Sports Car Classics: The “Big” Austin-Healeys

1960 Austin-Healey 3000, Photographed by Adrian Pingstone

1960 Austin-Healey 3000, Photographed by Adrian Pingstone

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 In the early 1950s, there were really two choices when it came to a British sports car in the ripe United States import market. Buyers could pick between the affordable but relatively antique MG T-series, and then the technologically advanced, but expensive, Jaguar XK120. There was a gap for “middle class” sports car, and the person to exploit it was Donald Healey.

Healey had a history of building cars under his own name immediately after World War II, though not in big numbers. For the American market car, Healey contracted car manufacturer Austin to supply the powertrain components. In 1952, the prototype was debuted at the Earl Court Motor Show with such an amazing public reaction, that Austin wanted to build the car, and then Austin-Healey was created.

The first cars of the early ‘50s were two-seaters called the “100” after its 100mph top speed, similar to Jaguar’s name for the XK120. One of the more striking features of these four-cylinder cars  cars was the folding windscreen, meant for track use. Performance was quite good for the day, including a 0-60 time of 11.2 seconds.  The factory even built a hot version called the 100M, which was unofficially a “Le Mans” equipped car including a hotter engine and a stiffer suspension.

Later in the car’s life it became the 100-6 in 1956 and 3000 in 1959, gaining an optional back seat and an inline-six engine roughly the same displacement, leading to similar acceleration performance, but gained a higher top speed with power increases.

In 1967 production ended on the 3000 as it was beginning to show its age. Unlike Healey’s previous cars, the ones bearing his name, as well as the Austin-Healey sprite, were built in the tens of thousands. Restored examples command a high price on par with the similarly successful Jaguar XK-E.

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