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In standard form a beefy Big Healey is hairy enough for many but, thanks to their continued competition success, they are extremely tunable using tried and tested methods and also current thinking, as this feature shows
It’s the original British Bulldog and a true hairy-chested sports car which has to be taken by the scruff of the neck and shown who’s boss. There’s nothing like a Big Healey when it comes to classic RWD driving fun and with a few well chosen mods you can make yours, faster, smoother, safer and even more desirable to take out for a Sunday spin or a spot of club motorsport.
Before you start
First thing is to check out the chassis. Ensure the main rails are straight and strong. Periodically inspect at the B posts and behind the sills – mud becomes trapped around the chassis outriggers. Also check the condition of the inner wings, floorpan and bulkheads. These are stressed sections welded to the chassis and can thus be considered integral to the car’s strength.
Mechanically, they are as strong as an ox but before any tuning and improving is carried out, it’s best to spend some of that budget on making the best out of what you already have; Healey specialists say it is still surprising what a good service and sort out can achieve, especially to items like the steering and suspension. If the engine is beyond repair, replacement C-series blocks can still be found from breakers, since these were also fitted to the bread-and-butter BMC saloons of the time, such as the Westminster.
Anyone intending to modify is advised to obtain some excellent catalogues from A-H Spares and Denis Welch.
As the final Healey enjoyed 50 per cent more power than the original 100/6, the most obvious approach for early cars is to fit the factory upgrades, right up to the 148bhp tune if you wish. This means fitting the post 1957 cylinder head and after that a 3000 spec engine is a logical swap for the original, perhaps tired 2.6 unit.
Other factory methods to improve matters includes triple carbs and the uprated 3000 MkII camshaft where the total gain should be somewhere in the region of 30 per cent; the racier MkIII camshaft improves this even further.
MkIIIs reverted to twin SUs albeit HD8s rather than the HD6s. It’s entirely possible to combine MkII and MkIII set ups to create a unit with three HD8s.
John Chatham knows just about everything there is when it comes to tuning; he remanufactures the alloy engine blocks which were originally homologated for competition. It’s the ultimate spec for sure, but these alone cost some ten grand while £30,000 results in a full race-spec engine pushing out over 250bhp, claims Chatham. But you needn’t spend all that!
A good upgrade with an alloy head (apart from efficiency also cuts a lot of the car’s nose weight but are £3000+), sportier camshaft (and/or Roller Rockers) and sports exhaust, which with a triple carb setup should provide a 200bhp plus from a fast road engine costing one third of a race spec unit. A-H Spares says its £600 camshafts range is all new, using no camshaft data from the past.
Rawles Motorsport advises an electronic Mallory distributor, lightweight engine plates (to remove some of the excess weight more cheaply), and a ported, gas-flowed head for starters but advises sticking with twin carbs for servicing ease. “We’d also fit twin SU HD8s, not the triples but the key thing is to set the cars up on a rolling road like we have, as that way you’re getting the optimum performance from the engine”, it says.
Denis Welch Motorsport offers a whole range of go-faster gear, including a range of alloy cylinder heads for around £2000 – a similar outlay buys you a set of triple Weber DCOEs, which incidentally, is not that much dearer than a trio of SUs. JME Healeys provides a similar selection of upgrades but warns owners not to go overboard and fit parts which can’t be converted back to standard trim and devalue these rapidly appreciating cars.
Like fuel injection? A number of systems are available; none are exactly cheap, but converting to Webers will relieve you of almost £2000. An ex-Hopkirk works Healey, drinking via a trio of 48 DCOEs, produces 210bhp. Good for 130mph, it gives you an idea of the potential that still lives within the 2968cc engine that if clapped out and needs a rebore, can be stretched to the above capacity further using Cosworth pistons at £800 for 3.3 or 3.5-litres and more torque. If the crank is shot A-H Spares has reground ones for £695 while competition steel types (not needed unless high tuned) run to £2200. A far more useful upgrade is a better oil pump for £175 (a spin-on oil filter conversion is also a worthy fit) and an improved radiator; Rawles sell uprated radiators for around £300 exchange. Ditto for £185 (from A-H Spares and Denis Welch) aluminium sumps aid cooling as well as providing a bit more stiffness to the block.
Even if you intend keeping your Healey pretty standard, when carrying out a clutch change it’s still not a bad idea to give a lightened flywheel some thought as it greatly aids throttle response. The best solution is to fit an aluminium item, but this typically costs almost £500; a cheaper route is to have your steel one skimmed.
Handling the power
Why not start with a brand new chassis for stiffness? Costing from £3950 (Denis Welch Motorsport), it’s possibly the most worthwhile thing you can do as it will be rot free and stiffer. AH Spares has developed its own strengthened replacement costing almost seven grand but you can opt for upgrades such as provision for telescopic damping, etc. John Chatham also believes a few simple upgrades to a good chassis will transform the car going back to a bare chassis, strengthening the suspension mountings (as like the Works cars), before fitting an uprated front anti-roll bar, and springs. JME Healeys advises better dampers poly bushing (Touring types) but not to lower as they are low enough! And while sophisticated rear end set ups using telescopic dampers are available, they are only necessary for competition use.
With discs up front on all 3000s and an optional servo on MkIIs, standardised for MkIII standard system is adequate. Kits can be bought to convert 100/6s to discs – and fit EBC Greenstuff pads as a direct replacement – while Lotus Cortina discs were a good upgrade. A four pot calliper kit (A-H Spares) costs from £1285.
The steering is always going to be heavy on a Healey and if it’s too much of a chore then you can either fit a dedicated rack and pinion kit from Rawles at £6000 fitted or an electric add on for half this to the existing set up. The standard tiller but overhauled makes a big difference – or add an improved Dennis Welch set up which can also include a higher ratio for sharpness. Columns and cams cost £240 (A-H) in standard or high ratio spec and the company has released a CNC machined assembly with modern tweaks for just under £1150.
A sturdier clutch (post ’62) can be obtained cheaply by fitting an XJ6 cover along with a Land Rover SII/SIII plate, we’re informed. Straight cut gears with improved ratios (Denis Welch, £895, Tulip or Sebring spec), and an uprated overdrive unit (£1500 from A-H Spares) are options. You can go five-speeds where the Sierra Type 9 can be used, but the Toyota Supra ‘box is the better all rounder at £4000 (A Head For Healeys) and Rawles sells a kit (sans ’box) for half this. JME prefers to just fit a higher axle ratio such as a 3.45:1 unit as fitted to non overdrive 3000s at around £400. A Quaife limited slip diff, available from a variety of sources, costs under £900.
Handling The Power...
- Extra chassis bracing
- Strengthened suspension mountings
- Uprated brakes
- Uprated springs and dampers
- New tyres (speak to specialists)
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