In late 1951 Donald Healey thought that he should build a new sports car that would be aimed at the American market. At that time, the Jaguar XK120 was a rather high-end sports car and the MG TD was a good sports car at the lower end of the market. Healey thought that the gap between those two cars was large enough that Healey could make a car that would fit nicely between those two cars. The XK120 could top 120 miles per hour while the MG TD would struggle to do 80 miles per hour, so there also was a large performance gap between the two cars. The resulting car that Healey designed eventually became known as the Austin Healey 100, as it would have a top speed greater than 100 miles per hour.
Healey had planned on building the car as Donald Healey Motor Company Ltd. models as he had built some of his previous cars. He built a prototype car, badged as a “Healey”, and displayed it to the public and the automotive industry at the 1952 Earls Court International Motor Show in 1952. At this car show, Len Lord, the head of Austin saw the car at that car show and immediately made Healey an offer to build the car. Healey was given a short time to respond to the offer, but Healey did agree to let Austin build the car as an Austin Healey model.
Len Lord Of Austin (left) Sits In the Prototype Car At the 1952 Earls Court International Motor Show With Donald Healey
This relationship with Austin was natural, as Healey had built the prototype car using an Austin engine. While previous Healey cars had been built using a very good Riley engine, Healey was concerned that this supply of engines had an uncertain future. Healey’s whole manufacturing strategy was to use available parts from other cars or have other manufacturer’s build specific parts, such as Jensen, who would build car bodies and sheet metal parts. This meant that Healey did little of their own building, but were more of an assembly shop. This allowed them to build cars with relatively few employees or manufacturing facilities.
At the time of this agreement with the Donald Healey Motor Company, Ltd. Austin was in negotiations to form what became British Motor Corporation (BMC). This new car that came into the BMC fold had a significant effect on the MG sports car. BMC knew that the MG TD needed updating, but the Austin-Healey car required focus on that car, so rather than design a new MG model, MG merely fluffed up the MG TD and called it the MG TF. The needed new design for the MG car , the MGA, eventually came a couple of years later after the Austin-Healey 100 had been established in the marketplace.
Advertisement For the Austin-Healey 100
One of the interesting features of the Austin-Healey 100 is the windshield that could be folded down. This fold-down windshield helped to increase the top speed of the car. With the windshield in the upright position, the Austin-Healey 100 had a top speed of about 104 miles per hour, but with the windshield folded down, the Austin-Healey 100 had a top speed of about 111 miles per hour.
Austin-Healey 100 Advertising
At the 2012 Lime Rock Historic Festival, I saw a couple of Austin-Healey 100 cars. These cars have had some slight modifications from strictly standard cars. For example the Austin-Healey 100 shown below has had the bumpers removed and additional lights on the front.
The Austin-Healey 100
Note that this Austin-Healey 100 is a right-hand drive model, built for the British market.
The Austin-Healey 100 Has A Nice Flowing Design
The design of the Austin-Healey 100 body was influenced by the design of the Italian cars of that era. Examples would be the Cisitalia and the Ferrari 166.
Note The 100 Emblem On The Right Side Of The Austin-Healey 100 Grille
In differentiating some the early Austin-Healey 100 models from each other, the emblem on the right side of the front grille is key. On this car, the emblem says “100”. On a later, more performance oriented model, this emblem will be “100M”.
The Austin-Healey 100 Interior Is Simple and Functional
The engine used in the Austin-Healey 100 was an inline 2,660cc 4-cylinder twin-carbureted engine. The engine produced 94 horsepower at 4,000 rpm. With the windshield folded down, the Austin-Healey 100 had a top speed of 111 miles per hour, would accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 10.3 seconds, and would covered a quarter-mile from a standing start in 17.5 seconds.
The first Austin-Healey 100 car had the four-speed transmission that Austin usually used with the engine that was provided to Healey. This engine originally powered a truck, but as the Austin-Healey 100 weighed much less than the truck, the first gear of this transmission was not needed and they found that the car would easily start in second gear. As a result, the first gear was removed from the transmission and the first Austin-Healey 100 cars had three-speed transmissions with an overdrive. Later models had a full four-speed transmission.
This Steel-Wheeled Austin-Healey 100 Took Part In The California Mille
The Austin-Healey 100 shown above, as well as the red Austin-Healey shown earlier in this post, has a louvered hood and a leather “bonnet” strap. These features were not standard on the Austin-Healey 100, but were standard on the high performance variation of this car known as the Austin-Healey 100S.
The Austin-Healey 100 Has Left-Hand Drive
The Austin-Healey 100 shown above is a left hand drive model. The tachometer in this car is an after-market unit. This car also has a nice set of time pieces, a time-of-day clock and a stopwatch, which were needed to compete in the California Mille which this car has taken part in.
Note the Additional Rear Lights On The Austin-Healey 100
The Austin-Healey 100 shown above has additional rear lights. Perhaps these lights were needed to meet US lighting requirements.
The Austin-Healey 100 was raced and rallied, but it did not have a particularly brilliant competition record. Later models, the Austin-Healey 100M and the Austin-Healey 100S, had much better success. I did notice that in November 1954, the team of E. Buick/W. Buick finished second overall and first in class in the Great American Mountain Rally while driving an Austin-Healey 100. In addition, K. Hendrick finished first in class in the 1955 Mobilgas Economy Rally.
The Racing Debut Of The Austin-Healey 100 At The 1953 Le Mans Race
In a future post, I will expand upon the two performance variations of the Austin-Healey 100, the Austin-Healey 100M and the Austin-Healey 100S.
The Austin-Healey 100 succeeded in meeting a need in the marketplace. In 1953, a MG TD cost about $2,100 and the Jaguar XK120 cost about $3,900, while the Austin-Healey 100 fit in between at $3,000. This model opened the door for even greater successes for the Austin-Healey cars.
For good references on the Austin-Healey 100, I would recommend “The Healey Story” by Geoffrey Healey and “Healeys and Austin-Healeys” by Peter Browning and Les Needham.