The Healey Hundred was a sensation at the 1952 Earl’s Court Motor Show in London. Austin’s Leonard Lord had already contracted to supply the engines, but when he noticed the sports car’s impact, he decided he wanted to build it too—it was transformed into the Austin-Healey 100.
Some automotive academics believe all the best car designs have a recognizable face. If that is the case, few cars have a cuter one than this little fellow, with that ear-to-ear grinning grille and those wide-open, slightly astonished eyes.
The ‘Big Healey’ appeared in 1956 when the 100-6 was introduced, continuing in production for a dozen years. The name was coined to differentiate between large and small Austin-Healeys after the Frogeye Sprite appeared, applying retrospectively to the 100-6 as well as the Austin-Healey 3000 that superseded it (with the number of cylinders replaced by cubic capacity to distinguish old from new as both models looked almost identical).
Buoyed by the success of the Austin-Healey 100, partners BMC and Donald Healey came up with a clever new concept. The innovative 1958 Austin-Healey Sprite was designed to appeal to increasing numbers of youngsters with good incomes who were excited by the idea of open-top motoring but couldn’t afford the expensive roadsters driven by their well-heeled elders. It proved to be an inspired thought.
The quirky Austin A 90 gave birth to a rather attractive child, though not without a lot of help from midwife Donald Healey. For he it was who took an A90 engine and chassis as the basis for his prototype Healey 100 (that seductive figure representing the car’s ability to top the ‘ton’) which he proudly showed at the Earls Court Motor Show in 1952.
It’s a moot point whether winning rally driver Donald Healey produced road cars to subsidize his true love – racing – or whether exploits on the track were regarded as a promotional tool to boost sales of road cars. Either way, the perfect player was the magnificent Healey Silverstone, named after the wartime bomber airfield that became a racing circuit in 1948.
In the immediate aftermath of World War II Donald Healey trod the path that also attracted fellow travelers like Colin Chapman in Britain and Frank Kurtis in America — the journey from successful race driver (and accomplished automobile engineer) to manufacturer of sporty road ears.