The Austin Healey owes its name and
heritage to Donald Healey, a remarkable man remembered as much for his
engineering skills as his success as a driver on international race and
Donald Mitchell Healey was born at Perranporth, Cornwall, in 1898. He
joined the Sopwith aircraft company in 1914. Shot down by British
anti-aircraft fire on one of the first night bomber missions, he was
invalided out of the RFC at the age of 18, and went on to study
engineering before taking up motor racing and rallying.
Donald Healey won the Monte Carlo Rally of 1931 and was well placed in
other years. He also gained a reputation as a consultant engineer and
designer, creating both the renowned Southern Cross and Dolomite Eight
models for Triumph.
During the Second World War, Donald Healey was in charge of developing
an aircraft carburettor for the Ministry of Supply and also worked with
Humber on armoured cars. It was here that he met Achille Sampietro, a
chassis specialist for high performance cars who, in 1945, joined him in
the newly formed Donald Healey Motor Company, based in an old RAF hangar
The first Healey saloon car, with a 2.5 litre Riley engine, appeared the
following year. It went on to score class wins in the Alpine Rallies of
1947 and 1948 and the Targa Florio. A Nash-Healey gained third place in
the Le Mans event of 1952. Donald himself drove a GT version in the 1948
Mille Miglia, finishing ninth overall.
Over this period Donald Healey was already developing the Healey 100
sports car. Following the 1952 Motor Show, a contract was agreed between
Donald Healey and Leonard Lord of the Austin Motor Company to
manufacture the car at the Longbridge factory. The Austin Healey 100
became an immediate best-seller and was exported with great success,
particularly to the USA. The smaller Austin-Healey Sprite followed some
Donald Healey's competitive spirit continued well into his fifties. In
1956 he recorded a two-way speed of 203.06 mph on the Bonneville Salt
Flats, driving a car of his own design. A month later the affordable
high-performance 6-cylinder Austin-Healey 100/6 made its appearance and
set a standard for sports cars for years to come.
When BMC was taken over by British Leyland, Donald Healey became
chairman of Jensen Cars and was made a CBE.
Donald Healey died on 13 January 1988 at the age of 89.
As the 1952 Motor Show approached,
work intensified on the building of pre-production prototypes. By now
the Riley axles and engine units that Healey had been using were about
to be phased out. The race proven Nash engines were an expensive option
compared to the Jaguar XK120; the search was on to find an alternative
from a high volume, low-cost source. The answer was found in the
four-cylinder 2.7 litre 90 bhp unit that had powered the Austin Motor
Company's A90 Atlantic.
Ever aware of the need to build up
pre-show publicity, the flamboyant Donald Healey pulled off a brilliant
publicity coup by taking the Healey 100 prototype to the famous Jabbeke
Straight in Belgium where, driving the car himself, he recorded a best
average speed of 110.9 mph for the flying mile.
Development features included the
innovative folding windscreen and the revolutionary use of curved glass.
The first completed bodyshell had 'finned' rear wings, but was quickly
altered to the now familiar body shape.
The Healey 100's Earls Court
appearance was a show-stopper, prompting Leonard Lord of the Austin
Motor Company to offer to put the car into production at Longbridge.
With a competitive price tag of just £750, and backed by the new
partnership agreement, the Austin Healey 100 took the world market by
storm, particularly the United States of America.
While Austin's Longbridge factory is being prepared for
production of the Austin Healey 100, work begins at Healey's Cape Works,
Warwick, building the first BN1 models for motor shows in New York, Los
Angeles and Frankfurt. A fourth car is prepared for a sales promotion
tour of the U.S.
The Austin Healey 100 wins the Grand
Premium Award at Miami's World Fair and is acclaimed the International
Motor Show Car of 1953 at New York.
A standard production car is taken to
Utah Salt Flats and records an average 103.94 mph in a 5000 kilometre
By the summer, production at
Longbridge tops 100 cars per week.
Donald Healey achieves almost 193 mph over a flying
kilometre in a 224 bhp supercharged streamlined 100, while Carroll
Shelby goes on to break sixteen U.S. and international speed
records at averages of nearly 160 mph.
Record and race achievements result in the
development of the famous 100S model, the `S' standing for
Sebring. Only 50 cars are made.
Production of the BN2 model commences in August but
is not launched until the Motor Show in October. Changes include a
During the period January 1953 to August 1955,
approximately 10,000 BN1s are sold.
Production of the 100 BN2 ceases in August, after
just one year in which 4600 had been made. Total production of
Austin Healey 100 models is 14,600 in a little over three years.
Less than 10 per cent are made right-hand drive
and only 3.5 per cent are 'home market' cars, making original UK
registered models very rare indeed.
Production of 100/6 models begins in August of this