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Austin Healey Before the Austin Healey

For articles related in any way to the Austin Healey Marque
Submitted by James Tworow ( @Sherlock )

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

Healey picked up some experience in the British automotive industry before World War II. After a number of years in rallying he worked one year for Riley in 1933 before jumping over to Triumph to become the chief engineer. When they went out of business in 1939 he moved on to Humber for the duration of the war. Then, just before the 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 trade name Healey. He built his own cars using the Riley 2-1ā„2 litre engine on a chassis by Westland Aeroparts, clad in coach-built bodies. To make the cars more potent the Riley engines were tuned to develop twenty additional horsepower. A convertible and a saloon were offered, known respectively as the Westland and the Elliot. They were fast sporting cars capable of 100 miles per hour, a rare accomplishment in those days. The Elliot was called the fastest saloon of its day by the car magazines. He also sold them as chassis only to certain customers, including some who built a woody wagon on it. However, by the late 1940's he was having a harder time sourcing the Riley engines, so instead turned to Alvis for their 3 litre straight-six engine. For the model year 1950 the convertible and saloon were re-designed and now called the Abbott and Tickford. They were now powered by the aforementioned Alvis engine, but also became bulkier. By 1954 this line of 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 the Silverstone 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 most people will identify is the Silverstone. They did well in club racing and quickly made a name for Donald Healey. The key to its success was that it was a lightweight, stripped down sports car. It was also priced well below the Westland, mainly as a reaction to increased 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 met George Mason, the head of the Nash-Kelvinator car company. As a result of that chance meeting Healey, wanting to break into the American market, made an agreement to develop the Nash-Healey sports car. He mated the Nash 3848cc straight-six to the Silverstone chassis using a body of his own design. It was well received in North America and sold moderately well - about 500 over four years. The car was built from 1950 to 1954 with very little change. Although for 1952 Pininfarina re-designed the body and at the same time Healey dropped a slightly larger Nash engine in. Also in 1951 the 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 in England. As the Silverstone had been dropped during 1950 it effectively was a replacement model. It didn't prove to be a big seller and only 25 were built over three years.

Now to the part of the story many of us know. Two years earlier, at the 1952 Earl's Court Motor Show, the Healey 100 roadster was shown for the first time. It used the Austin A90 Atlantic engine on a box-section chassis and independent front suspension 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 Donald Healey Motor Company he built just over 1,100 cars between 1946 and 1954. Without this 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 Sportsmobile convertible. This was also launched in 1949 around the time the Silverstone was introduced. However it was an uninspired car with very few sales and has become a forgotten car, only remembered by truly dedicated historians. It was apparently a bigger car than the Westland, which can't have done much for it. I had never even heard about it until I read about in a book about one year ago.
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