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Austin Healey turns 60

Light in weight, the Austin Healey handled as a sports car should. Everyone loved it.
David Burrell
News Community Newspapers

9 Mar 2012 • 3 min read

The low-slung two seater was unashamedly aimed at the growing American market and for the next seventeen 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 two 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 Two, Healey came to realise that America was a vast untapped market for sports cars. He tried his luck with a bulky grand tourer. It had a Nash 6 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 with was terminated when, 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 USA .

They did not. Consequently, Austin had quite a few spare 4 cylinder motors sitting around. It required urgent attention and Lord still harboured ambitions of success in the USA. 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 right hand drive from the start the new "Healey 100" reached the 100 mph 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.

Throught out the next 15 years Healey improved the car, inserting a 6 cylinder in 1959. In total Healey sold over 70,000 examples between 1952 and 1968. Stories differ about the demise of the Healey. Most fingers point at British Motor Corporation (BMC) for refusing to re-engineer the car for 1970s American safety regulations.

Healey even built a prototype to show the timid British executives that it was easy to do. But BMC stood fast. No more Austin-Healey. That meant Donald and his team were free to look elsewhere, to Jensen. And that's a whole other story.

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