Austin Healey 100 review - Toybox

By: John Bowe with Alex Affat, Photography by: Nathan Jacobs

Presented by

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Before the likes of Ferdinand Porsche and Bruce McLaren - there was Donald Healey

 

Austin Healey 100

Many of motoring’s greatest engineers came from very humble origins. And while the likes of Ferdinand Porsche and Bruce McLaren remain celebrated icons today, before them came Donald Healey.

Healey volunteered with the Royal Flying Corps when WWI began at the ripe old age of 16. Following the war he began learning motor skills at his father’s shop in Cornwall. Soon he was entering every rally he could with his 832cc Triumph Super Seven. He entered the 1929 Monte Carlo rally for the first time in 1929, got lost and was disqualified.

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The next year he returned – and finished seventh. A year after that he won outright.

For years after, he worked for Triumph, convincing the head honchos that the brand needed a big-engined race car, then struck out on his own to build his first Riley-powered car capable of 100mp/h.

A chance encounter with the President of Nash Kelvinator in 1949 saw the inception of Healey’s next big sports car, the Nash-Healey.

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It was at this point that Healey identified the potential of the American sports car market with a British-influenced low-cost sports car, and sought to produce another low-cost roadster capable of 100mp/h.

His new creation, the Healey Hundred, debuted at the 1952 London Motor Show, with an engine lifted from the Austin A90 Atlantic. By the show’s close, 3000 orders had been placed, bringing Healey very much to the attention of BMC’s Chairman and director, Leonard Lord.

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Before the show stand was taken apart, new Austin-Healey badges had been minted, and Healey signed a 20 year contract to develop new car designs specifically for competition.

The gorgeous lines penned by Gerry Coker remained largely unchanged until production ceased in 1967, with many enthusiasts believing the original 2660cc four-banger to be the purest iteration of Donald Healey’s vision.

While it may seem a little quaint these days, it’s still a beautiful shape – and was absolutely cutting edge at the time.

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It holds a special place in my heart. My dad was a mechanic who used to work a lot on MGs, but one of his mates had an Austin Healey like this, a BN1. My dad tells me that he used to take me around in it as a little boy, and I’d sit down by the transmission tunnel because it was warm!

It’s got quite a big engine for a four-cylinder, it’s a 2.6, and has a touring car derived three-speed gearbox with overdrive.

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It’s quite heavy in the steering but that’s like all 50s cars and it’s a quite simple unit.  As a weekender I imagine it would be a great thing to own for a run through the hills.

Of course the BN1 represents the beginning of the lineage; it’s a very early car. It was a big success story for Donald Healey; they went on to make a BN2 which had a four-speed gearbox. Then they made a 100-6 with a six-cylinder engine and of course the big 3000. It’s a shame we don’t see the same sort of enthusiastic engineering today, everything’s so homogenised and committee designed.

It was a different time, the 1950s, and we’ll never see anything like it again.

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1954 Austin Healey 100 (BN1)

ENGINE 2660cc Inline-four-cylinder with twin SU carbs
POWER 67kW @ 4000rpm
TORQUE 195Nm @ 2500rpm
GEARBOX 3-speed manual w/overdrive
BRAKES 280mm drums (front & rear)
SUSPENSION Independent, Coil springs, Anti-roll (f), Live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs (r)
WEIGHT 953kg

 

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