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Austin Healey 3000

Published: 17th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Buyer Beware

  • Rust and accident damage are the key things to look out for, to both the chassis and the body work. Unusually, the bodyshell is welded to the chassis, making proper repairs that much harder and costlier.
  • The 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 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 sw a ge line that runs down the length of the car. If the doors don’t line up properl y, the car has been badly restored. Jack the car up at its rearmost point. If the door gaps close up, the chassis is weak. N ew bodyshells are available from specialists though.
  • Engines are very tough as they’re effectively tuned t ruck units (although Healey denies this claim). 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 norm a l .
  • Ta ke a look also at the exhaust system – as it’s super close to the ground and frequently gets knocked and scrapped on ‘sleeping policemens’ about. Plus you can reckon on seeing some bodged repairs as a new system isn’t exactly cheap; reckon on around £150 for a mild steel system or between £550 and £800 for a stainless system from specialists Quicksilver ( www. quicksilver exhausts.com) of Surr ey.
  • The four-speed Westminster transmissions are tough and should be quiet. Overdrive problems are usually down to dodgy electrics or blocked oil filters. Rear axles generally leak oil so don’t be too alarmed
  • Big Healeys sit low at the back by nature, but check there’s no sagging.Dampers we a ken fairly rapidly.
  • Around 90 per cent of Big Healeys were exported to the US when new. Check that any conversion to RHD has been done properly (many aren’t).

Fast Facts

  • Driving: 4/5

    Good old vintage fun but not for the meek! Handling needs care

  • Usability: 3/5

    No worse than other old sports cars but refinement isn’t a strong point

  • Maintaining: 3/5

    As simple as a Minor and parts supply is as good – but dearer

  • Owning: 3/5

    A real pleasure – no dearer than a TR6 to run apart from fuel

  • Value: 4/5

    Compared to what an E-type costs the Big Healey is a bit of a bargain

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Think you are man enough to own a hairy-chested Austin Healey 3000, asks Robert Couldwell

We have the USA to thank for the Austin- Healey. H aving been technical director at Triumph, Donald Healey set up his own company just after the last war to produce fast, expensive, fine handling sporting coupés and conve rtibles with the odd sports car thrown in. They certainly were expensive with a 1952 open Healey costing nearly £2500, at least £800 more than a Jaguar XK 120. H e a l ey wanted to build something just as quick, but lighter and cheaper for the burgeoning US market. He approached Leonard Lord at Austin and asked for supply of the A90 engine which would be much cheaper than the 2.4 Riley engines he had been using. This was a greed and when Lord saw the finished car he quickly identified an opportunity for his own company to exploit the lucrative American sports car market already occupied by Jaguar and MG. A deal was done and Healey joined what was soon to become BMC on a long term consultancy agreement. The chassis and bodies would be outsourced to Je n s e n in West Bromwich and the A90 engines and running gear would be added at Longbridge. Lord would use his company’s clout to market the car in various markets around the wo rl d . Whilst the iconic styling of the Austin- Healey was set there were various shortcomings with the original four-cylinder cars with their three- speed gearboxes and drum brakes. A more suitable six pot engine and fourspeed gearbox was added to produce the 100/6 but itwas the Healey 3000 from 1959 that would really put the car on the map.

Which model to buy?

It is often said that the best model to buy is either the first 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 model and the last usually the most sophisticated and most practical which is the case with the Healeys, the XK and E type Jags and the TRs. Before buying any Healey 3000 it is important to h ave a proper test drive; the normal dealer or private sale ‘round the block’ is not good enough.These cars look wonderful but are probably not the most practical for regular use. For instance the much maligned MGC makes a much better daily driver with its better sound and heat insulation and greater ground clearance. Across the Cotswolds on a Saturday morning the MG cannot touch the Healey but when it’s raining and you are on a long continental journey, perhaps with the other half, then the MGC has it by a mile,c ruising quietly in ove r d r i ve top at the ton in reasonable comfort. I know, I’ve owned both! Once you have taken your long test drive and convinced yourself that you can put up with the downsides your final choice will come down to budget.All big Healey prices have been on the march over the last year or two and the price gap between the different versions have been widening. Launched in March 1959 the original 3000, n ow called the Mk1 was offered as a two-seater (BN7) and a 2+2 (BT7)and was superseded in April 1961 by the Mk ll BN7 and BT7which offered an extra SU carb, a higher lift camshaft, a new ve rtical bar gr i l l e and power up from 124 to 132bhp.

In February 1962 the car was renamed Sports Conve rtible (BJ7) and reverted to two, albeit larger Sus, lowering power slightly to 130bhp. The big improvements were the curved windscreen, winding windows and a new, far more efficient folding hood. The Mk lll BJ8 was launched in November 1963 with 148 BHP and a new wood and leather luxury interior. It’s more grand tourer than sports car and the final version came in May ‘64 with improved rear suspension increasing ground clearance. This car must surely be the most desirable but for an excellent example you are now looking at £ 45,000+. For this you get that 148 brake horses, lots of lazy torque and 120 mph p e r f o rmance with warm-hatch taming acceleration. These cars, p r oviding they are c o rrectly restored will always sell whereas some of the earlier cars, while much cheaper, can be a bit of a problem.

Behind the wheel?

Across the Costwolds the MGC can't touch a Healey

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. You have to be careful when you jump out of an every day power-steered modern car into one of these; the steering is heavy hence the term ‘ hairy chested’. Once on the move eve rything lightens up although the cam and peg steering is not as direct as a good rack an pinion set up found in cars like the MGC and Jaguar XK with some play in the straight ahead position. This is less noticeable once hustling the car through the twisty bits although road testers in the original M o t o r m a gazine road test commented that caution was required on wet and slippery roads. I suspect that was as much about crossply tyres as suspension deficiencies. There are lots of current technology tyres available today from the Likes of Longstone and Vi n t a ge Tyres that grip like glue but still look the part. That said, the 3000 needs suitable respect. The other consideration behind the wheel is that limited ground clearance which can be inconvenient ove r sleeping policemen and accessing ferries, etc. You have to be constantly on your guard unless you have shares in an exhaust manufacturer! Then there is that cockpit heat problem; well I suppose it’s not a problem on a cold Winter day with the hood down but once Spring and Summer arr i ve it will become quite wearing on long trips, but it saves on a sauna! These cars part i c u l a rlywhen fitted with ove r d r i ve do cruise effortlessly, if noisily with 90mph representing 3900 revs on the Mk 111. H owever it is probably your back that would complain before your ears as the seats offer little support compared to a modern.

Ease of Ownership?

Caution is required on wet and slippery road

One of the big Healey’s great advantages is its well- prove n straightforward mechanicals with wide parts availability. No overhead camshafts or fuel injection, just a big robust lump with good old SU carburettors. This is a car that a reasonably competent owner can service knowing 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 r e m ove. There is also a wide range of upgrades available some of them no doubt inspired by the fabulous works cars that took the rally wo rld by storm in the sixties. Around 200bhp is easily available for tractable road use with braking, steering and suspension upgrades to match.

The Daily Option?

I am sure there are hardy individuals who could run a big Healey as an eve ry day car, but a level of dedication and masochism will be required. There is plenty of room inside these cars particularly those with the small seats behind although boot room with that oh-so-stylish rear end is ve ry limited and for any longer trips a boot rack is required. Certainly there is room for golf clubs behind the seats and with a car that looks this good, you could probably get aw ay with using the Captain’s parking spot! Fuel consumption could be an issue ranging between 16 and 21mpg (depending upon how worn the carbs are) and in its road test of March 28th 1964 M o t o r magazine a c h i eved an overall figure of just 17.7 mpg; be warned… It is interesting that in that road test the mag’s staff s h owed the Healey’s competitors as the Triumph TR4, the Sunbeam Alpine, the Daimler SP250 and even the MGB. Today as classics the altern a t i ves would be different apart from the Daimler. It would now be the TR6, MGC and Sunbeam’s Tiger which was not available then. You could now add the Jaguar XK150 and of course the E type which while much higher priced wh e n new are now at a similar leve l . As a daily driver it is surely the MGC at a third of the Healey’s price which would be the sensible one to go for. This tends to make the point that classic cars are not primarily bought because of practicality or logic. Thank God.

Timelines

1956

The 100-6 (BN4) is launched, with new 2.6-litre six-cyl Austin Westminster sourced engine, longer wheelbase, 2+2 cockpit and revised look.

1957

E n g i ne upgrade sees ‘six port ’ va l ve head and better ma n i folds to yield 117bhp – a jump of 16bhp over the o r i g i nal ‘ six’. BN6 two-seater (1958).

1959

1961

Mk2 3000s feature new slatted grille; lurking behind was triple SU carb mill for motorsporthomologation but few other mods ove r n o r mal car.

1962

‘ True Mk2’(BJ7) gains new curve d windscreen, wind up windows and a proper folding hood. E n g i nereve rts to easier- to- maintain twin carburettors.

1964

Fi nal fling BJ7 has posher cockpit,while hairier camshaft and 2inch SUs sees the power leap to a ve ry healthy 148bhp. Two fastbacks were prototyped, never made.

1966

Healey 4000 under development, using Rolls-Royce 4-litre e n g i ne taken from the Vanden Plas saloon and bigger b o dy. 3000 bows out in 1968.

We Reckon...

If you’re looking for a big, beefy, brawny British classic then the six-pot Austin- Healey is the sports car for you. True, it’s no longer the poor bloke’s Jaguar XK let alone E-type but the Big Healey still represents fine value for what it offers. About the only modern classic which remotely comes close in character is the awesome TVR Chimaera – the Healey is that go o d .



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