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Donald Healey

To start with, Donald Healey was never given a knighthood. In the UK, nobility is graded. What was bestowed on him, was 'Commander of the Order of the British Empire', the highest non-hereditary order. He had hoped that Prince Charles, a fancier of sports cars, would be crowned king of England and would upgrade the title, Indeed, Healey passed away in 1988. Thereby, almost everyone in the motor car world knew and had mentioned his name at some time. Just recently, there was talk of a 'Nash Healey', Which might easily be worth more than $100.000.

We already have two characteristics: The name 'Healey' often appears in context with a car manufacturer and at least a part of his fame was carried over to the USA. Let's take this in chronological order. He was born in Cornwall in 1898 as the son of an automobile enthusiast, his father was a general dealer who also sold mechanical products. After he had finished college, his father got him a job at the famous aircraft manufacturer, Sopwich Aviation Company. Thus it came about, that he had a pilots licence even before he had a drivers licence. During the first world war, Healey flew operations for the Royal Air Force and also worked as an flying instructor, in 1917 he suffered an aircraft crash in France and was then deployed in the aviation inspection.

The first workshop with his name dates from 1920. His aim was to get a job in the motor car industry, indeed, he was handicapped by his injuries. Parallel to doing repair work in his workshop, he furthered his education in the field of motor vehicles. In 1921 he married a Miss James, with whom he was to have three sons. The workshop served more and more the preparation of his racing cars, among which was a particularly light-weight and expensive 'ABC-Motors', a British manufacturer from 1920 - 1929. One of his preferred objects was also a Triumph 7. His glorious win at the Rallye Monte Carlo in 1931 was however, driving an Invicta with a 4,5 litres engine (in 1932 he came in second, driving a Triumph).

'Invicta' was a car company founded in 1924 by Captain Noel Macklin, it was famous for having particularly high-torque engines. As far as quality was concerned, the Invicta, which had grown to four and a half litres, was in competition with Bentley or Rolls-Royce, exceeded however, their performance capabilities through consistent light-weight manufacturing, e.g., expensive electron casting was used for certain engine parts. Completely in contrast to it's earlier classification, the engine was continually further developed into a successful competition and record-breaking machine. The company collapsed during the economic crisis of 1932/33.

After his spectacular victories, Donald Healey gave up his workshop and in 1933, after a short intermezzo with Riley, as testing chief for motorcycles, he changed to Triumph, as a development engineer. During the second world war, he once again, did service with the Royal Air Force. The first real Healey engine was basically, created in the last year of the war. He got his employees through the RAF and through his contacts with motor companies, who during the war had produced, e.g., armoured vehicles. In his team was, e.g., an Italian designer who, it is said, even had a wind-tunnel made available to him.

He raced with his son Geoffrey, e.g., the Mille Miglia

After the war and with borrowed money, a production line was developed for a four-seat coupé, a generously dimensioned convertible and a roadster, with 2,4-liter Riley- or 3-liter Alvis-engines. Even well known coachbuilders like e.g., Bertone, used the chassis. Healey also used it from 1949 for the Silverstone (see picture). Allegedly, more than 100 of these 77 kW (105 hp) and nearly 180 km/h fast sports cars were created. One of them was even said to have had a Cadillac engine, which Donald Healey was particularly fond of.

Nash Healey - one of the first American sports cars

In the end, the company could not assert itself. The accessories were too noble, thus expensive and the supply situation was too difficult in post-war Britain. Healey yearned for the Cadillac-V8, he was constantly searching for the highest possible performance with the lowest possible weight. When Cadillac could not deliver, he landed up at Nash, this is how the Nash-Healey was created, which proved to be rather the opposite, the constructor thought it was too heavy. Nevertheless, at least they did succeeded in bringing this inadequate material to a third place at the Le Mans 24 hour.

The first Austin Healey's had a large volume four-cylinder engine with almost 2,7 litres of capacity, with a stroke of 111 mm, they could hardly be revved-up, for this reason they had to be satisfied with 66 kW (90 hp). The mechanics were based on the Austin A90, onto which Donald Healey placed an elegant superstructure. The boss at Austin, liked this so much that he took over the entire construction and united Healey with Austin. In the cooperation with Austin, Healey seemed to finally lose his independence, however, he did manage to achieve a much greater quantity. The description '100', by the way, indicated the 100 mph top speed.

Gearbox with a useless 1st gear ...

The cooperation with the Austin engineers seemed to be anything but unproblematic. There was, e.g., the much too short rationed 1st gear of the comparatively heavy Austin A90 Atlantic Saloon. Thus, only the upper three gears were used, and 2nd and 3rd gear were given an overdrive. The problem was only solved after Austin developed a new four-speed gearbox for their famous London-Taxi.

The 'M' in the Austin Healey's name (see picture 1 and 2), reminds us of the good placements in Le Mans. Indeed, this model couldn't completely convince Donald Healey either. With a higher compression, larger carburettors, an altered valve-timing and a few other extras, e.g., air-ducts in the bonnet, 81 kW (110 HP) could be achieved.

The 100-S could have convinced Donald Healey ...

They set themselves up for the big break, by bringing in the specialist, Harry Weslake and by refashioning the entire cylinder head. This was of course, made of aluminium and required hard valve-seats. Unfortunately they had no success -at least not in the Austin-period- in getting these to solidly hold. Thus, it remained with these 55 examples of the 100-S with an aluminium body and an improved chassis/suspension.

Thus, the story ends with the famous Austin Healey 3000 (Videos), it now had more capacity and three- instead of two carburettors, but still had the cast-iron cylinder head. At least the capacity did not increase proportional to the number of cylinders, so that the stroke was now more tolerable. One is now arrived at 100 kW (136 HP). In the Mark III, because of synchronisation problems, they went back to two carburettors, nevertheless achieving 109 kW (148 PS). With a little of the usual exaggeration and because of the new top speed, it could now carry the description '120'. 02/14

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