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Austin Healey

Published: 6th Jul 2012 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Austin Healey
Austin Healey
Austin Healey
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Which classics still have the potential to get up and go? Alan Anderson remembers the cars, the people… and how to make a classic hot car!

Even when contemporary the old Big Healey was never cutting edge as they say, but its ironmongery design means that they stood the ravages of time well and are still rightly revered as classic sports cars. Indeed The closest modern to a Healey is a TVR Chimaera – the old Austin remains that hairy chested. To the unitiated, all big Healeys are the same, but the bigger engine fi tted to the ‘Six’ and 3000 gave the Austin- Healey a different character.

The 100-6 (BN4) was released in October 1956, featuring a longer wheelbase than the original 100 model (and this is often overlooked) plus a 101bhp 2639cc straight six. Although a small power gain over the friskier four pot sounds good news, the change was more due to economics and what was available at BMC because the bigger, heavier engine was really little faster although held more future tuning potential.

In November 1957 the BN4 received bigger valves and revised manifolding to liberate a 117bhp. The 3000 Mk1 (BN7 or BT7 for 2+2 version) was launched in March 1959 featuring BMC’s 124bhp 2912cc C-series engine. Built in 1961/62, the fi rst 3000 MkIIs were MkIs with triple carbs but his was short lived before a return to twin carbs was favoured in 1962.

The MkIII, produced between 1964-1968 was similar to the BJ7 but a new camshaft liberated a hale and hearty 148bhp.

Get one now

If you want a Big Healey then you must be quick as prices are soaring. You now need to have at least £35,000 burning a hole in your pocket to net one of the top cars out there while £10,000 will only buy a project and given the expense of properly returning one back from the dead, it’s better to buy a good one from the outset as there’s plenty surviving and being cherished. Of course rust and ropey repairs are the biggest worries as the mechanicals are as tough as old boots and easy, if heavy duty, to fi x but the good news is that the vast majority of parts, even bodyshells, are available and there’s an excellent spread of specialists around. If you are looking to tune a 3000, you might as well start with a Mk111 which will need the least attention and is probably the best investment.

Hotting one up

Before spending thousands on tuning equipment it is a vital to ensure the original engine is performing at its best and for this a rolling road and dynamometer is essential. Interestingly, in 1971 Autocar road tested a ‘used’ 3000 just seven years old and while they found the performance “suffi cient to be enjoyable to drive”, stopwatch fi gures showed that the 9.8 second 0-60 mph dash on the original road test had become 13.8 and the 0-100 was up to 36.7 from 25.7.

Assuming your engine is in decent fettle, a dynamometer test will determine how far off the stated power output the engine is. It will also establish if the carburettors are clapped which is quite likely after so many years.

It is important that dyno operators understand these classic Austin engines as well as Healey specialist Rawles Motorsport. Its rolling road/dynamometer services were featured in our March 2012 issue.

If you are still wanting more after a tune up, there’s lots you can do and several specialists out there offering performance parts and tuning expertise although its worth upping to 148bhp tune as the fi rst step. Hampshire based Rawles is ideal for southern readers and another Healey tuning guru, Dennis Welch Motorsport based in Staffordshire will suit northerners. Welch offers a range of tuning parts such as aluminium cylinder heads in three stages of tune; standard, fast road and full race from £1995; apart from adding more power the lighter weight of the alloy head over the old iron lump will also aid handling. If that’s rich fare then any decent tuner will gas glow your stock iron head.

The standard SU carbs cope well with simply better jetting and early rally cars worked fi ne with with a trio of SUs but triple Weber kits, like the later works cars ran on, are available from Welch at around £2000, a cost that might be diffi cult to justify on a road car even if they do look good!

Even triple 2” SU kits will cost you around £1800… A freeer fl owing exhaust set up is essential and perhaps the fi rst port of call if you’re on a tight budget. Along with re-jetting it may be all you desire.

If the engine is well worn and needs a rebore you can opt for Cosworth forged pistons at £795, nitrided steel cranks from £2850, high capacity oil pumps from £175. The engine can be taken out to a max of 3.5-litre incidentally, but 3.3 is easier. One particularly worthy mod is to fi t an aluminium flywheel. Being lighter it makes for much better response at £495, or failing this you can have your existing one skimmed. An organic clutch plate at £120 is also worth considering to handle the extra power.

Properly fettled, a Healey 3000 pushes out somewhere between a true 115bhp (Mk1) and 140bhp (Mk111) at the flywheel and about 20-25 per cent less at the rear wheels. Andrew at Rawles reckons that 175bhp at the fl ywheel (130bhp at the wheels) is a good target for a tractable road car which should add 5 or 10 mph to the maximum speed and knock a second off the 0-60 with much stronger mid-range grunt, too.

Unless you are looking to seriously race or rally the car, 200bhp is probably the most you should attempt and this should give you something like 135mph and 0-60 in around eight seconds which was certainly quick enough for the original rally cars.

The transmission is strong enough to take more power but race-proofed overdrives at £1450 and straight-cut gear sets at £895 to complement any extra torque are available Better still is a fi ve-speed conversion using a Toyota Supra unit. With a slicker, lighter change plus better intermediates, it transforms the drive but at more than £4000 from A Head For Healeys, it’s a luxury for many. We understand a Sierra fi ve-speeder works and copes with the six pot torque, too and is cheaper.

You must improve the cooling even on a standard car; an uprated rad is wise and fi t either a fi ve blade cooling fan or, better still, an electric cooling fan. Another mod that essential on any Healey is a good electronic ignition set up to keep the sparks fl ying.

How Did It Drive?

If the term ‘hairy-chested’ could ever be labelled at a classic British sports car then the Big Healey deserves it more than most. Finesse just doesn’t come into it – the A-H more about brawn and manhandling. When a ‘six’ is running properly it’ll accelerate from a standing start to the magic ton and back again in 29 seconds – that’s pretty impressive even by modern standards as is a sub ten second burst to 60mph, although the handling is ‘manly’ with heavy steering and needs fair respect in the wet. The 100/4 may be more agile due to less weight up front plus boasts a stubbier wheelbase but the ‘Six’ cruises better. The very antiquated cabin with plenty of heat soak is no less inviting than, say, an XK plus there’s also room for two small kids in the back on 2+2s.

Handling The Power...

The 3000, unlike its predecessors was fi tted with front disc brakes which work well but require strong pressure even in the case of the MKII and MKIII which came with servo assistance as standard. A servo kit can be fi tted to the early 3000s and calipers, discs and brakes pads can all be upgraded right up to racing standards although a cheaper mod is to fi t Lotus Cortina callipers and pads – try that for starters before going more extreme. The suspension can be uprated; try 30 per cent stiffer dampers front and rear, anti-tramp bar kits and polyurethane spring bushes for best handling before swapping anti roll bars etc. A Healey Achilles heel is the low rear ride height and this can be increased with uprated rear springs with an extra leaf or adjustable race springs with extra strength at the front to reduce wind up – certainly don’t lower it anymore! You are stuck with the cam and peg steering box, but Dennis Welch Motorsports manufactures boxes to higher specifi cation than the originals and also supply high ratio version. Speak to a Healey specialist regarding best tyre choice and sizes and whether you heed heavier duty wire wheels.

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