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Austin Healey

Austin Healey Published: 10th Feb 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Austin Healey
Austin Healey
Austin Healey
Austin Healey
Austin Healey
Austin Healey
Austin Healey
Austin Healey
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Classic looks and character n Superb specialist support n Ideal for classic motorsport n Rising values for good ones n Wide choice of models n Fine, cheaper XK alternative

Whilst the iconic styling of the Austin-Healey was set there were various shortcomings with the original fourcylinder cars with their three- speed gearboxes and drum brakes. A more suitable six pot engine along with a four-speed gearbox was added to produce the 100/6 but it was the Healey 3000 from 1959 that would really put the car on the map and is the subject of this feature in the main.

MODEL CHOICE

It’s often said, and with good reason, that the best model to buy as a classic is either the first in the series or the last – and these Healeys are no exceptions.

Launched in March 1959 the original 3000, now called the MkI was offered as a two-seater (BN7) and a 2+2 (BT7)and was superseded in April 1961 by the Mkll BN7 and BT7 which offered an extra SU carb and a higher lift camshaft upping power up from 124 to 132bhp; this model is identified by a vertical bar style of grille.

In February 1962 the Healey was renamed as the Sports Convertible (BJ7) but reverted to two, albeit larger SUs, lowering power a tad to 130bhp but easier to keep in tune.

The big improvements were the new curved windscreen, winding windows and a new, far more efficient folding hood. The Mklll BJ8 was launched in 1963 sporting 148bhp and a new wood and leather luxury interior. The final version came in May 1964 complete with improved rear suspension and an increase of the legendary meagre ground clearance. This version must surely be the most desirable although when looking, condition and provenance count the most as many 3000s have been updated to the later spec engine or tuned using aftermarket parts.

 

BEHIND THE WHEEL

The last Healeys were still being sold in the late 1960s but there’s no getting away from the fact that they are a 1940’s design. The steering wheel is just a few inches from your chest which at least gives extra purchase when parking or at low speed. You also have to be careful when you jump out of an every day power-steered modern car into one of these; the steering is pretty heavy hence the term ‘hairy chested’. Once on the move it lightens up notably although the cam and peg design is not as direct as a good rack and pinion set up with some play always present.

To be fair, is less noticeable once hustling through the twisty bits, although testers in the original Motor magazine road test commented that caution was required on wet and slippery roads.

We somehow suspect that was as much about crossply tyres as any suspension deficiencies. Although that said, the 3000 needs suitable respect, as do the brakes although these can easily be uprated. The Healey’s famous limited ground clearance can be very inconvenient over sleeping policemen and the Austin’s cockpit heat problem is also well known and can be quite wearing on long trips, especially on early pre 1962 cars which endured primitive sliding window panes.

Yet on the other hand, cars fitted with overdrive (it really is a must) cruise effortlessly, if a bit noisily, with 90mph representing a lazy 3900 revs. Acceleration is good but by no means electric in modern terms but the beauty of that big lump, is its impressive torque.

 

WHAT TO PAY

Chris Everard of JME Healeys (http://www.jmehealeys.co.uk), recently remarked to us: “There’s no such thing as a cheap, big Healey any more, but if your pockets aren’t especially deep and you just have to have one, the 100/6 is your best bet. It also doesn’t have the grunt of the later 3-litre cars. As a result, you can buy a usable 100/6 from around £30,000 – you’ll need to find a third as much again (£40,000) to get into an equivalent 100/4 or 3000. At the other end of the spectrum, you can buy a project from £20,000, but some variations on the theme – such as the BN2 – are now hard to find as they’ve generally already been restored.

Before diving in too quickly, make sure that you know what you’re buying as a full restoration of any of these cars will typically cost £60,000 for the parts and labour. Everard continues: “Big Healeys have climbed gradually in value over the years, but recently there have been some fairly sharp increases”.

Big Healey expert Bill Rawles says the classic market is the strongest he has seen it for some 25 years. Prices for Healeys are strong because the car “strives to fill the void between exotic and good honest fun motoring”.

 

MAKING ONE BETTER

Simple mods include a spin-on oil filter and better cooling by way of an uprated radiator. The 48-spoke wire wheels are quite fragile, so 72-spoke versions are often fitted instead; if more power has been coaxed from the engine, these units are essential.

There’s no shortage of Healey tuning parts but opinions are divided how far you should go because some mods are almost irreversible without a lot of money and effort.

Rawles Motorsport advises an electronic Mallory distributor, lightweight engine plates, and a ported, gas-flowed head for starters but stick 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.” Big Healey legend John Chatham believes a few simple upgrades to a good chassis will transform the car. Go back to a bare chassis and strengthen the suspension mountings (as with the Works cars), before fitting fit an uprated front anti roll bar, and springs. JME Healeys advises better dampers poly bushing (Touring types) but not to lower it!

 

AS A DAILY DRIVER

There is plenty of room inside these cars, particularly those with the small seats behind, although boot room is very limited and for any longer trips a boot rack is required. Certainly there is room for golf clubs behind the seats and later cars boast a cultured cabin although you still need to be pretty hard core to want to drive one each and every day – although Pat Moss didn’t seem to mind! Fuel consumption could be an issue if you daily commute in yours as economy ranges between 16 and 21mpg (depending upon how worn the carbs are and roads); in its 1964 road test, Motor achieved an overall figure of just 17.7 mpg.

 

MAINTENANCE MATTERS

One of the big Healey’s great advantages over many more prestigious classics is its wellproven and straightforward mechanicals boasting wide parts availability making it a classic any reasonably competent owner can service with ease.

If you owned an MGB or TR it will pose few problems plus it’s a comfort to know that there are a number of excellent specialists around the country for the more complicated repairs; not because the car is hard to work on but more because some of the mechanics are heavy-duty to manhandle. It’s a wise move to obtain the excellent parts catalogue from A.H. Spares. As with any 1950’s classic, the real work lies in keeping the dreaded rust at bay but again, panel supply is very good and your quest for concours is only limited by the size of your savings and determination.

 

VERDICT

If you’re looking for a big, beefy, brawny British classic then the six-pot Austin-Healey is your kind of sports car for you. About the only modern classic which remotely comes close in character is the awesome TVR Chimaera – the Healey remains that good.

 

BUYING TIPS

 

1. BODY AND CHASSIS

Rust and accident damage are the key things to watch out for. Unusually, the bodyshell is welded to the chassis, making proper repairs harder and costlier.

Ladder-frame chassis is simple, but it can be damaged with just the slightest knock. Check to see if the main rails are straight – any distortion will indicate accident damage and again will be very costly to put right.

Chassis corrosion is a major concern – the whole of the bottom nine inches of the car is susceptible to rot, which means floorpans, sills, outriggers, wings and wheelarches all need careful inspection. Inner sills are structural and are also difficult to repair.

Look at the swage line that runs down the length of the car. If the doors don’t line up properly, the car has been badly restored. Jack the car up at its rearmost point. If the door gaps close up, the chassis is weak.

 

2. ENGINES

Engines are very tough even though oil consumption is usually high (as much as a pint every 250 miles is not uncommon). Oil pressure should be 50lb on the move and don’t panic if water weeps from between block and head as it’s pretty normal.

Take a look also at the exhaust system – as it’s super close to the ground and frequently gets damaged and bodged; reckon on around £150 for a mild steel system or between £550 and £800 for a stainless alternative.

 

3. RUNNING GEAR

The four-speed Westminster transmissions are tough and should be quiet. Overdrive ills are usually nothing more serious than dodgy electrics or blocked oil filters. Rear axles generally leak oil.

Big Healeys sit low at the back by nature, but check there’s no sagging. Dampers weaken fairly rapidly.

Around 90 per cent were exported to the US when new. Check that any conversion to RHD has been done properly (many aren’t).

 



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