In October 1952, Donald Healey introduced what was to be the most famous car bearing his name: the Austin-Healey 100. It would survive for 15 years in three distinct incarnations, along the way gaining a six-cylinder engine and a formidable competition record. In this installment of Ate Up With Motor, we examine the origins and evolution of the “big Healeys”: the 1953-1967 Austin-Healey 100, 100-6, and 3000.
BUILDING A CHEAPER HEALEY
By late 1951, the tiny Warwick-based Donald Healey Motor Company offered four distinct models: the luxurious Tickford saloon and Abbott drophead (convertible), both powered by a 2,443 cc (149 cu. in.) Riley four; the Anglo-American Nash-Healey with its big Nash six; and the new Healey Sports Convertible, powered by a 2,993 cc (183 cu. in.) Alvis engine. All used variations of the same chassis and all were quite expensive, selling in very modest numbers.
Donald Healey was well aware that the company’s products had a limited audience in the U.K. and were too costly to make a big impression on the American market. The Nash-Healey, for example, cost nearly $2,000 more than a Jaguar XK-120, itself far from cheap. After a trip to the U.S. in the fall of 1951, Healey concluded that what his company really needed was a sports car to fit into the sizable price gap between the Jaguar and the MG TD.
A cheaper car would need a different engine, ideally one less bulky than the Riley four, which weighed some 600 lb (272 kg). That engine was not long for the world, in any case. According to Healey’s son Geoff, DHMC’s head of engineering development, Riley was eager to phase out the twin-cam four, whose design dated back to the 1920s.
An interesting alternative was Austin’s big OHV four. Introduced in the 1945 Austin 16, it had seen duty in the A70 saloon, the K8 van, the ubiquitous FX3 taxicab, and civilian versions of the Austin Champ truck. Bored out from 2,199 to 2,660 cc (134 to 162 cu. in.) and fitted with two S.U. carburetors, that engine had powered the A90 Atlantic, Austin’s ill-fated attempt to crack the U.S. market. The big four was not a particularly racy engine, but it was sturdy, dependable, and readily available. Although the Atlantic had been a commercial failure, Austin chairman Leonard Lord still liked the idea of an Austin-powered sports car (during the same period, he also considered proposals from Frazer-Nash and Jensen) and was happy to provide whatever Healey required.
The new car also required an updated chassis. The existing chassis, designed by A.C. Sampietro during the war, was expensive to build and its trailing-arm front suspension suffered heavy understeer, so Healey engineer Barry Bilbie started over from scratch. The new chassis would have semi-unitized construction, using a self-supporting frame to which were welded two large sub-assemblies comprising most of the inner body structure. Although the combination was heavier than a true monocoque, it was very sturdy, providing a solid foundation for the suspension. Most exterior panels would be aluminum, helping to keep the car’s dry weight to only 1,850 lb (839 kg).
THE HEALEY HUNDRED
The task of clothing the new chassis fell to Gerry Coker, who had joined the company as a body engineer in 1950. Although Coker was not a stylist, the Healeys thought highly of his sense of line and he was adept at creating details that were attractive but still practical for production, a vital point for a company with Healey’s limited resources. Coker had never designed a complete car before, but he promised to do his best.
Donald Healey was not exactly brimming with confidence and micromanaged Coker relentlessly throughout the design process. The new car was an enormous gamble and Healey couldn’t afford to fail; we assume that even building a prototype represented a huge investment. In a 2008 interview with Steven Kingsbury, Coker said he had eventually had to refuse to make any more changes, realizing that the process had reached the point of diminishing returns. Healey accepted Coker’s final full-size drawing, albeit not without reservations.
Healey commissioned John Thompson Motor Pressings Company in Wolverhampton to build a prototype chassis and engaged Tickford to build the body shell from Coker’s scale drawings. The initial prototype, painted light blue, was completed in September 1952. Road testing on Belgium’s Jabbeke highway demonstrated the prototype’s 100+ mph (161 km/h) capability. In fact, the light blue car could reach speeds of up to 106 mph (171 km/h) — as good as the larger Nash-Healey could manage with a six-cylinder engine of 50% greater displacement. Healey decided to christen the new model the Healey Hundred.
A few weeks later, John Bolster of Autosport magazine took the prototype back to Belgium, where he reached a highly respectable 112 mph (180 km/h) with the windscreen folded and a tonneau cover over the passenger seat. Bolster praised the car’s well-balanced handling and road manners, although he complained that with the Hundred’s light weight, the A90 gearbox’s low first gear (with an overall ratio of 14.8:1) was basically useless, producing nothing but wheel spin. Still, Bolster’s impressions were extremely favorable, boding well for the Hundred’s future.
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Excellent story Aaron I never managed to get a Healey always wanted one having owne a few mechanical donors in the shape of Westies and an Isis which were good fast comfortable sedans in their day. Healeys pretty much mirrored Westminsters for new developments.
The Healey was, to my mind the most beautiful of 1950’s production sports cars. I never found the TR3 attractive,and the MGA looked nice, but nothing was as instantly appealing as the Healey, especially with the two-tone paint. I went to a lot of SCCA races in the late 50’s and early 60’s, and they were quite common on the tracks. And, now a correction; the driver mentioned is Maurice Gatsonides, not Gastonides. Beyond his motorsport career, he is infamous for his invention, the “Gatso” speed camera, which all sporting drivers hate.
Thanks for the correction — I’ve amended the text. I had no idea he developed the Gatso cameras, although that will certainly help to remember the proper spelling of his name.
Nice article – but a couple of errors in 100S caption. All 100 cars had the swage line – from the BN2 on it continued behind the rear wheel. And the standard 100S colour scheme was Old English White over Lobelia (dark blue) not black.
Thanks for the clarifications. The paint color issue had puzzled me a bit: the lower color looked like dark blue to me, but the paint combination chart in Anderson and Moment’s restoration guide described it (for whatever reason) as white over black. Since each of my computer monitors tends to render colors differently, I was wondering if it was an optical illusion or if it was just a particularly bluish shade of black. I have several print references handy, but unfortunately all their photos of the 100S were in black and white…
Excellent article, well researched and written however, actually Anderson and Moment do have the 100S colour correct in their book [i]Austin – Healey 100/100-6/3000 Restoration Guide[/i].
Page 14 center column.
[i]Most of the cars were painted in “United States” racing colours of white over blue, using a distinctive Lobelia Blue for the lower panel.[/i]
Ahh — I was looking at the color chart and missed that reference. In any case, I’ve corrected the text.
The swage line on the side did not extend past the rear wheel of ALL BN2s but came on stream well into that production. Since most four cylinder cars were BN1s the full swage line is thus a rarity before the six cylinder cars. More importantly is the front fender opening, cut much higher on the BN2 for a more rakish look with additional clearance for the wheel in turning. Healeys were slim sided relative to their tread width and that wheel stuck way out when steered.
This article led me to look up more info on the FB60 engine, which I’d been somewhat aware of. I was really intrigued to learn that it was an F-head. Does anyone know why it was?
The other F-head that came to mind for me was the Willys “Hurricane” engine, which Barney Roos designed by making an existing flathead engine into an F-head. In that case, he was trying to get more power on a very tight budget. A full OHV engine would have been ideal, but given the tight budget, moving the intake valves into the head was more cost-effective than moving the exhausts.
Rolls-Royce was presumably working on the FB60 some years after Roos was designing the Hurricane, and they wouldn’t have had his cost constraints.
I also can’t help thinking that the MGC would have been much better with the FB60.
You mentioned that Healey wasn’t happy with Jensen’s quality control, an issue that also came up with the Volvo P1800.
This is a very interesting question, and it led me to do some additional research and make a small addition to the text (about the abortive ADO30 project, which was also slated to use the FB60).
The FB60 was developed around 1958. Around that time, Rolls-Royce apparently started being interested in doing a smaller, cheaper (relatively speaking) luxury car, probably to be sold primarily as a Bentley. At the time, Rolls was still using IOE sixes in its other cars (although the V8 was already in development), as well as the B40 and B60 engines used in various trucks and military vehicles. My assumption is that Rolls conceived the FB60 as a smaller, lighter engine that could use at least some of the existing tooling. Since the point of the exercise was to make a cheaper car, not having to invest heavily in new equipment would have been desirable, even for Rolls-Royce.
I don’t know exactly how much architecture the FB60 shares with the B60 used in earlier Rolls and Bentley passenger cars. It has the same bore, a much shorter stroke, and an aluminum block (the B60 already had an aluminum head). While the FB60 may depart from the earlier engine in other respects, it seems pretty clear that the B60 was the starting point for it.
Incidentally, Rolls and BMC considered a bunch of possible Bentley-branded smaller cars, including the Bentley Java (which would have been quite similar to the Princess 4-Litre R and probably inspired the styling of the latter), the Bentley Bengal (based on the Austin 3-litre), and a coupe called the Bentley Alpha, based on the ADO30. All would have used the FB60 engine.
The web has someplace a long article on Rolls Royce engines by one of their principals in the engineering ranks. In it there was a statement that the FB alloy F-head was dimensionally close and sometimes identical to the last 4.25 liter RR iron six. Of course, Rolls had already forsaken sixes for their huge V8. Perhaps this explains the retrograde F-head being found on the units being supplied to the Princess?
In the late fifties and early sixties, Rolls-Royce seriously considered doing one or more cheaper Bentley models as a way of boosting sales volume and making up for slower sales of the ‘senior’ cars (analogous to Packard’s move with the original One-Twenty in 1935). There was the Bentley Burma, which I believe ended up being more or less the ancestor of the Silver Shadow, followed by the Bentley Java (based on the Austin Princess 3-Litre) and the Bentley Bengal, which would have been a Bentley version of the Princess 4 Litre R.
As far as I know, the rationale of the FB was to give these cheaper cars (at least the latter two of which would have had a lot of BMC hardware) proper Rolls/Bentley engines without the expense of tooling a new ‘small’ engine for those cars. The F-head six might have been retrograde technologically, but it compared pretty well with contemporary OHV sixes in terms of output and the DOHC version, which never got past the prototype stage, would have given the Jaguar XK engine a run for its money. So, it made a fair bit of sense.
Of course, for various reasons, none of the Bentley cars ever materialized and a lot of Rolls-Royce’s FB capacity went unused.
-One of the first cars I drove, illegaly, of course, was a friend’s 100-4. It had a three speed transmission with electric overdrive that was supposed to make it a five speed.
-The shift pattern was also reversed from US normal, that is, second and third
Yes, the shift pattern on the BN1 cars was very odd. I think they resolved that with the BN2, with the taxi gearbox.
. . . . . because, at age 17, it was the first antique auto I helped restore (I didn’t have my own antique car for another year) and the beginning of my 45 year involvement with antique vehicles (cars, motorcycles and bicycles). I still remember the car, helping the owner sand down the primer for painting.
Well, the initial prototype was created by essentially slicing a BJ8 body in half and splicing in a 6-inch section. If it had made production, I suppose they might have come up with a new grille — it would probably have been relatively cheap to do. Still, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that the 1953-vintage design had been nipped and tucked a few too many times by then.
Hi Aaron, the above comment was mine.
Last weekend I actually saw the featured 4000 prototype, as well as Lance Macklin’s Le Mans NOJ 393 a replica of one of the streamliners amongst dozens of other A-H’s at a car show. I’d say the 4000 looks better in the flesh, but it is still a significantly wider car that would not have the same sporty feel of the original.
The people who’ve driven it tend to say the same thing. It was reportedly a lot more comfortable than the 3000, with a better driving position and more elbow room, but felt and sounded less sporty, particularly with the automatic. Perhaps too civilized for its own good.
Another excellent article – just wanted to say how much I appreciate the effort that goes into this and the skill at presenting it in an interesting and cogent manner.
And no, I don’t want to borrow any money.
Will you be moving forward with this amazing historical portrait, looking at the Jensen Healey?
I will, although I decided that three Healeys in a row might be a bit much.
Familiarity with early Healey Hundreds suggests there were at least two front wheel arches during their production. The red one depicted, a BN1 is a very much chunkier section than the BN2. It might have fouled the tire (tyre) at steering lock at least with the tall spec tires of the era. The car officially got a larger valence that looked sleeker as a running change. The difference in height causes problems in terminating the two toned flanks which are often found on LeMans replica cars. The swage line does not truly intersect the top of the arch on early ones but requires a looped return, which anyhow works out okay in practice.
Thanks for the info. There are a lot of minor details that I’m only able to touch on in these stories.
I’d hope I had mentioned once before referencing a Mustang article, but will enjoy doing so again. Your monographs are amazingly concise distillations of complex stories, done with great adherence to, and respect for facts. I recommend them to all my friends.
The “Haldane” was a rather proper looking replica Hundred out of fiberglas with Ford Kent motivation, differing only in a lower hood line. The “Harrier” was an upmarket effort with Rover V8 and independent suspension that I believe Geoff Healey was pleased to endorse. Both were better looking, or at least more authentic appearing than the 4000 prototype with the half a foot widened body shell. Sad that larger customers and side impact requirements dealt such a blow to the original aesthetics of the first car. Look to the Ford GT to understand how an enlargement if required should be undertaken in EVERY dimension so that proportions that initially delighted can be maintained.
One must mention in passing the Saxon and Sebring kit cars that hint of the Healey legacy in rather unconvincing ways.
The Healey Hundred has more shape in its flanks than people realize. It swells in width at the cockpit and is already narrowing over the rear fender. That shows Jerry’s modern three dimensional spatial thinking.
To have gotten more width where necessary for the cockpit without destroying the lithe appearance from the three quarter view might only have required wedging out the fore-body. That would have allowed a front track perhaps 2 inches wider than the rear, whereas it is actually a half inch shy of the rear on the existing cars. At that point it would have virtually equalled the later Jag E-type series III cars track. The span of the headlamps of the Healey could have been increased without visual harm though not by a half a foot.
In 1972 & 73, I worked in the service department of Donald Healey Motor Co in Warwick and was lucky enough to drive one of the manual 4000R’s The car had been re-chassed following a road accident by the then owner, a gentleman who lived in Wales, I think. I road tested the car over several hundred miles and so was able to understand the car well. I had driven a number of E-types up to that time and the comparison was most interesting. The 4000R had excellent road holding and outstanding handling. The acceleration was good as the engine revved well, the gearchange and ratios good too. Performance was good, I saw over 125mph on a number of occasions. The car braked well and overall, I enjoyed the car more than E-types. I would be happy to hear from anyone else who drove these cars and hear their views.
Thanks for your thoughts, Tony. The consensus of all the accounts I’ve heard of people who’ve had the chance to drive the 4000 was that it was a definite improvement in all-around performance (although one can easily imagine the carping the automatic would have provoked at the time). I think the downfall of the car, had it made production, would have been the styling. Combining the new engine with the fixed-head coupe might have been a different story, although then the 4000 would most definitely have been an E-type rival…
I have tried in vain to contact Tony Pomfret for the last four years and now find he has contacted you recently. As he drove my 4000 when in the UK I would love to talk to him, may I have his email or could you send him mine so we can chat please.
Regards Peter Rowland Melbourne Australia
i thoroughly enjoyed reading your well researched article and it got me thinking about some unexplained unusual features and history facts surrounding our 100/6 BN6. We recently bought her as my wife spent much of her youth around the Warwick area and she happens to be of the same vintage as the car!
According to the build records the car was built in June ’57 but according to a copy of the original owner log book was not registered to her first owner until January ’58. This in itself is unusual as cars were generally built to order.
This brings me to the next unusual feature that she was supplied to her first owner with Dunlop disc brakes on front and rear axles. Trying to find any documented information about the 100/6 on disc brakes seems to be a bit of a best kept secret so I am wondering if anyone reading this might have some answers?
I recently spoke to the UK A-H Club marque model expert who said he was aware of only two other examples, both of which are BN6, here in the UK and he referred to them as being the ‘homologation specials’ of which he said approximately 40-50 cars were retro equipped by the Healey Works at Warwick and at a time in ’58 when much Works backed rallying was taking place. Are any examples of these BN6 cars known to exist in the U.S. Or other markets?
If some facts could be brought to light, then this would make for an interesting twist to the Big Healey story
What was the weight of the 2660 cc 4 cylinder engine out of the BN1 and BN2?I’am considering putting a 427 CI Chevrolet V8 into my BN2
That’s a good question — I don’t think I’ve ever seen a figure for the four, and because the BN4 was also a physically larger car, simply comparing BN2 and BN4 figures doesn’t give much indication. The C-series engine was a big sucker, though (more than 600 pounds in 2.9-liter form), so even if the 2,660cc four were more than 100 pounds lighter, it may still have been in the neighborhood of 500 pounds. My very rough guess would be that an iron-head SBC would about split the difference and an iron big clock would be at least 70 pounds heavier up front than the BN4, but someone may have a more specific answer.
Can anyone supply me with information (or direct me to information) on the twin cam cylinder head that was developed by Austin Canada for the 2660cc BN1 engine in the early 1950’s. I remember seeing an article on the subject many, many years ago. I understand 2 or 3 were built before management killed the project. Apparently, the performance was very impressive.
Have actually driven a 3 carb Healey 3000 back in fall 1963. Followed by a TR3, then a couple of years later an old MGA, followed by innumerable MGBs. Good time to enter college and meet rich boys from Montreal whose Dad’s could afford to give them such things.
The Healey had a very twitchy rear suspension, quarter elliptics maybe? Steered on the throttle. Seemed very fast, but 2 1/2 inches of ground clearance helped that illusion. The TR3 was an old brute that seemed to have almost no suspension at all. The MGA was actually not bad, and I found the later mid ’60s MGBs a bit sterile, probably because it had an actual torsionally strong unitbody and behaved itself. Preferred the Volvo 544.
Then I tried the Alfa 1750 Giulietta a few years later when studying in the UK. Different and far better league altogether.
Memories. Pretty good ones as well.
The big Healeys had semi-elliptical rather than quarter-elliptical springs — it’s just that they didn’t indulge in a lot of faddish niceties like compliance or wheel travel. It’s also conceivable that the owner also delved into competition parts or aftermarket accessories; given how stiff the stock rear springs were, I suspect trying to add a rear anti-roll bar would make the car particularly twitchy.
Dear Sir, could you give me some informations about the story that the original 6-cylinder Healey engine was a formel Austin Tipper engine. In that time I was working for Austin in Amsterdam (The Netherlands) and later for Leyland Vehicles Benelux in Malines(Mechelen) and we have (my memories?) used spare parts for a Healey BT7 from a Austin truck engine. Because there is a Healey museum in Vreeland (The Netherlands) and they tell the visitors all about the history of (Donald)Healey and that part is missing. In that museum we have seen an AEC petrol engine (6-Cyliner), so we could accept this truck history. Please inform us, thank you in advance for your cooperation.
All the big Healeys used BMC “corporate” engines, some of which were also used in trucks — the 2,660 cc big four definitely was. I’m not sufficiently familiar enough with BMC’s commercial offerings of that period to know offhand if the 2.9-liter C-series was used in trucks, although I wouldn’t be surprised. The truck and car versions of most of those engines were not dramatically different, although I presume the truck versions had some stouter components to suit more strenuous duty. It would make sense that where possible, the Healeys would have specified the heavier-duty truck components for reasons of durability. I would have to go back and do more research on the detailed engine specs to confirm that, but again it seems plausible.
Dear Aaron, thank you very much for your assistance and reply in this matter. I will follow your comments and/or reply.
As a matter of interest, the Riley engine used in the Healey Tickford and Abbott was indeed a twin-cam engine, but it wasn’t a twin-overhead-cam engine. The camshafts were mounted high in the block, and the pushrods were shorter than in most engines. But it was a pushrod design.
Yup — a novel approach to solving the problem of how to actuate the valves with a hemispherical combustion chamber.
Triumph motorcycles used the same layout on their twins and triples. Edward Turner drove a Riley around the time he designed the Speed Twin, he must have been inspired by it.
I owned a Healy 300 in 1968-91 a C reg car. bought secondhand from Eddy Grimsteads at his Barking showroom in Essex. (EG’s was famous for pedal bike shops and the Lamberetta scooter ) He was a local business man. I saw the big Healey in the showroom window priced at just over £i. 000. I was driving a Triumph Vitesse at that moment, but i fell in love with the red Healey. Went in and bought it on the spot part exchanging the six cylinder Triumph for £400.00. Done the deal and drove it home in complete happiness.
New wife wondered how i went out in a blue car and came home in a red one. After 50 years she still gets confused with my instant deals. I had to sell the car when a another baby was declared on the way. It was traded for a mortgage on a new house. So i lied with the car a distant vision of happier times. Then last week (Jan 2017) i saw an advertised 1960 BT7 fitted with a rover V8 (done in 1991) engine (not really what i wanted) but for a good working price range of what i thought was OK. Car was clean had many new parts no rust , and sounded fine. So i went into the house done the deal bought it and the seller drove it to my house.
I was happy again. Wife loves it and loves me(so she says). Moral of the story be happy . JRL.
I must say, if my spouse departed in one car and returned later in a very similar one that just happened to be a different color, I would wonder if something important had broken in my head!
I am trying to research the history of a red BN2 100 M that was imported into the USA in late 1955. The card subsequently turned up in 1969, partly disassembled, in Longview Washington State, so it is probable the car was originally imported to Washington State. The car’s owner for the subsequent 44 years, Stephen Price, believes the car was raced in the 50s and early 60s. A good start would be to find the dealership that originally supplied the car; Can anyone please point me at the main dealers in Washington state? Or is there anyone out there with any record of a red 100M on the track in the relevant period within striking distance of Longview, Washington?!
I’m afraid I don’t know about dealers in that area, not being from Washington, although for clarity, I updated your comment with the corrections you noted.
Given a lightweight 140-180 hp 2.5-litre Twin-Cam version of the Austin-Healey 100’s 2.6 4-cylinder (“D-Series”) engine was considered for Austin-Healey’s shelved MGC-based replacement, wouldn’t the Healeys have been better off using a 6-cylinder version of the 2.5 4-cylinder Twin-Cam for the Austin-Healey 4000 instead of the Rolls-Royce engine?
Unlike the Rolls-Royce engine (whose engine tooling was scrapped during the 4000 project), the 2.5 4-cylinder would remain in production albeit in diesel form powering the Austin FX4 Black Cab until the early-80s.
“Better off” is a cumbersome value judgment in this situation. Better from a performance standpoint, probably; better from a cost and practicality standpoint, probably not. BMC management had not been wild about the twin-cam idea to begin with (particularly the Healeys’ brief suggestion of making it standard) and at the time probably didn’t expect the big four to be around in any form for half as long as it was, so developing an even more expensive spinoff would probably have been a nonstarter. The reason BMC wanted the Healeys to consider the FB60 was to better meet contractual obligations with Rolls-Royce; Donald Healey said so later, and I have to presume that the people who asked him to explore the possibility did not know that the engine would be abandoned when it was. (The levels of miscommunication involved are probably emblematic of BMC and later British Leyland.)
The FB60 would have been an agreeable compromise from a performance standpoint, since it would have maintained the fat torque output of the C-series six with more power. For racing use a twin-cam six would probably have been superior, but for the real world, the FB60 worked quite well.
That may have been the case, yet the 6-cylinder Twin-Cam would have essentially been a more potent thoroughly updated version of the 150 hp 4-litre inline-6 “D-Series” used in the Austin Princess and at one point the Jensen 541.
Agree the FB60 would have provided more power especially in G60 Twin-Cam form, yet contractual obligations notwithstanding a Twin-Cam “D-Series” would not have been too far behind as well as cheaper compared to the Rolls-Royce unit and potentially able to be used on a version of the Austin 3-litre.
Some claim the C-Series still had plenty of untapped potential and was even allegedly based on another unproduced inline-6 design capable of being enlarged to much as 4-litres.
The ultimate problem is that BMC’s product planning strategy (if we may call it that) was a complete mess even before they started additional mergers with Jaguar and Leyland. The question a twin-cam big Healey posed (and the one Sir William Lyons asked) was, “If we also have the E-type, why exactly do we need this?” Of course, BMC’s idea of strategy (badge-engineering the MGC!) left the Healeys asking, “Er, what’s the point, exactly?”
If the Downton conversions are any indication, the C-Series six could produce another 25 to 30 horsepower with better response than the stock engine, although I wonder if that treatment would have been able to meet U.S. emissions standards, which became a serious consideration given how dependent the Healey was on U.S. sales.
Indeed the mergers with Jaguar and Leyland Motors did not help matters.
Along with the Downtown conversions there was also a C-Series Twin-Cam proposal by Gerald Palmer (consider the B-Series Twin-Cam problems only happened after Palmer was sacked) as well as a potential redesign by Harry Weslake.
That is not even mentioning the potential of the in-house revision managing to achieve its weight reduction and power targets, which seem to largely resemble the MGC GTS.
There was also the fact that a 4-cylinder C-Series was considered at one point for the MGB, since BMC never really had a proper 2-litre engine until the late-1970s with the O-Series (despite BMC looking at 106 hp 2-litre B-Series or 112-115 hp 2-litre B-OHC).
My assumption is that the reason the revised C-Series six didn’t meet its weight targets was the conflict between the joint objectives of “make it lighter and more compact” and “… while trying to preserve as much of the existing tooling as possible.” So, that aspect I think was probably a dead duck.
If MG – The Untold Story is any indication, it was not only the Healeys but also many within BMC wanted to sort out the C-Series’s issues (including weight), only for higher ups including Issigonis refusing to even consider the idea.
In Issigonis’s case, he probably assumed the E-Series could have potentially replaced BMC’s entire engine range and that the C-Series was thus redundant on the basis of the company throwing their lot with FWD cars.
Which is interesting when one considers the E-Series apparent similarity to the Volkswagen EA827 unit, had the former featured another 6mm between the bore centres like the EA827 it might have made a big difference with regard to the E-Series.
Where to start. I bought a clapped-out old 100 – dented aluminum center section, engine and transmission gone, ghastly bent, painted and peeling wire wheels, torn seats – a 1954 on paper. Couldn’t find an engine, but a friend had an old Chevy up in the woods, and an idea was born. We took the 283 2 barrel out of the Chevy, and I made up motor mounts from angle iron, bought a Borg-Warner T-10 4 speed, cut down a drive shaft, and off it went, hydraulic lifters and blue cloud of smoke. I notched the firewall for distributor clearance, but had to change the rear plugs from inside holes in the footwells. That turned into the start of a project that ended with a blueprinted fuelie 327 hidden under the louvered hood, Hedman headers, a complete rewiring, trunk-mounted battery, redesigned aluminum dash, and the center knockoffs cut out of the wires and welded into opened up Chevy wheels with Goodyear Bluestreak wide tires. Traction bars stopped the leaf springs from turning to pretzels, asbestos-sheet floors, wrapped exhausts, and Cobra-like side vents solved the melted sneaker problem, and the finned aluminum drums, front and back, that came on the car, were up to the braking task. STP in the cantilever shocks kept it on the ground. Overheating was a problem at first, because the Healey radiator was just too small. I had a junkyard guy build me a wide and tall radiator from a GMC truck core that I tilted forward in front of where the old radiator stood, filling it through a Corvette expansion tank tucked under the front passenger fender. I had to cut up the front and build a cobra-like nose that I built out of bent copper tubing and fiberglass, to accommodate the radiator. Heating problem solved. Remarkably, I used the original rear axle – a 3.56, I think – until I sheared the half-shafts off. I could only find a 4.12 replacement, which ruined the cruising RPMs, so I sold it. A daily driver, 20 MPG, tractable, worth the money on the bodywork and paint job that I spent. Ran like a scalded cheetah – 11 second quarters, 60 in first gear in 3 seconds, held the record at the local autocross track for years. Pulled everything out of it that wasn’t about going or stopping, for an 1800 lb joyous ride with me in it. While I worked on it, I bought an old grey parts car, and a 1955 white 100-4 with an overdrive transmission and a shift lever the length of a baseball bat, which I loved on dry days and hated on wet ones, because every puddle shorted the damned thing out from spray out of the front wheel well onto the generator. The doors always flew open going around corners until I put slide bolts on them, because the chassis was as stiff as warm pizza – but the sound of that 4-banger revving through the leafy back roads of New England in late fall with the top down, windshield raked, and tonneau flapping was a symphony – whereas the Chevy was more like an earthquake in progress. I sold them all to get the money to travel around Europe and North Africa for a year, and when I came back could never find out what happened to the Chevy-Healey, which I miss to this day.
I just bought a BT7 Tri carb 1962. I know they only produced the tri carb for one year . Does anyone know how much of these Tri Carbs were produced?
Especially the combination of the tri carb and the centraly mounted shifter?
I’m looking through my notes and it appears I either didn’t have or didn’t note down year-by-year production. I have total BT7 production as 10,825, but the three-HS4 combination was only built for 15 months of the BT7 production run. There may be a more detailed breakdown in Anders Ditlev Clausager’s Original Austin-Health 100, 100-Six and 3000 and/or Austin-Health 100, 100-6, 3000 Restoration Guide by Gary Anderson and Roger Moment, but I don’t have those handy — I’d have to request them from the library again, as I don’t own either.
I have a 1965 bj8
That has a tag attached to the serial number plate that says BMC-66 .
Does anyone know what this is?
Cars that were shipped from the factory to California had that tag attached. Apparently, California law at the time required that the manufacturer and “year of manufacture” be identified somewhere on the car. Since the BMC VIN did not have a code for that information, the tags were made up and attached. It isn’t known to me exactly where the tags were attached — BMC? The dealer?
Another quirk of California was that it added a two-digit “year” to the front of the factory VIN on paperwork. This has caused problems later for people who bought an ex-California car and tried to get it registered elsewhere, since the VIN on the firewall tag and the VIN on the paperwork were not identical.
Perhaps the tags were attached by the distributor prior to shipment to the dealers? That would probably have made the most logistical sense, although of course that’s no reason to assume it was done that way.
It’s easy to understand why some local laws would require such identification, since in that era it was not uncommon for manufacturers to assign new serial numbers to unsold cars at the end of a model year. Buyers and insurers did have an obvious interest in knowing whether, say, a 1955 car was actually built in 1953! However, as you point out, inconsistent application didn’t make things easy for later owners.
Any examination of factory VIN strategies of the ’50s and ’60s makes a strong argument that standardized VIN requirements were badly overdue. Even for a given manufacturer, VIN formats sometimes varied from year to year in confounding ways, and there was no guarantee that the information presented by a VIN would be useful to anyone but the factory (and then only during manufacture).
Steve, I always wondered what that tag meant. My 66 was known to be from California and owned by a Joel Buttons of Riverside, CA. I have the registrations (somewhere) for all of the years he owned it until I bought it in 1995. He seemed to move some as it was also registered in Hemet, CA a couple times. Had 28,000 miles on it when I bought it and now has about 52,000. When my body and paint man repainted the chassis he said it was the best one he had ever seen, (now over 135 Healeys rebuilt) no welding done except the strengthening on the rear A arms section.
Would anyone have a listing of A.H. dealers/distributors for the USA in the 1965/67 period?
A quick web search found a copy of a brochure entitled “Distributors and Dealers in North America for Products of the British Motor Corporation Ltd.,” dated Spring 1967; I found a copy of it at mk1-performance-conversions.co.uk, a website about early Mini conversions. That lists dealers rather than distribution organizations, but I found an interesting starting point for the latter in the form of a 1960 federal court judgment in an antitrust lawsuit filed by the Southern District of New York, which apparently involved allegations of price fixing. (The 12 named defendants in that suit may not have been all U.S. BMC distributors, but they included some of the biggest.)
Aaron, thank you – that is so helpful – I have been punching around with Google searches with very little luck! I have just acquired an A-H 3000 that came from USA and I am playing with finding out its history – this is proving difficult as the Heritage Cert only states ‘USA Export’ with no further detail. As they made over 17000 of them I have a long search in front of me…..
Once again, many thanks,
If you didn’t see it already, I would draw your attention to the above comment thread about the model year plates added to California cars for compliance with state law, which might help to indicate whether the car was originally sold in California. That might not narrow it down much (I would imagine California accounted for a substantial percentage of U.S. Austin-Healey sales, and that dealer brochure lists 64 California dealerships that sold BMC cars), but it would be a start!
There are no tags, just the standard VIN plate and luckily, the original engine. maybe the restorer removed the tags…. It is more likely the car was sold elsewhere in the ‘States. Judging from the extensively corroded elements pre-restoration and the fact that a new chassis was required, it may have lived in a northern area….
Does anyone keep a register of Austin-Healey’s sold in USA?
Great information – thanks everyone.
At a glance, it appears there may be several registries, including the Austin-Healey Club of America, the Austin-Healey Concours Registry, and one run by the Austin-Healey Experience. I don’t know anything about any of them beyond what I found from a quick web search, but those seem like three worthwhile places to start.
A. C. Sampietro also designed the SOHC cylinder head for the Willys “Tornado” engine.
The 100 BN1 I have was purchased way back in 1976 with a 2.5 litre Riley engine and gearbox. The car’s Batch and Body number suggested a build around Sept’54 at the time when the 100S modifications were commencing. After recently contacting the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust and British Motor Museum, I was informed they had no Healey 100 record of my car, which is complete in most other regards as an original 1954 AH.
Noting some of the negative provided regarding the standard BN1 95bhp engine power and awkward gearbox, I have found my “Realey” to be a superior car and wondered if it might have been as a result of some Owner request of DH using spare Riley parts around his Warwick factory. No record of Realey having had a later engine gearbox transplant can be found either.
(I accidentally deleted your comment on Sunday while clearing out spam comments, but I was able to restore it from backup once I realized it had been deleted. Sorry about that!)
No worries Aaron. I was so impressed with the knowledge and expertise of the respondents, I was hoping someone might be able to assist me with my current Covid Realey restoration project towards some form of originality. All are amazed at how well the Riley motor and gearbox have been assembled into the BN1 chassis and body, as if it was all done at the same time in late 1954, with all the variation parts of the same 1954 vintage?
I’m afraid I have no idea. The simplest explanation when it comes to peculiar automotive variations is usually that a previous owner did it or had it done after purchase, for reasons that may now be lost to time; if something terribly odd looks original, it might just mean that it was done with more-than-usual care and/or ready access to otherwise original parts. Of course, the simplest answer isn’t necessarily the correct one, but if there are no factory records of the car being built on the line, you might never know for sure unless you happen to encounter a previous owner who can provide a plausible explanation.
This article was much appreciated!…I am now 75yo, but back in 1968. I bought a 1959 100-6, off a local used car lot, for $1100 dollars…I was a thrilling vehicle, and popular with the ladies I dated…after a year, I was about to join the US Navy, and could not see any need for the car..I sold it for $900 dollars. to a ditzy airline stewardess. A few months later, I received a postcard from her–she had run over a large rock, and continued to drive until the engine seized, from lack of oil!…Oh well…the one flaw of that car was that it was just too low-slung…not much ground clearance, and that situation led to it’s death.