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Austin Healey 100/4 VS 3000

Big Healeys: Does size matter? Published: 27th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Austin Healey 100/4 VS 3000

What The Experts Say...

Andrew Cluett of Hampshire-based Rawles Healeys (01420 23212) likes them all and says that if money were no object he’d go for a 100S every time even at the £250,000 they now command! For the average enthusiast with around £30K to spend (and that’s what you need to shell out for a good car these days says Rawles) he’d opt for a six-pot car, preferably a later 3000. Andrew says that while the 100/4 is lighter and boasts a smoother ride you can’t beat the growl of that six cylinder engine – especially after Rawles has tuned and sorted it!

Austin Healey 100/4 VS 3000
Austin Healey 100/4 VS 3000
Austin Healey 100/4 VS 3000
Austin Healey 100/4 VS 3000
Austin Healey 100/4 VS 3000
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We have the Yanks to thank for the Austin-Healey. Having been technical director at Triumph, Donald Healey set up his own company just after the last war to produce fast, fi ne handling if pricey sporting stuff. He wanted to build something as quick, but lighter and cheaper for the burgeoning US market. He approached Leonard Lord at Austin and asked for supplies of the A90 engine which would be much cheaper than the Riley engines he’d been using. But when Lord saw the fi nished car he immediately identifi ed an opportunity for his own company to exploit the lucrative American sports car market already occupied by Jaguar and MG. And with that one of the best British sports cars was born and a genre only the brutal TVRs of the 1990s effectively replaced in spirit. Today Austin- Healeys are much sought after but arguments rage over what’s the best of the breed and is bigger necessarily better? Here we try to settle the dispute.

Which one to buy?

Bigger isn’t always better! It is often said that the best model to buy is either the fi rst in the series or the last. Taking the whole big Healey dynasty into account that is probably true as the early 100/4s are rapidly increasing in value to levels above the later 100/6s and early 3000s. The first of the line is usually the purest and the last usually the most sophisticated and most practical which is the case with Healeys, the XK and E-type Jags, for example. It has to be remembered that the transition from 100/4 to 100/6 and then onto the 3000 Healeys was down to pragmatism and production reasons fi rst and foremost and to certain degrees something Triumph came up against a decade later with its TR. Austin was phasing out the old Atlantic-sourced four-cylinder engine and the only substitute was the big old straight six lump that was doing service in the Westminster saloon. The actual engines sizes were similar (2.6-litre) but power initially dropped from 110bhp to 102bhp before it was upped to 124bhp when the 100/6 evolved into the 2912cc 3000 – subsequently raised to 130/132bhp (1961) and 150bhp tune in 1964. Naturally there’s more to a car’s evolution than pure power and the six-pot Healeys did gain more refinement and civility as well, although as a result the A-H’s character changed.

What’s the best to drive?

Sports car vs the tourer

While the last Healey 3000s were still being sold in the late sixties they were still based on 40s design and technology and it shows in the driving position. The steering wheel is just a few inches from your chest which at least gives extra purchase when parking or at low speed. The steering is heavy, hence the term ‘hairy chested’. The ‘Four’ scores with its more willing engine that suits the car’s sporty character better many owners feel. As with the MGC, the big six – which formed the basis of the MG engine – is lustier but a lot lazier and it was really only the last of the line 3000s that matched a good original 100/4for pure pace. And something else MG was to learn with the MGC was that the handling of a four-cylinder car benefi ted from a much lighter nose and better weight distribution. Even if you don’t intend ear-holing a Big Healey around, you’ll notice how much more agile the 100/4 generally feels and how much smoother it rides. Not serene by any standards but not as laden as ‘Six‘. In contrast the six-pack Healeys have the advantage a four-speed gearbox from the outset against the 100/4’s wider ratio three-speeder, which was fi tted up to 1955 before the Westminster four-speed ‘box was installed. The 3000 lopes along when fi tted with overdrive cruising effortlessly, if noisily: 90mph representing 3900rpm on the Mk 111. There’s no doubt that Healeys made after March 1959 had the benefit of better brakes with discs now standard fare although many earlier cars have been retro fi tted anyway. And, if in good order, the drum set up isn’t that bad either and again is in character with its era

Owning and running

A straight draw

One of the Healey’s great advantages is its well-proven straightforward mechanicals with wide parts availability. It’s unlikely that you’ll want to run one as a daily driver, not least because economy is dire ranging between 16 and 21mpg. Indeed in its road test of March 28th 1964 Motor magazine achieved an overall fi gure of just 17.7 mpg so be warned. It is interesting that in that road test Motor showed the Healey’s competitors as the Triumph TR4, the Sunbeam Alpine, the Daimler SP250 and the MGB. Today as classics the alternatives would be the TR6, MGC and Sunbeam. Without question, later Healeys were far better equipped than theoriginal cars, especially the interior where a proper hood and a more luxurious cockpit reside. If you need a 2+2 than the decision is made for you as the 3000 was the only model so equipped to deal with occasional, enthusiastic passengers.

And The Winner Is...

Forget what’s under the bonnet! f you’re looking for a big, beefy, brawny British classic then the Austin-Healey is the sports car for you not matter how many cylinders it boasts. In all honesty we don’t consider there to be an outright winner here as it’s more a case of what you want from one. The earliest models are for the purist while the 3000 is perhaps better suited to those who want a Big Healey but also like the thought of better civility and refi nement -plus the sound of a glorious straight six of course! It’s subjective but we favour the nose of the 3000; rumour has it that Donald Healey hated the nose on the original so much that he hid it on displays. But what do you think?

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