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Austin Healey Company History

Published: 24th Mar 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Austin Healey

Austin Healey Archive

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Donald Healey’s varied career included being a garage proprietor and building radios in Perranporth, in his native Cornwall. He was very competitive in motorsport during the 1920s and early 1930s, and indeed won the 1931 Monte Carlo Rally in an Invicta. Healey worked for the defunct Riley company from 1933, and later was employed by both Triumph and Humber. The motor company bearing the now famous Healey name was started in 1945, and the new firm’s first product was a four-seater tourer, propelled by the trusty 2.4-litre Riley engine. The new Healeys performed well in motor-sport, and early models were associated with this success -– including the Sportmobile and the Silverstone; this was a basic vehicle, produced for mainly competition work. A link with the American Nash company resulted in the six-cylinder Nash Healey, produced for the US market until 1954. Meanwhile, in England, Healey built an Alvis powered two-seater convertible, and in 1952 produced a highly significant new sports car, powered by the muscular four-cylinder, 2.6-litre Austin A90 engine.

This new Healey was shown at the London Motor Show Leonard Lord (of the recently formed British Motor Corporation) was attracted by this car and arranged to build it at Austin’s Birmingham factory, as the Austin-Healey 100. The ‘Big Healeys’ then evolved through the years until the 1960s. Donald Healey was also keen to build a smaller, less expensive sports car, which duly arrived in the shape of the 1958 Austin-Healey Sprite, developed using mildly modified mechanical components from the Austin A35. The Frog-eye (so nick-named due to its funny wide-eyed open mouth look) became an instant hit and for many of us was their first foray into sports car motoring. It was built at the MG works and so the Midget was born (see special our buying guide in this issue). Royalty arrangements between Healey and British Leyland eventually ceased, and the Sprite was discontinued by 1972 after a short run where it was simply known as the Austin Sprite.

However, the MG Midget based on the Sprite continued in production until 1979. The Big Healey was replaced by a new modern sportster with the aid of Jensen using a mix of Lotus, Vauxhall and Rootes hardware but as ‘right’ as the idea certainly was, the car wasn’t a great success due to poor build quality. But today surviving traditional Healeys are much loved for their unique hairy-chested character especially the ‘Big’ ones!

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