashamedly aimed at the growing American market and for the next 17 years the Healey came to epitomise what a high-end sports machine ought to be.
Donald Healey was in his mid-fifties when he developed the stylish sports car in conjunction with Austin. For many years previously Healey had developed, designed, sold and raced various sports cars which carried his name. They were usually combinations of someone else’s engines, gear boxes, frames and components over which Donald would wave some of his magic.
After World War II, Healey realised America was a vast untapped market for sports cars.
He tried his luck with a bulky grand tourer. It had a Nash six-cylinder engine and styling by Italian Pinin Farina, who had been commissioned to design the larger Nash passenger cars.
Only 500 Nash Healeys had been sold when, in 1954, the arrangement was terminated when Nash and Hudson merged to form American Motors Corporation.
Meanwhile, Austin Motor Company’s chairman Leonard Lord was having his own American experience. Lord was responsible for the Austin Atlantic (A 90). Remember them? Once seen, never forgotten: a British-made convertible, four-cylinder motor and three headlights, making it look like a 1948 Tucker. Lord thought they’d sell up a storm in the US. They did not.
Consequently, Austin had quite a few spare fourcylinder motors sitting around. It required urgent attention and Lord still harboured ambitions of success in the US. So did Healey.
Together they decided that the Atlantic engine would serve as the base for a car to be positioned in the American market under the expensive Jaguar XK 120 and above the cheaper MGTD.
In essence, Healey contributed the technical knowledge and mechanical excellence while Lord contributed the motor and the money.
Designed to be left and d right-hand drive rive from the start,t theth new “Healey 100” reached the 100mph mark in tests and was immediately acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic. Light in weight, it handled as a sports car should. Everyone loved it. Everyone still does. >> By David Burrell of www.retroautos.com.au