• Before the Austin Healey

    Before the Austin-Healey
    By
    James Tworow (Sherlock)

    The Austin-Healey roadster, whether you pick the 100/4, 100/6, 3000 or Sprite, isa well loved and legendary sports car. When the 100/4 roadster was launched back inlate 1953 it took the sports car world by storm. But what many don't know is that DonaldHealey had been building cars for a number of years before that.

    Healey picked up some experience in the British automotive industry beforeWorld War II. After a number of years in rallying he worked one year for Riley in 1933before jumping over to Triumph to become the chief engineer. When they went out ofbusiness in 1939 he moved on to Humber for the duration of the war. Then just beforethe end of the war he left Humber to set up his own company.

    The Donald Healey Motor Company was formed in 1946, known by the tradename Healey. He built his own cars using the Riley 21⁄2 litre engine on a chassis byWestland Aeroparts , clad in coachbuilt bodies. To make the cars more potent the Rileyengines were tuned to develop twenty additional horsepower. A convertible and a saloonwere offered, known respectively as the Westland and the Elliot. They were fast sportingcars capable of 100 miles per hour, a rare accomplishment in those days. The Elliot wascalled the fastest saloon of its day by the car magazines. He also sold them as chassisonly to certain customers, including some who built a woody wagon on it. However bythe late 1940's he was having a harder time sourcing the Riley engines, so instead turnedto Alvis for their 3 litre straight-six engine. For the model year 1950 the convertible andsaloon were re-designed and now called the Abbott and Tickford. They were nowpowered by the aforementioned Alvis engine, but also became bulkier. By 1954 this lineof cars came to an end, as production focused more on the Austin-Healey.

    Prior to the Austin-Healey the car that brought him the most recognition was theSilverstone roadster, launched in 1949. It gained a following right from the start,although only just over 100 were built. Mention the Healey company and the car mostpeople will identify is the Silverstone. They did well in club racing and quickly made aname for Donald Healey. The key to its success was that it was a lightweight, strippeddown sports car. It was also priced well below the Westland, mainly as a reaction toincreased automotive taxes of the time but in doing so he designed a very good sports car.

    Then during 1949, on a sea voyage to the United States, Donald Healey metGeorge Mason, the head of the Nash-Kelvinator car company. As a result of that chancemeeting Healey, wanting to break into the American market, made an agreement todevelop the Nash-Healey sports car. He mated the Nash 3848cc straight-six to theSilverstone chassis using a body of his own design. It was well received in NorthAmerica and sold moderately well, about 500 over four years. The car was built from1950 to 1954 with very little change. Although for 1952 Pininfarina re-designed thebody and at the same time Healey dropped a slightly larger Nash engine in. Also in 1951the Alvis-Healey was announced (a.k.a. Healey G-Type, Healey 3 Litre). This was essentially the Nash-Healey with the Alvis engine instead, and it was only sold inEngland. As the Silverstone had been dropped during 1950 it effectively was areplacement model. It didn't prove to be a big seller and only 25 were built over threeyears.




    Now to the part of the story many of us know. Two years earlier, at the 1952Earl's Court Motor Show, the Healey 100 roadster was shown for the first time. It usedthe Austin A90 Atlantic engine on a box-section chassis and independent frontsuspension with a Tickford body. Within a few days it became the Austin- Healey 100.This was the car that put Donald Healey on the map, with sales of over 100,000 between1953 and 1971 (counting only the sales of the 100 and 3000 series). Yet as the DonaldHealey Motor Company he built just over 1,100 cars between 1946 and 1954. Withoutthis early start we would not have the Austin-Healeys we enjoy and admire today.

    And before I end there is one more Healey model to mention, the Sportsmobileconvertible. This was also launched in 1949 around the time the Silverstone wasintroduced. However it was an uninspired car with very few sales and has become aforgotten car, only remembered by truly dedicated historians. It was apparently a biggercar than the Westland, which can't have done much for it. I had never even heard about ituntil I read about in a book about one year ago.
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. PAUL161's Avatar
      PAUL161 -
      There was also the Rolls Healey. I sat in his personal car and have photos of it when it was in North Carolina getting engine work done. Hendrix Wire Wheel had it in their shop doing the work. It was scheduled to go to a museum for display. Interesting car. Paul