THE PININ FARINA CONNECTION
In the fall of 1950, Mason repeated his circuit of major European auto shows, where he had been very impressed with the latest designs by Turin’s Battista “Pinin” Farina, including the sleek new Lancia Aurelia B10. As soon as Mason returned to the U.S., he dispatched his special assistant, George Romney, to hire Farina as a Nash consultant. Nash actually ended up using very little of Farina’s proposals for its full-size models, but the production cars were publicly credited to him and Nash went to great lengths to promote the Pinin Farina brand in the U.S.
Nash also commissioned Farina to revamp the styling of the Nash-Healey, with which no one — including Donald Healey — was particularly thrilled. Farina’s proposal was much more satisfactory, with a modern one-piece windshield, a new grille with distinctive inset headlamps, and flared rear fenders that eliminated the slab-sided look of the original car. It was no longer a roadster, but a proper convertible with wind-up windows. It would be paneled in steel rather than aluminum.
Production of the Panelcraft body was halted in April 1951 while the chassis was modified to accept the heavier Farina-designed body. Chassis and running gear continued to be assembled in Warwick, but Nash commissioned Farina to build the new bodies at his factory in Turin, which would also handle final assembly before shipping completed cars to the U.S. Regular production resumed in January 1952.
The redesigned Nash-Healey sports convertible bowed at the Chicago Auto Show in February 1952. While the new styling was very well received, the new body and the inevitably high transportation costs of its multi-national production had conspired to push the list price even higher than before: a daunting $5,868 POE. The Italian-built cars had exceptional workmanship, but they now cost as much as two Nash Ambassadors. A Nash-Healey was almost $1,900 more expensive than a Jaguar XK120 drophead, which had considerably better performance.
THE NASH-HEALEY’S FINEST HOUR
In May, Healey fitted both the original X5 prototype and the X6 Le Mans car with the latest 4,138 cc (253 cu. in.) version of the Nash six and entered both cars in the 1952 Mille Miglia. The X5, driven by Leslie Johnson and Bill McKenzie, achieved seventh place overall, but the X6, driven by Geoff and Donald Healey, proved less fortunate, suffering a serious crash after losing control on a patch of wet road. The X6’s unique coupe body was a write-off, but its chassis was recovered and shipped back to Warwick, where portions of it were used for the new X8, with a lightweight roadster body.
Healey entered both the X5 and X8 in the 1952 24 Hours of Le Mans in June. The X8 would be driven by Leslie Johnson and Tommy Wisdom, the older car by Pierre Veyron and Yves Giraud-Cabantous. The X8’s engine was relatively stock, tuned for about 135 hp (101 kW), but the X5 was fitted with an experimental cylinder head designed by A.C. Sampietro, with angled valves and hemispherical combustion chambers for better breathing. The new head’s extra weight did nothing for the Nash-Healey’s balance, but early dynamometer testing found that the experimental head was good for at least 160 hp (119 kW), with the potential for as much as 190 hp (142 kW). Unfortunately, the new head was not sufficiently developed for competition, suffering a broken rocker shaft early in the race that put Veyron and Cabantous out of the running.
Johnson and Wisdom had no such problems. After a deliberately conservative start, they began to advance through the ranks, methodically dispatching a host of formidable rivals that included Cunningham, Aston Martin, and Ferrari. Although Johnson and Wisdom couldn’t match the all-out speed of the winning Mercedes 300SLs, their Nash-Healey managed a strong third place, first in class.
Naturally, the production cars weren’t as fast as the racers, which had touched 130 mph (209 km/h) on the Mulsanne Straight, but later in the year, standard Nash-Healeys also received the 4.1-liter (253 cu. in.) engine, which Nash had proudly christened “Le Mans Dual Jet Fire.” In street form, the big engine had two Carter side-draft carburetors and was rated at 140 gross hp (104 kW) and 230 lb-ft (312 N-m) of torque, a healthy increase on its 3.8-liter (235 cu. in.) predecessor. Unfortunately, the greater weight of the Italian-built steel body meant that the big-engined cars were only slightly quicker than the earlier roadsters.
For all its racing achievements, the Nash-Healey was still not a hot commodity for Nash dealers. The 1952 car did sell better than the 1951, but the final tally was still only 150 units.