Donald Healey And The Austin-Healey History

Donald Mitchell Healey (3 July 1898 – 13 January 1988) was a noted English car designer, rally driver and speed record holder.

Born in Perranporth, Cornwall, He studied engineering. Barely 16 when WW1 started, he volunteered in 1916 for the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and earned his “wings” as a pilot. He went on night bombing raids and served on anti-Zeppelin patrols and also as a flying instructor. Shot down by British anti-aircraft fire on one of the first night bomber missions of the war, after a further series of crashes he was invalided out of the RFC in November 1917 and spent the rest of the war checking aircraft components for the Air Ministry. After the Armistice he returned to Cornwall, took a correspondence course in automobile engineering and opened the first garage in Perranporth in 1920.

Healey found rally driving and motor racing more interesting than his garage and its car hire business and used the garage to prepare cars for competition. He first entered the Monte Carlo Rally in 1929 driving a Triumph 7 but in 1931 Donald Healey won the Monte Carlo Rally driving a 4½-litre Invicta and was 2nd overall the next year. Now in demand as a competition driver he sold the garage business, moved to the Midlands to work for Riley but soon moved to the Triumph Motor Company as experimental manager. The next year he was made technical director and responsible for the design of all Triumph cars. He created the Triumph Southern Cross and then the Triumph Dolomite 8 straight-eight sports car in 1935 following his class win, and 3rd overall, in the 1934 Monte Carlo Rally in a Triumph Gloria of his own design. Triumph went into liquidation in 1939 but Healey remained on the premises as works manager for H M Hobson making aircraft engine carburettors for the Ministry of Supply. Later in the war he worked with Humber on armoured cars. Donald Healey was keen to begin making his own cars, planning post-war sports cars with colleague and chassis specialist Achille Sampietro.

In 1945 he formed with Achille Sampietro and Ben Bowden the Donald Healey Motor Company Ltd basing its business in an old RAF hangar at Warwick. Their first cars were expensive high quality cars.

Healey’s first car appeared in 1946, the Healey Elliot, a saloon with a Riley engine, developed by Dr J.N.H Tait. Following his Triumphs it won the 1947 and 1948 alpine rallies and the touring class of the 1948 Mille Miglia.

Next was a high performance sports car, the Healey Silverstone which appeared in 1949 and was so successful it led to an agreement with an American company Nash Motors.

In 1949, Healey established an agreement with George W. Mason, the president of Nash Motors to build Nash-engined Healey sports cars. The first series of the 2-seaters were built in 1951 and they were designed by Healey with styling and aerodynamic input from Benjamin Bowden. The same all enveloping theme was used by Bowden on the Zethrin Rennsport one year later. The Nash-Healey’s engine was a Nash Ambassador 6-cylinder, the body was aluminium, and the chassis was a Healey Silverstone. However, Pininfarina restyled the bodywork for 1952 and took over the production of its new steel body.

A Nash-Healey was driven by Donald Healey at Le Mans in 1950. Team members Duncan Hamilton & Tony Rolt’s car finished 4th overall after suffering serious mechanical damage when hit from behind by a brakeless Delage. Donald Healey also drove a Nash-Healey in the Mille Miglia 1950 to 1952.He finished 1st in class in over 2000cc open category and was presented with the Franco Mazzotti Trophy Coppia Del Mille Miglia. Co driving with Nash.

Donald Healey wanted to produce a comparatively inexpensive sports car with 100 mph performance. He developed the Austin-Healey 100 using an Austin instead of the Tait developed Riley 2.5-litre engine and gearbox displaying it first at the October 1952 Earls Court motor show in London. The Morris-Austin merger had brought on BMC’s decision to phase out the (Morris) Riley unit. His new factory, Cape Works, could not supply the demand so instead the Austin-Healeys were manufactured under a licensing arrangement by British Motor Corporation at their Longbridge works. A total of 74,000 Austin Healey 100s were built, more than 80% for export.

At that time Nash and Austin were working together on the project which became their Metropolitan

Donald Healey formed a design consultancy in 1955, one of the results was the Austin-Healey Sprite which went into production in 1958

The production arrangement with BMC ended in 1967. In 1970 Healey became chairman of Jensen Motors with the enthusiastic backing of key US based Austin-Healey distributors. This was a long and fruitful relationship for Healey, in part because Jensen had been making body shells for Austin-Healey since the 1952 demise of the similar Austin A40 Sports. Healey’s first project with a Jensen was re-engineering the Jensen 541S with a V8 engine in 1961, the resulting car being a personal favourite of Healey’s. Ten years later, Healey helped design the Lotus engined Jensen-Healey together with Lagonda designer William Towns, to replace the Austin-Healey, which BMC were discontinuing.

He bought the 27 acres Trebah Estate, near Falmouth, Cornwall in 1961 and carried out many ambitious projects there, including the building of commercial greenhouses to grow orchids and a project to build air/sea rescue inflatables. He demolished the concrete covering of the beach of Polgwidden Cove (a D-Day invasion launch-pad) and used the salvaged material to surface a steep track from the house to the beach. He sold Trebah in 1971. His son, Geoffrey, born in 1922 and a former pupil of Warwick School, wrote several books about the cars and one about their partnership.

13 January 1988, Donald Healey died in Truro, Cornwall at the age of 89.




Donald Healey Motor Company

The business was founded in 1945 by Donald Healey, a successful car designer and rally driver. Healey discussed sports car design with Achille Sampietro, a chassis specialist for high performance cars and Ben Bowden, a body engineer, when all three worked at Humber during World War II.

Healey’s new enterprise focused on producing expensive, high-quality, high-performance cars. It was based in an old aircraft components factory off Miller Road in Warwick. There he was joined by Roger Menadue from Armstrong Whitworth to run the experimental workshop. In later years they also had a now-demolished showroom (formerly a cinema) on Emscote Road, Warwick, commemorated by a new block of flats called Healey Court. The cars mainly used a tuned version of the proven Riley twin-cam 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine in a light steel box-section chassis of their own design using independent front suspension by coil springs and alloy trailing arms with Girling dampers. The rear suspension used a Riley live axle with coil springs again. Advanced design allowed soft springing to be combined with excellent road holding. Lockheed hydraulic brakes were used.

When it was introduced in 1948, the Elliott saloon was claimed to be the fastest production closed car in the world, timed at 104.7 mph over a mile. The aerodynamic body design was the work of Benjamin Bowden and unusually for the time it was tested in a wind tunnel to refine its efficiency. This was the start of aerodynamic styling for reduced drag, that culminated in Bowden’s last UK offering, the Zethrin Rennsport. In 1949 the most sporting of all the Healeys, the Silverstone, was announced. It had a shorter chassis and stiffer springing and was capable of 107 mph. It is now a highly sought after car and many of the other Healeys have been converted into Silverstone replicas. These cars had numerous competition successes including class wins in the 1947 and 1948 Alpine rallies and the 1949 Mille Miglia.

Donald Healey Motor Company was finally sold to the Hamblin Group, although Healey Automobile Consultants and the engineering parts of the company remained in the hands of Geoffrey and Donald Healey.



Government planning and controls required any substantial expansion of production to be for the export market alone. So in 1950 Healey built the Nash-Healey using a Nash Ambassador engine with SU carburettors and Nash gearbox. Initially the 3848 cc unit was used.

The Nash-Healey is a two-seat sports car that was produced for the American market between 1951 and 1954. Marketed by Nash-Kelvinator Corporation with the Nash Ambassador drivetrain and a European chassis and body.  The Nash-Healey was the product of the partnership between Nash-Kelvinator Corporation and British automaker Donald Healey.

In 1952 the car was restyled by Pinin Farina and subassembly began in Italy. With body construction transferred from Healey to Pininfarina the larger 4138 cc engine was fitted. A racing version, built with a spartan aluminum body, finished third in the 1952 Le Mans 24-hour race.

Nash Motors became a division of American Motors Corporation (AMC) in 1954. Nash delayed introduction of the 1954 models until 3 June and discontinued the convertible, leaving just a slightly reworked “Le Mans” coupé, distinguished by a three-piece rear window instead of the previous one-piece glass. Production ceased in August. A few leftover 1954s were sold as 1955 models.

In 1956, American Motors introduced its first V8 engine. In 1957, AMC bored its new V8 to 327 cu in (5.4 L) and used it in the last year of AMC’s luxury offerings, the Nash Ambassador, and Hudson Hornet.



Healey judged a cheaper sports car marketable in large numbers was needed to save the business, one that would fit between the MG and Jaguar cars then selling so well in USA. Working in with his eldest son Geoffrey in the attic of the family home, Healey designed a two-seat roadster employing numerous low-cost Austin components, the Austin-Healey 100. Austin chief Sir Leonard Lord was so impressed when he saw it on the Healey stand at the 1952 Earls Court Motor Show he offered to make it in his own factories under the name Austin-Healey.

The result was a 1953 a joint venture which created the British Motor Corporation to manufacture the Austin-Healey marque. The 100 evolved into the highly regarded and collector coveted 3-litre Austin-Healey 3000, followed by a diminutive 950cc Austin-Healey Sprite, known affectionately as the “frog-eye”or”Bugeye”.

Commenting on the 3000 after Donald Healey’s death The Times observed: “The big Healey’s brutally firm ride, heavy steering and engine so close it would roast a driver’s feet never detracted from the superb, timeless styling and classic proportions.”



When production of the Austin-Healey 3000 ended Donald Healey opened discussions with Jensen Motors, who had built the bodies for Healey’s Austin-Healey cars. The largest Austin Healey Car Dealer in the US Kjell Qvale was also keen to find a replacement to the Austin-Healey 3000 then became a major shareholder of Jensen. Donald Healey became a director of Jensen Motors in 1970 and a result of this was the Lotus-engined Jensen-Healey which appeared in 1972. The Jensen-Healey was developed in a joint venture by Donald Healey and Jensen Motors.

The oil crisis hit Jensen Motors hard, greatly damaging the sales of its very large V8 Interceptor model and thus degrading its financial condition as a whole. The Jensen GT was then hurriedly brought to market, requiring massive labour expense and taxing the firm’s budget even further. By 1974 Lotus was able to supply the required number of engines and production reached 86 cars a week but despite this, the overall situation proved to be too much for the company, which, amid strike action, component shortages and inflation, proceeded to liquidate in 1975 and then close in May 1976.



Production Numbers

The final Healey car of this era was the G-Type using an Alvis TB21 engine and gearbox. This was more luxurious and heavier than the Riley engined models and performance suffered.

Type Engine Approx Production Year
Healey Westland Roadster 2443 cc Riley 4 cylinder 64 1946-50
Healey Elliott Saloon 2443 cc Riley 4 cylinder 101 1946-50
Healey Sportsmobile 2443 cc Riley 4 cylinder 23 1948-50
Healey Silverstone 2443 cc Riley 4 cylinder 104 1949-50
Healey Tickford Saloon 2443 cc Riley 4 cylinder 222 1950-54
Healey Abbott Drophead Coupe 2443 cc Riley 4 cylinder 77 1950-54
Nash-Healey 3848 or 4138 cc Nash 6 cylinder 506 1950-54
Healey G-Type Roadster 2993 cc Alvis 6 cylinder 25 1951-53

Healey Silverstone

The Healey Silverstone is an open two-seater road / racing sports car, or in the USA roadster, that was made by Donald Healey Motor Company. The Silverstone had headlights behind the grille to make it more aerodynamic. It was designed to be a dual purpose “race and ride” car. It also had a 104 horsepower 2.5-litre Riley I-4 engine and four speed manual transmission. The Silverstone had a top speed of 110 mph and a 0-60 time of 11 seconds, which rivaled other cars

The Silverstone was made at a factory in Warwick, England. They were hand-built and only 105 were produced. When the British government doubled the purchase tax on (luxury) cars in 1948, The result was the Healey Silverstone production ended in September 1950 when it was replaced by the Nash-Healey.


Nash-Healey Cars

Production 1951–1954. A total of 507 production Nash-Healeys were built during its four-year model run: The Nash-Healey registry has a total of 520 entries including prototypes and race vehicles.

  • 1951 – 104 (roadsters) lhd N-Type plus 1 rhd G-Type G525 (An additional 30 cars were sold with Alvis or 3 L Healey engines.[10])
  • 1952 – 150 (roadsters)
  • 1953 – 162 (roadsters and coupes)
  • 1954 – 90 (coupes only)


The Jensen-Healey Sports Car

The Jensen-Healey was a British two-seater convertible sports car produced between 1972–1976 by Jensen Motors Ltd. in West Bromwich, England. A related fastback, the Jensen GT, was introduced in 1975.

Launched in 1972 as a fast, luxurious and competent convertible sports car, it was positioned in the market between the Triumph TR6 and the Jaguar E-Type. The 50/50 weight balance achieved by the use of the all alloy Lotus 907 engine led to universal praise as having excellent handling.

Various engines were tried out in the prototype stage including Vauxhall, Ford and BMW units. Donald Healey designed this new Jensen-Healey using Vauxhall components but it was unable to comply with the emission standards set in place in USA. He resisted offers from Saab and Ford to produce a new sports car. Colin Chapman of Lotus offered, and Jensen accepted, his company’s new 1973 cc Lotus 907 dual overhead cam, 16-valve all-alloy engine. This setup puts out approximately 144 bhp (107 kW), topping out at 119 mph (192 km/h) and accelerating from zero to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds (8.1 seconds for the emission controlled U.S. version).

Hugo Poole did the styling of the body, the front and back of which were later modified by William Towns to take advantage of the low profile engine and to allow cars for the U.S. market to be fitted with bumpers to meet increasing U.S. regulations. The unitary body understructure was designed by Barry Bilbie, who had been responsible for the Austin-Healey 100, 100-6 and 3000 as well as the Sprite. It was designed to be easy to repair, with bolt-on panels, to keep insurance premiums down. In 1973, United States Government-mandated rubber bumpers were attached. In 1974 “5mph” bumpers were required.

In total 10,503 were produced (10 prototypes, 3,347 Mk.1 and 7,146 Mk.2)

Jensen-Healey sales by country

Markets Mk. 1 Mk. 2 Total
USA and Canada 1945 5689 7634
United Kingdom 1114 906 2020
Europe 125 209 334
Australia & New Zealand 75 211 286
The Far East 98 87 185
The Middle East 0 33 33
Jamaica 0 1 1
Unspecified 0 10 10
Total 3357 7146 10,503
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