The 100 itch that I'm unable to scratch

| 28 Nov 2011

I’ve being struggling to mask an urge to own a Healey 100 – the four-cylinder Healey that became colloquially known as the 100/4 after it was superseded by the six-pot 100/6, a car that I (well my brothers and I) already own, having inherited our late father’s example.I blame part of the urge on a recent appreciation that ‘firsts’ are the best in design. I think it was catalysed with the E-type saturation this year; a year during which I got to appreciate how utterly sensational Malcolm Sayers’ original Geneva-wowing shape really was and how lardy the styling on the 2+2 and later S3 became.It’s the same with XK: Jaguar boss William Lyons’ XK120 is sublime (especially the coupé version which is a poor-man’s Bugatti Atlantic in my book) and even more so when you compare it to the gawky-looking 140 that superseded it: the narrower grille and deeper one-piece bumpers compromised the balanced proportion of the original. Same with Rolls-Royce’s Shadow, Porsche’s 911 and even Aston Martin’s Lagonda.But back to the Healey 100… its fold-flat-’screen and flush bonnet – plus doors unadorned with handles – give it a restrained elegance. Plus, I love the fact that it was designed by a relatively unknown stylist, Gerry Coker.The other reason I’ve fallen for them is the way they drive. I learned to drive in the family 100/6 back in the mid ’80s and am well used to its heavy feel and tendency to understeer (until you boot the throttle to get the back end out) so when I first tried a four-cylinder Healey I got a big surprise: it may lack the sonorous beat of a ‘six’ but its road manners are far more nimble and playful – the lack of two extra cylinders keeping the weight down and nicely centred in the chassis. And it’s got sufficient grunt to make it go, too.The experience whetted my appetite, but any firm desire was tempered by the reality of already having one in the family, and how it wasn’t really different enough to warrant having another. Plus good examples (at £30k and the rest) were out of my reach.That hasn’t stopped me surfing ebay for them on a regular basis… I even went far as far as to look at a couple for sale, though the first was by chance after photographer Jon Green mentioned at a Goodwood Breakfast Club back in 2007 that his scruffy, but absolutely on-the-button 100 (below) was for sale to fund his Peking to Paris entry.

An original UK car, it had a load of kit on it including a Dennis Welch fast-road engine (complete with ally head and larger SU carbs), disc brakes at the front and a later four-speed centre change ‘box. All those goodies alone were worth the £12k Green was asking. But head (i.e. wallet) ruled heart ruled and I decided not to pursue it.A year on there was another tempting proposition: a running barn-find that was up for £2k less than Green’s car and a figure that was low enough to inspire a trip to a lock-up in Ealing to take a closer look. The car (below) was all there, but its forlorn condition made me realise it wasn’t economically viable (and just how much Green’s car had been a bargain).

That perception was confirmed later that year when Bonhams had a complete, but in need of recommissioning, desirable M spec 100 (below) – sporting factory-fitted disc brakes – up for grabs at its Harrogate fixture. But I wasn’t able to make the sale and so ruled it out. A pity, as Bonhams struggled to get it away at £19,750, a good deal considering its spec.

After that, Healey 100 prices have been on the up and I’ve had enough on my classic plate with upgrading the XK and attending to my affliction for Traction Avants, however the desire for a 100 has always been simmering on a back burner.Being given the keys to FenderBroad's 100S replica (below) for last year’s Valletta Grand Prix in Malta – where I got to enjoy its gutsy performance and hairy-chested handling around the walls of the Maltese capital – didn’t help either.

Trouble is that car (which has all the correct ‘S’ mechanical bits including ally Weslake head) was way out of my league, as is AHX 11 – the pre-production protoype which I ogled over after spotting it in XK specialist Guy Broad's workshop (below) earlier this year and which is up for sale at Bonhams on Thursday (complete with a heady £100-120,000 estimate).

And so thoughts of having a 100 remain unsatisfied. I’m convinced the model’s purity is going to push values way ahead of its larger Healey siblings; they may even become the next AC Ace of the ’50s world, although Donald Healey probably made too many for prices to really fly.Meanwhile I’ve spotted another for sale. A nicely original but seriously shabby barn-find that’s fresh off the boat from the US and in my price bracket. Plus it’s not too far away….