When Donald Healey launched the Austin-Healey 100 at the Earls Court Motor Show in 1952 he made sure to park it behind a large post, so unconvinced was he of the front end’s styling.
It wasn’t a problem for anyone else, though, and the light blue example on display was soon the star of the event. The punters were not the only ones that liked it either – legend has it that Leonard Lord of Austin took one look at the car and said: “we’ll make it”.
Historically, it wasn’t quite like that. Lord was already in negotiations with Healey Motor Co regarding the supply of parts, but it is quite possible that seeing the car ‘in the metal’ swung it for the Austin man.
Meanwhile, Healey, who had now got his head around the sales potential of his creation, knew that his small workforce in Warwick had no hope of matching supply with demand.
So, when the production agreement with Austin was announced, the Austin-Healey marque was born and a new badge conceived by Gerry Coker.
While Healey may have lacked absolute conviction when it came to styling, he knew how to sell cars, understood that the US would be his main market and that a competitive pedigree would help guarantee the new car’s success.
For this purpose, three of the first 100s built were known verbally as ‘special test cars’ (registration numbers NOJ 391, NOJ 392 and NOJ 393). Visually, and on Healey’s insistence, these cars looked the same as any other 100, but their bodies were aluminium and their engines tuned.
Two of the cars would be entered into the 1953 Mille Miglia and all three were taken to Le Mans. The trip to France, however, was a massive success as the cars finish 12th and 14th overall, and second and third in their class.
Stage two of Healey’s publicity offensive was aimed at the press. In 1953, The Autocar and The Motor were invited to test the new sports cars and each published extremely favourable figures. No wonder, though – Healey had ensured both drove NOJ 392, a car that could easily out-perform the production offerings.
Healey’s crafty work paid off, however, and production out-stripped even Austin’s supply. The machine was so successful that by 1956 the six-cylinder 100/6 replaced the 100, while the 3000 replaced the 100/6 in 1959.
The Austin-Healey looks as good today as it always has done and its torquey four and six-cylinder engines provide effortless performance. It’s also worth remembering that all the models were available as a 2 + 2.
While the good looks are definitely still apparent on this Austin-Healey, there are plenty of areas ripe for improvement, but then it’s up for just £24,995. It’s a Mk1 3000 2+2, with just three previous owners and has been dry stored for the past 36 years.
Rust is the Austin-Healey owner’s enemy and can be a particular problem between the aluminium shrouds and the adjacent steel panels. With the inner steel body welded to the chassis, repair is costly and the lower part of the bodywork is all susceptible.
The engine, meanwhile, is simple and robust, but a worn one will use excessive oil, rattle and spew blue smoke. Overheating can be common and is usually caused by a silted radiator and engine, the only solution is an engine rebuild.
The gearbox can suffer worn selectors and synchros, and check that overdrive works on the top gears. Also, vague steering points to a worn box and joints, while suspension kingpins require regular lubrication. Finally, check that the hood is leak free.
Go for a quality restoration (or do it yourself) and you could end up with something more like this 3000 MkIII. The 1966 machine is sold as ‘better than new’ and has a fastidiously kept history file to back it up. At £50k, though, it is certainly not cheap.
Buy any Austin-Healey and you’ll become the owner of one of Britain’s most sought-after sports cars with an interesting story to match. Use our free Buyer’s Guide to choose one and you should end up with a useable classic to boot.