Born on a Boat: Donald Healey and the Story of the Nash-Healey

POSTSCRIPT

Despite the lofty prices, many historians believe Nash lost money on every Nash-Healey it sold, particularly the Italian-built cars. While the exercise had obvious prestige and publicity value (and we think it was certainly the best thing to come out of Nash’s connection with Pinin Farina), it didn’t translate into sales, nor did it appear to have done much to boost interest in Nash’s bread-and-butter cars. The company’s total production was up only slightly for 1951 and continued to decline in each subsequent year. Nonetheless, the project may have inspired George Mason to take production of the subcompact Metropolitan (which was designed in the U.S.) to a British company, using Austin engines and running gear.

In contrast, the Donald Healey Motor Company made out rather well on the deal. While Nash-Healey production was negligible by Nash standards, it was the most successful of the early Healey models; the runner-up was the Tickford, which accounted for only 224 units. Not only did the Nash-Healey provide much-needed income, it helped to establish the Healey name in the U.S., paving the way for the Austin-Healey 100 and Sprite (some 80% of which would be sold in America). The Nash-Healey project appears to have been a good experience for the Healeys, and in later years Donald Healey spoke very highly of George Mason.

1953 Nash-Healey Le Mans rear
The Nash-Healey Le Mans hardtop is one of the rarer Nash-Healey models. Production totaled no more than 150–155 units: 60–65 in 1953, 90 in 1954.

The Farina-built Nash-Healey is certainly the best remembered and most recognizable of the early Healeys, even to non-enthusiasts. In 2005, the 1952 model was even featured on a U.S. postage stamp. Unlike the saloons and dropheads, whose wood-framed bodywork didn’t easily endure decades of wet British weather, the Nash-Healey’s survival rate seems to be fairly good and survivors have become quite valuable — not surprising given the car’s combination of rarity, style, and competition pedigree. If it’s been overshadowed by the later Austin-Healeys (which we’ll cover at greater length in future articles), it remains a high water mark of the Donald Healey Motor Company’s early efforts.

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The author would like to thank Mike Garland, Pat McLaughlin, Paul Woodford, and ‘tz66’ for the use of their photos and Jim Bracewell and Jim Walton of the Nash Car Club of America for their thoughts on the paint/color selections for the Italian-built Nash-Healeys.


NOTES ON SOURCES

Information on the life and career of Donald Healey, the early Healey cars, and the Nash-Healey came from “1946-1950 Healey Silverstone” (no date, Octane, www.classicandperformancecar. com, accessed 11 February 2012); “1949 Healey Silverstone” (no date, PAS Classic Cars, www.auto-classic. fr, accessed 15 February 2012); “1951 Nash Healey Roadster” (8 December 2007, Finecars.cc, www.finecars.cc, accessed 8 February 2012); David Traver Adolphus, “The Green Goddess: A rocket scientist restores a car,” Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car #48, August 2009, pp. 72-77; the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, “1950 Healey Silverstone” (24 October 2007, HowStuffWorks.com, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1950-healey-silverstone.htm, accessed 11 February 2012), and “1951-1955 Nash-Healey” (27 October 2007, HowStuffWorks.com, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1951-1955-nash-healey.htm, accessed 8 February 2012); Griff Borgeson, “Pininfarina: Man, Myth, & Monopoly: Part One: The Early Years,” Road & Track Vol. 15, No. 4 (December 1963), pp. 34–39; Arch Brown, “1953 Nash-Healey: America’s First Postwar Sports Car,” Special Interest Autos #71, October 1982, pp. 10-17, 52-53; Peter Browning and Les Needham, Healeys and Austin-Healeys including Jensen-Healey (Sparkford, Yeovil: J.H. Haynes & Co., Ltd., 1970, 1976; second edition); John A. Conde, “Meet the Met,” Special Interest Autos #6 (July-August 1971), p. 35–37, 56; and “Nash Healey (1951-54),” [press release], American Motors Corporation, 8 September 1975, www.carmemories. com, accessed 10 February 2012; “Donald Healey” (2012, Austin Healey Club, www.austinhealeyclub. com/ Pages/Donald-Healey.html, accessed 8 February 2012); “Donald Healey and the History of the Big Healeys” (no date, Unique Cars and Parts, www.uniquecarsandparts. com.au, accessed 8 February 2012); Craig Fitzgerald, “Donald Healey,” Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car #8, April 2006, p. 56; Patrick Foster, “Nash-Healeys You Never Knew,” Hemmings Classic Car #22, July 2006, and The Nash Styling Sketchbook (Milford, CT: Olde Milford Press, 1998); John Gunnell, “Nash-Healey love affair started in ’54” (9 January 2009, Old Cars Weekly, www.oldcarsweekly. com, accessed 16 February 2012); John Gunnell and Tom Collins, Standard Guide to British Sports Cars (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2004); “Healey Silverstone Datenblatt Chassis-Nr.: D 37” (no date, Zurück zum Register, www.healey-classic.de, accessed 15 February 2012); Geoffrey Healey, Healey, The Specials (London: Gentry Books, 1980); Charles K. Hyde, Storied Independent Automakers: Nash, Hudson, and American Motors (Detroit, MI: Great Lakes Books/Wayne State University Press, 2009); Richard M. Kaufmann, “Nash-Healey at Le Mans,” Special Interest Autos #1, October 1970, pp. 44-47, 52; Steven Kingsbury/Air Tight Productions, “A Conversation with Gerry Coker: Austin-Healey Style,” 3 July 2008, YouTube, “Gerry Coker Part 01,” https://youtu.be/D-68_4xzHo0 and “Gerry Coker Part 02,” https://youtu.be/ANWoaOZPN9I, uploaded 12 April 2011, accessed 10 February 2012; Lou Koza, “This is a car for…SUPERMAN!!” (15 April 2006, The Adventure Continues, www.jimnolt. com/ nashhealeyJWp1.htm, accessed 16 February 2012); Alex Meredith, “SIA Interview: Donald Healey,” Special Interest Autos #67, February 1982, pp. 58-62; “Nash Builds a Sports Car,” Popular Mechanics, March 1951 (Vol. 95, No. 3), pp. 107-109; “Obituaries: Donald Healey, British Sports Car Designer,” Los Angeles Times, 20 January 1988, latimes. com, accessed 8 February 2012; “Obituary: Benjamin Bowden, 91, Auto and Bicycle Designer,” New York Times, 23 March 1998, www.nytimes. com, accessed 10 February 2012; ProfessCars, “1950 Healey 3-Litre Sports Convertible” (no date, Automobile Catalog, www.automobile-catalog. com, accessed 9 February 2012); Patrick Quinn, “Healey Duncan” (no date, Clan Duncan Society, www.clan-duncan. co. uk/ duncan-healy.html, accessed 11 February 2012); Graham Robson and Richard Langworth, Triumph Cars: The Complete Story (Pitlake, Croydon: Motor Racing Publications Ltd., 1979, 1988; Second Edition); “Shapers of Nashdom: Donald Healey,” The Nash Times, January-February 2012 (Vol. 43, No. 1, pp. 36-37; Nick Walker, A-Z British Coachbuilders, 1919-1960 (Beaworthy, Devon: Herridge & Sons Ltd., 2007); Jonathan Wood, “Obituary: Geoffrey Healey,” The Independent, 16 May 1994, www.independent. co. uk, accessed 15 February 2012; the Healey Museum website, www.healeymuseum.nl, accessed 10 February 2012; the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) entry for The Adventures of Superman (www.imdb. com, accessed 16 February 2012); the Nash-Healey Registry (nashhealeyregistry.com, accessed 16 February 2012); and the following Wikipedia® entries: “1950 24 Hours of Le Mans” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1950_24_Hours_of_Le_Mans, accessed 12 February 2012); “1951 24 Hours of Le Mans” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1951_24_Hours_of_Le_Mans, accessed 13 February 2012); “1952 24 Hours of Le Mans” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1952_24_Hours_of_Le_Mans, accessed 15 February 2012); “1953 24 Hours of Le Mans” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1953_24_Hours_of_Le_Mans, accessed 16 February 2012); “Donald Healey” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Healey, accessed 8 February 2012); “Donald Healey Motor Company” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Healey_Motor_Company, accessed 11 February 2012); “Geoffrey Healey” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geoffrey_Healey, accessed 8 February 2012); “Mille Miglia” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mille_Miglia, accessed 12 February 2012); “Monte Carlo Rally” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monte_Carlo_Rally, accessed 10 February 2012); “Nash-Healey” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nash-Healey, accessed 8 February 2012); “Perranporth” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perranporth, accessed 10 February 2012); and “Riley Motor” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riley_Motor, accessed 10 February 2012).

Additional information on contemporary Nash models came from John A. Conde, “Golden Anniversary Nash,” Special Interest Autos #46, July-August 1978, reprinted in Richard A. Lentinello, ed., The Hemmings Book of Nashes (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2002), pp. 96-101, and Michael Lamm, “Bathtub!” Special Interest Autos #9, January-March 1972, reprinted in ibid, pp. 90-95.

Some exchange rates for the dollar and British pound were estimated based on Lawrence H. Officer, “Exchange Rates Between the United States Dollar and Forty-one Currencies” (2012, Measuring Worth, http://www.measuringworth.org/exchangeglobal/, used with permission). Exchange rate values cited in the text represent the approximate equivalency of British and U.S. currency at the time, not contemporary U.S. suggested retail prices, which are cited separately. Please note that all exchange rate equivalencies cited in the text are approximate, provided solely for the purposes of illustration and general reference; this is an automotive history, not a treatise on currency trading or the value of money, and nothing in this article should be taken as financial advice of any kind!


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7 Comments

  1. Yet another great read. I always look forward to another article. Thanks!

  2. Thank you for the nicely presented story on a unique car! I had never heard of the Cadillac connection before.

  3. Interesting article about a car I didn’t know much about. How things might have been different had Cadillac been able to supply drivetrains! More like the Allard J2R perhaps?

    1. Very likely. The prototype was much more hotrod-like than the Nash-Healey ended up: Cadillac engine, Ford gearbox and torque tube, Columbia quick-change axle. Had it been built in California, it would probably have had flames painted on the bonnet…

      1. I believe the Cad Healey prototype is in the hands of Tivvy Shenton who has a race shop on the premises of Virginia International Raceway. At least you can contact there to learn about it. I saw it on the track once about seven years ago, but have not been back since.

  4. I have a little info on supercharged Healey Silverstones. The green Silverstone in your photo is the only factory supercharged Silverstone. From the factory the blower ran 1 to 1 crankspeed and produced about 4psi boost and 140hp. At 12psi, 1 to 1.5 crankspeed, about 215hp. It’s been detuned twice since, running 1.25 to 1 crankspeed producing 8 to 10psi and maybe 180hp, currently 1.2 to 1 crankspeed, 6psi boost and maybe 160hp. More than most people want to know, but I do get asked this occasionally.
    John

  5. Nice article. My first car was a 1956 100-6 I got during 1959. Uncle Sam and the draft required its sale in 1960, much to my disappointment. In 1961 I came across a 1952 Bertone bodied Nash Healey in Germany priced within my range, which I drove for several years. I enjoyed both cars and often think about the adventures of my youth, and the utter amazement at German gas stations at any private automobile holding 160 liters of gasoline. It’s a shame that the Healey is only a footnote to automotive history. Glad I had a chance to be a part of it.

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