Donald Mitchell Healey
Donald Mitchell Healey
, noted British
rally driver, automobile engineer, and speed record
holder, was born on July 3, 1898 in Perranporth, North
Cornwall, England. Following an apprenticeship at Sopwith
Aviation, he volunteered for the Royal Flying Corps
and earned his "wings" in 1916.
After WWI, he returned home to study motorcars and engineering.
He opened a garage, where his interest grew in rally
competition. In 1931 he would win the Monte Carlo rally
outright in a 4.5 liter Invicta - the first in a string
of racing successes that would see him enjoy an enviable
reputation as one of the greatest European rally drivers
of the 1930's, 40's and early 50's.
In 1933 Healey joined Triumph, of Coventry, and soon
became their technical director - but it was after World
War II that he was finally able to branch out on his
own, setting up a small factory in Warwick and building
the first "Healey" cars, fitted with Riley engines.
The public soon became aware of the new marque when
in 1946 the "Elliot" became the first production saloon
to cover 100 miles an hour.
Donald Healey Wins The 1952 Leonard Lord Design Competition
But Donald Healeys big break came in 1952 when Leonard
Lord, BMC's Chief Executive, sponsored an informal 'design
competition' for the development of a new sports-car
to use Austin and BMC components. The competition was
fierce, with MG in the running and putting forward the
design that would eventually become the MGA
But even though MG
were now a member of the BMC empire,
it was Donald Healey's prototype "Healey 100" (finished
just before the Earls Court motor show of 1952), which
would go on to win the competition. On show opening
day Lord inspected the car, offered to take it over
at once, and re-named it "Austin-Healey".
Built Using Austin A90 Mechanicals
The new car
was manufactured in Longbridge, Birmingham, and used
a chassis frame welded to its body shell during assembly,
and used an Austin A90 Atlantic
2660cc engine delivering
90bhp at 4000rpm. The A90's transmission was also used,
but first gear selection was blanked off, a "Laycock"
overdrive operative on top and second gears, creating
a pseudo five-speed transmission.
It went on sale in the spring of 1953, but while many
admired the build quality of the new car, its cost was
prohibitive and, after a few months of negligible sales,
the price was reduced by £100 pounds to £1223. The body
style was sleek and beautiful with a comfortable two-seater
cockpit, and a shallow, but useful, luggage boot.
were perspex side screens, but full if rather basic
weather protection, and a heater was standard. In essence,
this body shell, style and chassis was to be used until
the end of 1967, when the Austin-Healey 3000 finally
went out of production.
The Competition BN2
Healey would also develop a special competition version
of the BN2 in his own Warwick workshops. Dubbed the
"100S", it had a special Weslake cylinder head and was
good for 132bhp at 4700rpm. The 100S also featured disc
brakes on all four wheels, light-allay bodywork and,
to keep weight at a minimum, no bumpers.
class-winner, approximately 50 were built and were used
on race circuits all over the globe. Its best performance
was arguably the third place overall at Sebring
the 12 Hour Race of 1954, driven by Lance Macklin and
George Huntoon. A "Streamliner" derivative of the car
fitted with a supercharged 224bhp version of the engine
would achieve a top speed of 192mph on the Bonneville,
Utah Salt Flats in 1954.
Tradgedy At Le Mans
Naturally the new "Healey" was entered into many races,
and after the good showing of the "Nash-Healey" in the
1952 Le Mans (where it finished third overall) it seemed
the perfect venue to showcase the cars abilities. But
tragedy was waiting around the corner at the 1955 event.
Some three hours into the race, a 300 SLR would collide
with an Austin-Healey, plunging it into the grandstands.
The crash and ensuing fire killed the Healey's driver
and over 80 of the spectators. Mercedes-Benz immediately
withdrew the remainder of its team, even as Sterling
Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio in their SLR were leading
the top Jaguar D-Type by more than two laps. Mike Hawthorn
and Ivor Bueb, who were piloting the Jag, went on to
a rather hollow victory.
The Big Healeys
Production of four-cylinder 'Big Healeys' went on to
the summer of 1956, by which time 10,688 BN1's and 3,924
of the improved, four-speed transmission BN2s had been
built. Unlike Mercedes and MG who pulled out of racing
following the 1955 Le Mans, Donald Healey remained committed
to the race track, and so he redesigned the car and
re-launched it as the "100 Six".
Sitting on a slightly longer wheelbase, the car used
the 2639cc BMC C-Series six-cylinder engine. There were
modifications to the decoration, the grille, and the
cockpit, but most importantly a pair of 'occasional'
rear seats had been squeezed into place. In 1956 Donald
Healey returned to the Utah salt flats with a "Streamliner"
version of his 100 Six, where he recorded a top speed
of 203.11mph thereby joining the exclusive "200+ mph
In standard form, the new engine produced 102bhp, but
the car was 400lb heavier than before and this in turn
led to a drop off in performance - slightly down on
the BN1 and BN2. When new, it was priced at £1144 in
the UK, compared with the £1021 for the Triumph TR3
That was quite a sum in those days, but it did add to
the status of an Austin-Healey driver! In the autumn
of 1957 assembly of Big Healey's was moved to the MG
factory in Abingdon. Shortly afterwards a new more efficient
117bhp engine was developed for the car, and in 1958
the two-seater body style was re-introduced, that model
being manufactured side by side with the existing 2+2.
The Austin Healey 3000 Is Launched
By mid 1959 the engine would again be enlarged, this
time to 2912cc. Front disc brakes were now standard,
and the legendary "Austin-Healey 3000
" was launched.
The new engine was good for 124bhp, and would give the
3000 a top speed or around 115mph. Immensely popular,
the 3000 would enjoy an eight year run, during which
time the engine power would be progressively increased
A re-style in 1962 would see the 3000 fitted with a
curved windscreen and window-winders fitted to the doors.
Then in 1964 the interior was embellished with the fitment
of a lovely wooden facia and plush new interior, and
by the end of 1967 some 57,352 six cylinder engine cars
had been manufactured.
The 3000 was an extremely successful
competition car, particularly in rally's, where it would
notch up outright wins in the Alpine Rally of 1961 and
1962, the Austrian Alpine of 1964 and Liege-Rome-Liege
of 1960 (Pat Moss) and 1964. With BMC's encouragement,
the Healey's designers also produced sports-car design,
based on Austin A35 components.
From The Austin A35 A Sports Car Is Born
The result was the 1958 Sprite, which was assembled
at Abingdon. Based on a simple but sturdy steel unit
construction shell the Sprite had immense character,
acceptable performance, direct steering and good handling,
all for a very (at the time) purchase price. The Sprites
948cc engine was the BMC A-Series, which developed 43bhp
at 5200rpm making the Sprite good for a top speed of
85mph. The front suspension was borrowed from the A35,
while the steering rack, back axle and brakes were borrowed
from the Morris Minor.
The distinctive bodywork featured bulbous headlamps,
and the car was quickly dubbed the "frog-eye" by the
motoring public. With the headlamps attached to the
bonnet, it would hinge up together with the front wings
from the scuttle. To save costs the designers did away
with an external boot system, making it necessary to
tilt the driver and passenger seat forward to gain access
to the rear compartment. But, at £667 when new, it was
considered extremely affordable and there was virtually
no sports-car competition at that price point.
Naturally the car sold very well, and after 48,999 cars
had been built, the "frog-eye" was replaced by the Sprite
Mk. II in mid-1961. The Mk. II Sprite received considerable
modifications, particularly to the body work. It was
now a far more conventional looking vehicle, featuring
squared up front and rear styling, a normally opening
bonnet, and a far more convenient boot-lid.
Those that have read the Morris Garages
article on this
site would know that it was a "badge-engineered" version
of this car that was sold as the MG Midget. The first
of the Mk. II's retained the 948cc engine, but in the
autumn of 1962 this was replaced by 1098cc derivative.
In 1964 came the Mk. III, now fitted with window winders
on the doors, and a half-elliptic (instead of cantilever)
leaf spring rear suspension - and naturally a more powerful
The final major change came in October 1966, when the
de-tuned version of the Mini-Cooper S 1275cc engine,
with and a 95mph top speed, was made available. But
strangely it was the MG that was gaining in popularity
- the "Midget" outselling the "Sprite" consistently
every year. This remains the only time (that we are
aware of) that a badge-reengineered car has outsold
The Formation Of British Leyland Spells The End
After the formation of British Leyland in 1968 the days
of the Austin-Healey were numbered. Two years later,
in 1970, the last Sprite was manufactured after a total
of some 79,338 Mk. II & III's had been built. Instead
of wasting already manufactured body shells, a further
1,022 "Austin" only Sprites were manufactured in 1971,
but unfortunately the "Healey" name was no-longer.
The legacy of the Healey engineers would continue in
the form of the MG Midget until 1979, that car now using
the 1493cc Triumph Spitfire engine, but it seemed the
powers to be had no time for manufacturing sports-cars,
once the jewel in the crown of the British automobile
industry, and the MG was allowed to run well past its
use-by date and was eventually pensioned off. This was
indeed a sad time for many motoring enthusiasts.