IMPROVING THE SIX
In early 1957, the staff in Warwick built a handful of six-cylinder Hundreds for competition. One, built with the reinforced chassis from the 100S, was driven by Tommy Wisdom and his daughter Ann in Italy’s Sestrière Rally in March with indifferent results. Three others, prepared for Austin’s East Coast U.S. distributor, the Hambro Automotive Corporation, ran at Sebring a few weeks later, although only one finished the race, managing second in its class.
It was obvious that the C-series engine needed more muscle, so Tommy Wisdom’s car was modified with the high-compression six-port head and new intake manifold created for the Bonneville engines. Wisdom and navigator Cecil Winby took the car to the Mille Miglia in May. Although their final standing was unspectacular, the new engine worked out very well, achieving the second-highest average speed any Austin-Healey had ever managed in that event. The new head and intake manifold became standard on production cars in October, providing more respectable performance.
A month later, the Austin-Healey production line shifted from Longbridge to the MG plant in Abingdon. Although MG and Healey were rivals in the marketplace, the move appears to have been a mostly positive one for both parties. The Healeys had never been entirely satisfied with production at Longbridge (although Geoff Healey later acknowledged that some of the problems stemmed from the tendency of his father and Leonard Lord to make important decisions in private meetings, leaving the Austin staff without clear marching orders) and Donald Healey was friends with MG managing director John Thornley despite Lord’s periodic attempts to foster competition between them. The Healeys apparently also had a good relationship with MG chief engineer Syd Enever, who had been very helpful with the preparation of the Bonneville cars and the Sprite.
In response to dealer requests, a two-seat Hundred (chassis code BN6) was reintroduced in early 1958. When the BN6 was introduced in March, BN4 production temporarily ceased to clear parts inventories at Jensen, but it resumed in September, after which both body styles were offered concurrently. While buyers liked the idea of the two-seater (which is more popular with collectors today), it was far less practical than the 2+2, which sold much better.
In the spring of 1958, Jack Sears and Peter Garnier drove a 100-6 in the RAC Rally and Tulip Rally. Although their final results were unspectacular — fifth in class in the former, DNF in the latter, thanks to a broken distributor — Sears and Garnier nonetheless made a strong showing, suggesting that the six-cylinder car had a promising future in rally competition. Shortly afterward, the BMC Competitions Department in Abingdon, then headed by Marcus Chambers, decided to aggressively campaign the 100-6 in European rally events.
As a rally car, the Hundred had both strengths and weaknesses. In racing tune, the six-port C-series engine was reasonably powerful, flexible, and generally reliable. The Healey’s body structure was also exceptionally robust, particularly with the reinforced 100S-type frame — several crews walked away from serious crashes with little more than bumps and scrapes. However, the six-cylinder cars were tiring to drive and could be a real handful on wet, slippery roads. Oversteer was the order of the day and even expert drivers could end up in the weeds if they didn’t catch a tail slide in time. Rally crews also suffered the same shortcomings that annoyed private owners: too much cabin heat in warm weather, marginal heating in the cold, and generally spotty weather protection.
Nonetheless, over the coming years, the six-cylinder Healeys would establish themselves as fearsome rally competitors. A lengthy list of class victories began in August, when Pat Moss (younger sister of Stirling Moss) and navigator Ann Wisdom took the GT class at the Liège-Rome-Liège Rally, coming in fourth overall and taking the Coupe des Dames. Although one of the other Healey entries crashed, two more took fourth and sixth in class, earning BMC the Manufacturer’s Team Prize.
FROM 100 TO 3000
In March 1959, the 100-6 received a new engine, new chassis codes, and a new name: Austin-Healey 3000. Without looking at the emblems, the differences were hard to spot, but they included several welcome improvements. First among those was the engine, the latest 29D version of the C-series six, with a new cylinder block, a larger bore, and a higher compression ratio, bringing displacement to 2,912 cc (178 cu. in.) and output to 124 hp (93 kW) and 162 lb-ft (220 N-m) of torque. The stronger engine was backed with a stronger gearbox and, belatedly, front disc brakes.
The 3000 had noticeably stronger performance than the 100-6: 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) now took about 10 seconds while top speed was nearly 115 mph (184 km/h). (Competition and works rally cars were naturally even faster, thanks to a revised exhaust manifold, a hotter camshaft, and larger S.U. H8 carburetors.) The list price was up to £829 ex works (£1,175 10s 10d with purchase tax), $3,051 POE in the U.S., but the 3000 was more popular than the 100-6; sales improved by more than 30%.
The 3000’s rally debut came in June, when BMC entered three cars in the 1959 Alpine Rally, John Gott and Chris Tooley taking second in their class. Similar victories followed at the Liège and the German Rally, where Pat Moss and Ann Wisdom won their class and achieved second place overall, claiming the Coupe des Dames for good measure.
The 1960 season was even better. The ‘big’ Healeys, as they were now known following the introduction of the Sprite, won their class in the Circuit of Ireland, the Geneva Rally, the Tulip Rally, the Alpine Rally, and the Liège, which Moss and Wisdom also won outright. The season closed with 3000s taking first, second, fourth, fifth, seventh, eighth, and 10th in their class at the 1960 RAC Rally, also claiming the Team Prize. Pat Moss and Ann Wisdom took the European Ladies Rally Championship and were named drivers of the year.
In early 1961, the 3000 was upgraded to Mark II form, which meant little more than a new grille and a revised 29E engine with three carburetors, providing 132 hp (98 kW). The extra power gave a slightly higher top speed — an increasingly academic point on public roads — but the extra carburetors did little for acceleration. Six months after introduction, the Mark II also received a new shift linkage allowing a centrally mounted shifter, along with an insulated fiberglass gearbox cover intended to reduce cabin noise and heat.
While it wasn’t a great advantage on the street, the three-carburetor engine made for another superb rally season. Pat Moss and Ann Wisdom took their class at the Tulip Rally in May and the big Healeys went on to five more class victories, including the Morley brothers’ outright win at the Alpine Rally in June. The 3000 racked up an additional eight class victories in 1962, with Pat Moss and new partner Pauline Mayman also claiming the Ladies’ European Rally Championship. (Ann Wisdom had left the team after her marriage to driver Peter Riley the previous year.) Big Healeys took second and third in their class at Sebring in 1960, but three attempts at Le Mans ended DNF in 1960, 1961, and 1962.