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Austin A90 vs. Austin Healey 100

Austin’s Atlantic and the Healey Hundred are pretty similar but their characters couldn’t be more different says Robert Couldwel Published: 15th Aug 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Austin A90 vs. Austin Healey 100

What The Experts Say...

Austin Counties Car Club’s Mark Yeomans calls the Healey Hundred “an Atlantic Sports” just to wind their owners up! He says Atlantics are gaining in value and respect and was always highly popular in Australia where 800 were exported and the survival rate remains very good. Indeed, such is the interest in the car that the ACCC has joined forces with Australian owners’ clubs to remanufacture certain glass panels and windscreens. Mechanically, thanks to sharing so many parts with the Healey, spare parts are not a major problem and Atlantic master and wheel brake cylinders have recently been produced. Body and trim parts aren’t so prevalent though which is why you see so many cars lacking that final touch says Mark.

Austin A90 vs. Austin Healey 100
Austin A90 vs. Austin Healey 100
Austin A90 vs. Austin Healey 100
Austin A90 vs. Austin Healey 100
Austin A90 vs. Austin Healey 100
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Classic sports car lovers have a lot to thank the Yanks for. Without their huge lust for British sports cars after the Second World War, we might not have classics like the Austin A90 Atlantic, Healey 100, Triumph TR and Jaguar XK. The government’s export or die policy allowed manufacturers to procure precious materials only if they were used for exports desperately needed by good old Blighty, which was virtually bankrupt after the war and needed foreign currency. The only downside was of course a huge percentage of these cherished classics were left-hand drive.

While both the A90 Atlantic and Austin Healey 100 were made by Austin, and used many of the same components, they were very different and came from different directions. The A90 Atlantic was Austin boss, Leonard Lord’s initial attempt in 1948 to conquer the American market and it is said he originally produced the first styling sketch, inspired by the 1946 Pininfarina Alfa Romeo Cabriolet which also took a tilt at American tastes.

On the face of it, the Atlantic and Healey are chalk and cheese despite their common mechanical make up so while it’s not a direct comparison as such, they make interesting bedfellows asking you what suits your style and budget best. The winner may not be as blindingly obvious as you’d think.



The Atlantic’s chassis was borrowed from the much smaller A40 and widened and suspension and brakes came from the A70. The car, initially only in convertible form was nicely trimmed with leather upholstery and lots of dials and switches. Vitally, for the American market it was aimed at, an electric hood was available as an option.

When it came to an appropriate name, British counties used on the rest of the Austin range would hardly cut it, so Lord cleverly thought of Atlantic – just so apt! The car was certainly received well enough at its 1948 Earls Court launch although understandably somewhat over-shadowed by the jaw-dropping Jaguar XK120. A swanky fixedhead coupé complete with vinyl covered roof was launched in 1950 and would have been an even nicer car to drive owing to increased stiffness of the bodyshell.

To be fair to Lord, he tried hard to make the car a success in the USA even turning to highly successful record speed attempts but to no avail; of the respectable total of around 8000 made, only 350 went to the USA. Australia was one of the best markets with total imports of around 800.

In the meantime, the Donald Healey Motor Company, which had only started in 1945, had been hand-building sports and fairly luxurious coupés with Riley engines which were costly. By late 1951 it offered four models: the Riley-engined Tickford saloon and Abbott drophead, the new Healey Sports Convertible, powered by a 3-litre Alvis engine and the Anglo- American Nash Healey with its big Nash six. Healey knew that to grow his company he would need to offer a cheaper sports car particularly in the USA and identified a potential gap in the market between the MG T Series and the XK and set out to develop a car to fill it.

The Riley unit, which design-wise dated back to the 1920s, had to be replaced – but cheaply. An obvious candidate was Austin’s large four pot which had been used first in the 1945 Austin 16, the London taxi, Austin Champ, the A70 and, of course, the Atlantic. It was not a particularly sporty lump but was robust and reliable and would be more than adequate in a light-weight sports car.

Despite the commercial failure of the Atlantic, Leonard Lord still fancied an Austin-powered sports car so was happy to accommodate Healey and provide any components he needed. For the sake of secrecy, Healey had prototypes built in his own garage. Styling was by Gerry Coker who was actually a body engineer but had a very good sense of line and his designs had the benefit he knew they could be built.

Healey micro-managed Coker and kept demanding for changes but in the end with the Motor Show launch day looming, he had to accept a design he had reservations over, disliking the grille so much that Donald famously had the car positioned at the Motor Show to hide the face he so disliked. Even before the show opened, the Healey Hundred caused a storm though.

The engine, a lusty but not sporty unit, was used in broadly the same tune as the Atlantic but thanks to lower weight and better aerodynamics, maximum speed was up to 110mph with the screen flattened. Autosport would later test the car on the legendary Jabbeke straight at 112mph.

A Le Mans kit, known as the ‘M’ was available kicking out 110bhp owing to a high lift camshaft, higher compression and larger carburettors. Front double wishbone coil sprung and rear leaf sprung suspension was from the Atlantic as were the brakes which by 1952 had become thankfully fully hydraulic!

As well as the ‘M’ version there were also just 55 of the fabulous ‘S’ racing cars churning out 132bhp with better brakes and suspension. These are coveted to the extent that it’s unlikely that mortals such as us will ever be able to afford one now…

The Atlantic had long been forgotten by the time Austin phased out the old engine, which meant Healey had to source another engine, this time a six-cylinder taken from the Westminster saloon to create the 100/6 and then the 3000, but that’s another story, as they say, because it’s a car sporting a completely different character.

Price-wise Healeys are demonstrably dearer as only the best Atlantics can muster around £30-£35,000, a sum that barely affords a project Healey 1000 as the early models are worth far more than the latter six-cylinder models and a top standard car can attain £70,000. A 100M goes for double this at least – but that’s loose change when the ultra rare 100S can make the thick end of a million!

The Atlantic, thanks to its rareness, will appreciate but the Healey, thanks to its pure desirability and being the first of the breed, will probably soar, particularly the droptop where fixedhead saloons/coupés outnumber them by two-to-one.



Platform and component sharing, Volkswagen-style is nothing new and Lord took the 2.2-litre, four-cylinder originally used in the Austin 16 and modified for the upcoming Austin A70, and bored it out to almost 2.7-litres adding another SU carburettor increasing power from 67 to 88bhp.

Lord wanted the Atlantics’s maximum speed to exceed the magic ‘ton’, but however hard Austin engineers and test drivers tried, no more than 95 was the best it could muster and Motor, in its 1948 road test, could only achieve 91mph. That said, this and a 0-60mph of less than 17 seconds was still pretty impressive in the nineteen forties.

While hardly quick in today’s terms either (0-60 in around 12-13 seconds), the Healey obviously has much higher performance but is that relevant in our congested and speed camera-infested land? If you have kids or want to carry friends, it has to be the Atlantic and this car will be a more comfortable, if sedate drive as all Healeys suffer from very warm footwells which makes summer driving challenging.

The Healey’s gearbox also came from the Atlantic but the much lighter weight of the sports car made the low first gear mostly redundant so it was blanked off and an overdrive on third and fourth added instead. It finally gained a proper four-speed gearbox in 1955 and was known as the BN2 (plus also had larger front wheel arches and the option of two-tone paint).

The Atlantic was saddled with a column gearchange (but with a full fourspeeds) although for a relaxed tourer it makes little difference to the driving pleasure and to be honest, rather adds to the quaint appeal of the Atlantic, we feel.

Neither Austins compete with a Lotus Elan when dealing with the twisty bits but that shouldn’t come as a great surprise. Across the Cotswolds, on a Sunday morning, it has to be the lower, sports car Healey for pure fun; really, considering their commonality, what Healey did to transform a very ordinary handling car – even by 1950’s standards – into a serious sports car is little short of amazing. Yet if you wanted your classic to be an occasional daily or if you fancied carrying passengers, the far more leisurely Atlantic would fill the bill and of course there’s enormous scope to tune the engine via Healey specialists to make quite a Q Car.

In wet weather (hardly a rarity in our summers!), the hood on the Atlantic is far better than the Healey and is actually pretty waterproof and there’s a saloon version of course for those who don’t want wind-in-the-hair sensations.



Thanks to the component sharing of Austin to save cost, both cars have a good supply of mechanical components but, owing to the numbers surviving, the Healey has much better availability of body and interior parts, as you’d expect.

Too many Atlantics were scrapped and sacrificed to heal many a Healey and, according, to Mark Yeomans of the Austin Counties Car Club, around 100 are left now; a third roadworthy, a third undergoing restorations and the remaining third perhaps on death row, depending upon the capabilities of their owners.

Providing the car you buy is mainly rust free, it will prove to be a reasonably inexpensive car to maintain with low insurance and parts costs and over the years will more than keep up with inflation as this regal old Austin is becoming quite collectable.


And The Winner Is...

Of course, the Healey holds more classic status and is a more enjoyable drive despite being so heavily reliant on Atlantic running gear but having recently given up a two-seater sports car because of them being anti-social, I would have to choose the Atlantic. Also, this Austin is so rare and ‘different’, dare I say almost unique. You see Healeys at classic car events and most enthusiasts know what they are but the Atlantic is a real talking point and head turner – which is what a classic is all about, surely?

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