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Austin Healey 3000

Austin Healey 3000 Published: 7th Jun 2017 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Austin Healey 3000

Fast Facts

  • Best model: 3000 MkIII
  • Worst model: Poorly restored cars
  • Budget buy: 100/6
  • OK for unleaded?: No needs additive
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): 4000 x 1524mm
  • Spares situation: Very good
  • DIY ease?: Excellent
  • Club support: Excellent
  • Appreciating asset?: Heading for orbit
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Unique to drive, fabulous to own with ever improving investment potential
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Renowned hairy-chested British sports car that Stirling’s sister won rallies in. Catching up with XK values and as expensive to restore and maintain but excellent back up and spares availability largely compensates

Big beefy and brilliantly bulldog British, over the past few years, there’s nothing quite like a big Healey and the market realises this to the point where they’re now financially out of reach to casual enthusiasts who couldn’t quite afford a Jaguar XK and looked to Donald’s design as a suitable alternative. You can’t buck the market but on the other hand these hairy-chested sportsters are always going to reward you physically, psychologically and financially plus there’s still some good value buys around, if you care to look and heed our advice.

History

To the layperson, all big Healeys are the same – but they are not. Because like most classics, a myriad changes to the engine, transmission, trim and even the bodyshell occurred over the years. To distinguish between the different flavours, various unofficial tags were used. BN denotes an open-topped two seater with a B-class engine (2-3000cc) – except for the BN4 which is a 2+2. Otherwise, a 2+2 roadster carries the tag BT, the BJ-badged models being two-seater convertibles with folding hood frames and wind up windows. Right, got that?

1956 After the successful run of the original (and some reckon most desired) 100/4, the 100-6 (BN4) was released in October 1956, featuring a longer wheelbase than before plus a 102bhp 2639cc six-cylinder engine taken from the flagship Austin Westminster saloon. Slotting in a six pot always sounds good news but the change was more due to economics and what was available at BMC because the bigger, heavier engine was really little more powerful over the earlier ‘four’ that had been discontinued. Add a lot more weight and the new Healey was actually slower – and lazier.

1957 As a result the engine was usefully uprated from 102bhp to 117bhp care of a 12 port cylinder head featuring larger valves and flat top piston for a higher compression ratio, fed by larger SU carbs in November: Late BN4 and BN6 models.

1959 The C-series engine fitted to the 100/6 is bored out to give a capacity of 2913cc, and in the process the Healey 3000 is born. It wasn’t just a question of boring out the cylinders though, as a new block was required. The result was 124bhp at 4600rpm and torque of 162lb ft at 2700rpm. To help rein in the power, front disc brakes were standard, there was a vertically slatted grille and, as with the 100/6 there were two-seater or 2+2 options (this derivative is known as the BN7, or BT7 for 2+2 version).

1961 3000 MkII goes on sale, but it’s not exactly a radical evolution of the previous derivative – it’s more of an update to keep American buyers happy. Alongside a new grille, a revised bonnet air intake and fresh badging there are triple 1 1/4in SU carburettors. However, these would be ditched within a year as they were too problematic to keep in tune all the time; in their place would be a pair of SUs instead. This model is denoted BJ7.

1962 The 3000 gets the most significant styling changes in its history, with the adoption of a curved windscreen, wind-up windows and a folding hood. Unofficially known as the MkIIa, this variation on the theme also received extra soundproofing to improve refinement levels while the engine reverted to 3000 MkI spec a pair of SU HS6 1 3/4in carbs but with a revised camshaft to keep power levels up. Optional extras included a brake servo, wire wheels, a heater and overdrive.

1964 The last of the big Healeys goes on sale in the form of the 3000 MkIII. Similar to the BJ7, there’s now a walnut dash, 2-inch SUs, separate indicators front and rear plus a new camshaft to give 148bhp. The exhaust system is also rerouted, with a pair of silencers under the nearside sill, while there’s a stronger clutch and a brake servo is now standard. By the time the final MkIII is made in 1968, 43,017 Healey 3000s had been built.

Driving and press comments

When Autocar got its hands on one of the first 3000 MkIs in August 1959, it drew comparisons with the 100/6, but there was no mention of the original 100/4. Perhaps that’s no surprise, but with the 100/6 the runt of the litter since the day it was launched (it was slower and less well balanced than the car it replaced) it came as no surprise that the road testers saw the 3000 as an improvement over the 100/6 in every way; five mph faster in overdrive top (now 116mph), while in direct top good for 110mph – previously 100mph but what the raw figures didn’t convey was the more relaxed cruising on offer, thanks to the final drive ratio being raised to 3.9:1.

Unsurprisingly, the car was utterly relaxing to drive at low speeds thanks to the prodigious torque on tap: “None of the low-speed characteristics of the engine have been lost, and it pulls well on a light throttle. In town traffic the car can be driven quite comfortably in overdrive third and top gears, when low engine speeds are accompanied by an unobtrusive exhaust note. Most starts from rest can be made in second gear, even when fully loaded, with first required only on gradients to get the car rolling”.

Motor kicked off its test of the 3000 by talking about manhood issues saying some enthusiasts feel that a number of modern two-seaters aren’t masculine enough to be deemed sports cars. “BMC turn out the Austin-Healey 3000… a strong-willed survivor of a more hairychested era”, adding “Of the masculinity of the Austin-Healey 3000 there’s no doubt; where taming the 130 odd horsepower is actually liked depends on the driver possessing the necessary skill and a certain amount of stout-heartedness”.

The mag liked the sports car’s noise, performance and, in the main, the handling on smooth roads though was surprised the earlier car’s deficiencies such as “unruly” axle location, scuttle shake and low slung exhaust were still evident “in view of the rally records of the works Healeys” but the overall verdict was positive; “The big Healey is a good sports car…fun, even exciting to drive.”

Of the MkIII the weekly gave a thumbs up to added civility and comfort and a sense of maturity “Yet this is no cissy sports car” it wrote back in 1964 with the 0-60 now down to 9.8 seconds.

Of the handling it said; “Under power it reverts to oversteer and, in the extreme, a power slide although the vicious breakaway of earlier cars seems to have been cured”.

While earlier reviews of the Healey 3000 by Autocar were almost universally positive, by the time the MkIII was put through its paces in 1964, the weekly was less effusive. Or as the reviewer wrote: “like an ageing but beautiful dowager, repeated facelifts can no longer hide the ravages of time and progress”.

Noting how much faster the MkIII was compared with the MkII, Autocar summed up thus: “Despite some dated features, the big Healey is still terrific fun to drive. Tractable, capable of an immense amount of hard work with reasonable economy, it will still have its devotees long after production has ceased”. And they were right. While the Triumph TR5/6 is rightly viewed as the heir apparent to the A-H, they seem soft and too civilised in comparison – and are certainly easier to drive. The true modern equivalent is a TVR Chimaera or Griffith and also, to a lesser degree, the much later 1990’s MGR V8.

Values and marketplace

Andrew Cluett runs Rawles Motorsport, one of the UK’s premier Austin-Healey specialists, which has been going for 30 years. The company sells, restores, upgrades and maintains big Healeys, so there isn’t much that Andrew doesn’t know about these charismatic classics. And what Andrew knows is that buyers can’t get enough of them.

Apart from the fact that Big Healey’s are hugely desirable, another reason for their soaring values is the ever rising prices of Astons and Jaguar XKs as well as E-types but a once appreciable gap is fast closing, witness the recent CCA auction at the NEC Restoration show where the very last 3000 MkIII smashed its £75-90K estimate to sell for more than 100 grand (after fees) while a 100/6, regarded as the least liked and so cheapest, went to a happy home at the auction for half this!

Andrew told us recently: “Buyers want the best 3000s they can buy, which means fully restored cars that have been properly revived by a marque specialist. Of course there’s a market for cheaper cars too, but we’re finding that we can more readily find a buyer for any 3000 if it’s in truly excellent condition. The 3000 MkI and MkII are worth a bit less than the MkIIa and MkIII; good examples start at about £45,000, really nice cars will go for £60,000 with the best ones fetching up to 95,000. But the later 3000s start at £45,000, something really good is £75,000 and the very best examples are now at £100,000 (check out his website-ed)”. Of the NEC auction sale Andrew says the car “had lots of provenance – so worth it”.

Cluett added: “Projects are getting ever harder to find. You’ll pay between £15,000 and £25,000 for something worth saving, with rebuild costs set at anywhere between £50,000 and £80,000 depending on whether or not you incorporate any upgrades into the restoration. The thing is that it’s still possible to buy a project and restore it properly and still come out ahead financially – just about. “What matters is that the work is done properly by someone who knows what they’re doing”.

Despite the seemingly high values, Cluett adds there’s still room for further increases – especially when you consider how highly valued those Jaguar and Aston Martin alternatives are although, while in broad agreement, Jeremy Welch (Denis Welch Motorsport) says it will be some years before six figure asking prices will become the norm. That said, Cluett sold two cars in one week during April at £90,000 and £95,000 respectively!

Don’t sideline a 100/6. Essentially, it’s the same as the 3000 line up but fitted with the original 2639cc engine and still relied on drum brakes all round although a good many 100/6 models have the later 3-litre substituted anyway – ditto front discs. There’s some rarities worth watching out for, such as the early Longbridge-built models (identified by their peculiar bonnet design) and the 100/6 S, of which 50 cars had 3000 disc brakes and a higher-tuned 2.6 engine fitted to homologate for racing done at the Works; Andrew Cluett’s lovely example sold for £56,000. Not cheap, but he counters this by saying Big Healey values have risen 20 per cent per year since 2015 and show little signs of abating. So, the message is clear: don’t delay or a Big Healey may soon become, financially, out of reach.

Improvements

While many owners prize originality to a point, few Healey buyers are blind to the fact that there are all sorts of things that can be done to make one more usable and reliable. Thanks to being so well-served by long-standing specialists, there’s a huge array of bits to buy off the shelf.

For instance, if you’re feeling really flush, you could swap the Austin’s carbs for electronic fuel injection, available from AH Spares and reap better fuel economy plus smoother running. But you’ll need deep pockets because the conversion will set you back over £5000.

Stronger brakes and suspension are available from the key specialists, many of whom have been racing these cars for years. As a result they’ve pinpointed exactly which set-up is best for fast road use, in terms of spring and damper rates and brake pad specification.

If you have the money and the inclination the sky’s the limit as a delve in Rawles Motorsport’s latest Upgrade & Design manual is anything to go by. Aside for the normal tweaks and touches, there’s the choice of rack and pinion steering (either with or without power assistance), a safety collapsible steering column (the original is an infamous weapon due to steering box’s location) and now dedicated upgrade packages (GT, Handling and Spots Tourer) to make a Healey even hairier or more civilised – choice is yours.

Working out exactly what’s right for you and your car may be quite another matter, but to get a good idea, talk to companies such as Rawles Motorsport, Denis Welch Motorsport, AH Spares (who all publish excellent catalogues), JME Healeys, John Chatham, Cape International) for top advice.

Out of its comprehensive catalogue Welch suggests a racier camshaft (£720) coupled with a CSI distributor system at under £240. The ultimate in cylinder heads is its Aluminium (Fast Road) design but it does cost the thick end of £1900.

Like numerous Big Healey experts, assuming that the basics are fine, then Jeremy Welch recommends a better front anti-roll bar as the best single mod at only £200 although the company’s improved steering box (of which there’s also a safety option) to iron out the internet right spots, for a precise linear feel, improves the experience no end and seems fair value at £1550 if your one requires overhauling anyway.

Even if you keep your car pretty much as it came out of the showroom, at least fit an uprated radiator and electronic ignition.

Another grand for a new life?

In the last years of its life, Donald Healey, developed a better big Healey, with the aid of Rolls-Royce power to produce the 4000; it’s a case of what might have been. Using the same 4-litre engine fitted to the (still underrated) Vanden Plas saloon and good for 180bhp, the Healey’s body was widened to six inches and made much more rigid as well as spacious although wheelbase remained the same. A total of four cars (all surviving) were made during 1966-68 providing a different kind of Big Healey that may have turned this sports car into a bit of a Morgan rival. Certainly, it would have outlasted its in-house MGC replacement, which was killed off by 1970!

What To Look For

General

  • Re-importing big Healeys from the US has been popular over the years. Although such cars will probably be in good condition bodily, the sun will have taken its toll on the interior. Dash tops and seats are the first to suffer, so make sure these haven’t been poorly repaired.
  • Many cars have bits of trim missing because they were left off during restoration. Although most things are available, much of it is expensive. Make sure you add up the cost of replacing these parts before you make an offer.
  • Off-the-shelf trim kits don’t always fit particularly well, as there are often small differences between one car and another. The only way of trimming a car really well is to tailor all the carpets and panels. The bodyshell is made of steel or aluminium; which makes quite a difference, as an alloy body boosts the power to weight ratio noticeably.
  • Heaters weren’t standard on any models – they were even optional on the last of the 3000 MkIIIs. If you fancy one you’ll have to budget £250+ to buy one and then fit it.

Body and chassis

  • This is the big Healey’s weak spot. The ladderframe chassis is simple, but can be damaged with the slightest knock so check to see if the main rails are straight and see if the car pulls to one side.
  • Chassis corrosion is also a problem – especially in the main rails and outriggers. The outriggers support the sills, and mud thrown up gets trapped between the two, then eats away at both chassis and body.
  • Beware of bodged chassis and floorpan repairs. Because the latter and bulkhead are welded to the chassis, many people won’t effect a proper repair. The whole of the bottom nine inches of the car is susceptible to rot, which means floorpans, sills, wings and wheelarches need careful inspection. Inner sills are structural and difficult to repair. These need to be checked from inside the car.
  • The front shroud (around the bonnet, headlamps and grille) is particularly difficult to restore to a high standard, as it consists of several curved alloy sections welded together. Although not prone to rusting, parking knocks can wreak havoc with the soft shroud.
  • The rear section can be the same, with a good chance of filler being present. Standard front and rear wings were steel, but replacements are also available in aluminium. Fitting alloy panels reduces corrosion – electrolytic and water-induced – but they’re prone to denting as they’re so soft.
  • Take a look at the body’s swage line. If it’s not consistent where it meets or leaves the door it’s likely the car has been poorly restored. Also see how well the doors open and shut if the car is jacked up at its rearmost point. The chassis should be strong enough to not bend at all when subjected to this – if the door gaps close up at all the chassis is weak.

Engine

  • The 3000’s engine is essentially an unstressed truck unit, so it should happily run for 200,000 miles between rebuilds. When work is required it’s not cheap – a full rebuild costs around £2,000+, and that’s if you do it yourself.
  • These engines also tend to weep water between the head and block. Denis Welch can modify the waterways to eliminate it, but as long as you keep an eye on it there’s no cause for concern. Just check the compression if you think there’s something awry and monitor the oil to ensure there’s no build up of emulsion through oil and water mixing.
  • Oil consumption is fairly high – maybe as much as 250 miles per pint. On the move, oil pressure should be 45-50psi, dropping to 10-15psi at idle.
  • Overheating isn’t a problem on properly maintained cars, but over the years waterways on many blocks will have silted up. If the engine runs hot this could be the cause, along with silted up radiators or incorrectly set ignition timing.
  • Because the car sits so close to the Tarmac the exhaust system is liable to ground. 3000 MkIIIs had slightly more ground clearance than earlier versions, but no big Healey sits far from the ground.

Running gear

  • All 3000s came with an Austin Westminstersourced four-speed transmission, with optional overdrive. These gearboxes are tough, but a lack of syncromesh on first gear can lead to worn or missing teeth. If the ovderdrive isn’t working, the chances are the fault is electrical (and usually easily fixed), rather than hydraulic or mechanical.
  • Rear axles leak oil, which then seeps from the end of the axle casing onto the rear brake linings. Replacing the seal is a half-hour job, but if you haven’t kept an eye on it the brake linings and axle could need attention.
  • Front damper mountings can work loose and lever arm dampers can leak. The cam and peg steering boxes fitted throughout production can leak, but if oiled regularly they don’t need rebuilding – just check regularly that the box isn’t running low on oil. If the steering feels loose on the move it’s probably because of worn kingpins – these should also be greased every service.
  • Make sure the rear springs aren’t sagging, as ground clearance was never generous on these cars. If the car is sitting too high at the back, it’s probably because the springs have been replaced. Remanufactured springs on BJ8s can take a while to settle, leading to a jacked-up look.
  • All Healey 3000s got drum brakes at the rear with discs at the front. Only the 3000 MkIII got a servo as standard, but one was optional on the 3000 MkII; they’re worth having, although the anchors are good as they are.
  • Many big Healeys now sport wire wheels; 48-spoke items were originally fitted, with 60-spoke items for later 3000s. Splines can wear and cost £100 a corner to fix – check for wear by reversing the car and listening for clonks. As long as the splines are greased and the spinners kept tight the splines shouldn’t wear quickly.
  • Some cheaper Indian-sourced wheels bought in the eighties can give problems. Poorly made, they’re not quite round – leading to inevitable vibration on the move. Another problem with wire wheels is that they’re frequently not balanced properly – as if that’s not enough their spinners are sometimes not tightened correctly as owners don’t like bashing them in case they damage the chrome.

 

Three Of A Kind

Daimler SP250
Daimler SP250
Get past those awkward looks and you’ll see the SP250 is a gem. The problem is, with just 2648 built, there aren’t enough good ones to go round. If you do manage to find one, you’ll quickly appreciate the pearl of a V8, the reliability plus the great performance. You’ll need at least £30,000 to secure something good but parts and specialist support is very good and the survival rate is very high.
Triumph TR5/6
Triumph TR5/6
Another classic that’s brilliantly supported by clubs and specialists, these big-engined TRs are sought after as they took over from where the Big Healey left off. Prices are soaring so you can’t lose financially if you buy well. They’re also a hoot to drive thanks to a lusty engine, and playful handling. Like the Healey, they need to be shown who’s the boss but TRs are lighter to drive and more comfy. TR5 is rarest of the pair.
MGC
MGC
The MGC got off to a bad start 50 years ago that it’s only recently recovered from. The slow-revving big six MGC is not so much fun as the A-H, although the much criticised laden handling was mostly down to incorrect tyre pressures from new because, shod with modern radials and better dampers, MGCs are mostly fine. The car’s lazy nature works particularly well as an auto. Prices becoming roughly on par with a fair 100/6.

Verdict

The big hairy Healey has always been the archetypal hairy-chested British sports car and, thankfully, that’s never going to change – only their desirability and values will over time. You have to be very careful what you purchase however because, despite being of rustic build, a home-restored car can be a nightmare to sort out if it’s not been done properly. And, sadly, the majority aren’t warn specialists so, in many ways, you’re better off buying an original project car that needs everything doing, because at least you know what you’re getting – which in the long run is immense fun and satisfaction… whoever is doing the driving.



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