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Austin-Healey 3000

Austin-Healey 3000 Published: 13th Dec 2017 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Austin-Healey 3000
Austin-Healey 3000
Austin-Healey 3000
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Does the big hairy Healey still make your neck ones stand on end?

Ask anybody to draw a classic sports car, and the result will be somewhere between a E-type and a big Healey. The Austin-Healey is such a well-loved facet of 1960’s England that it makes frequent appearances on shortbread tins, days gone by cartoons, and period dramas. And it’s easy to see why; it’s a strikingly beautiful shape which hides a grunty six pot.

One step above the venerable Triumph TR, the big Healey is less a boy’s toy than an all out expression of masculinity. Donald Healey had developed the car to market under his own name, but struck a deal to mass produce after Leonard Lord took an interest in it.

Early Healeys used the four-cylinder engine from the Austin Atlantic, before the new C-series six took over in the Healey 100/6. The former is seen the more purist while the extra cylinders changed the character of the car. For the good? That’s for another day, another test drive…

On the move

Simultaneously brutish and feminine, few have ever been styled quite so seductively as the Big Healey. It’s surely a personal thing but we prefer the earlier 100/6 to the later 3000, but it’s personal preference – and largely comes down to which style you prefer for your radiator grille. The last 3000 Mk2s and all Mk3s have quarterlights, which make them more practical but mar the traditionally clean shape. It’s one of few sporting cars to suit two-tone paint, too – starting behind the front arch, bisecting the rear, and accentuating the waistline and hips over the rear arches.

Don’t expect a great deal of space in a Healey. Yes, six footers will fit, but the cabin’s narrow, the seat squabs are fixed, so it can be difficult to find a comfortable compromise.

The steering wheel points directly at your heart, and isn’t adjustable for rake or reach, you tend to drive arms bent as it’s the only way to reach the pedals. Four Smiths gauges greet you, set into an oval binnacle on earlier cars and a more trapezoidal binnacle on the Mk3. It might not be the most comfortable place to be, but it’s special – and it feels like a step above a TR3, even if XK drivers might be treated to more luxury.

We’re concentrating on the later Mk3 or BJ8 Healey, which has a 150bhp iteration of BMC’s C-series engine and standard servo assisted brakes. It’s the most civilised Healey – but as a wet weather companion it’s still not up to modern standards; large blind spots in the hood mean that most owners would prefer to drive with rudimentary top down. Unsurprisingly, by the standards of the 1960s the Austin Healey 3000 was a pretty quick car, with 60mph appearing in under ten seconds, and a top speed in excess of 120mph. And courtesy of a separate chassis, low-slung body and firm suspension, it feels even faster. It delivers a good kick – as there’s plenty of torque to make progress feel urgent even when not read-lining it. Under load, the big six is rather raucous, perfect for this application. The gearbox is perhaps a touch notchy for those used to modern family saloons, but the ratios are well chosen and the engine’s torque means that relatively few cog swaps are actually needed.

Round the corners

Most will be content with the Healey’s healthy pace – it’s the handling which is where opinions differ to where the term hairy applies. The steering is heavy at rest, and has a fair bit of heft to it in motion too, not surprisingly as there’s a lot of iron over the front end, and the tendency is to wash wide unless you really put some effort in. While you can feel a little flex the chassis is actually fairly stiff and so is the suspension; ideal for handling, but less so for ride. The Big Healey is naturally firm, with a tendency to hop over imperfections rather than absorbing them. It’s disconcerting to the uninitiated, but acceptable if you’re used to old time classic sports cars.

Some owners tended to carry something weighty (like bags of cement) in the boot to control the rear end, mainly for wet weather traction and – like the 3-Litre Capri – you need to keep the tail’s travails in mind when pushing it but that’s part of the fun. Put it this way, if you’ve previously owned a TR6 you’ll feel at home even if you need to take the Austin forcefully by the scruff of the neck.

Car and Driver described the Austin Healey 3000 as “harking back to those days when sports cars were meant for men only and the ladies rode reluctantly if at all or, better yet, stood timidly and admiringly by the side of the road” – and this somewhat sexist remark sums the car up better than most. It’s a touch ponderous and the controls are weighty enough to dissuade many – but put the effort in, and you’ll reap the rewards of happy Healey ownership.

Go or no go

As sacrilegious as we may sound in criticising the Austin-Healey, we can’t realistically recommend one to the majority of modern car drivers without a stint in something else like a TR6 first. It’s a hard-riding, hard-accelerating bruiser with heavy steering and brakes that aren’t a match for their modern equivalents. It is, essentially, an acquired taste. But that doesn’t mean we write it off – why not hire one for a weekend? Some of life’s biggest pleasures need to be learned in stages and the Healey is no different. And if you’ve learned how to drive one properly, there’s not much to beat this lovely 50’s sports car.

Quick spin

  • Performance: Lusty, and bit lazy; feels faster than it is
  • Cruising: More bruiser than cruiser due to ride
  • Handling: One for the big boys – need to show it who’s the boss
  • Brakes: Adequate for a 50’s sports car, easily uprated if desired
  • Ease of use: We’d not fancy one daily but come the weekend…

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