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‘The Austin Healey 3000…superb, timeless styling and classic proportions”. ‘The Times’
Launched in 1959, the 3000 further raised the ‘Big Healey’ game after the manly efforts of the 100/4 and 100/6. It was equipped with the full-fat 3 litre iteration of the C Series engine, providing even more brawn (124 BHP at a lolloping 4,600 rpm) than its far from effete 2.6 litre predecessor, along with front disc brakes to rein in those extra ponies. With the fantastic publicity gained from Austin-Healey’s participation in motorsports, sales of the new model were as rapid as was its performance. With 3000s more likely to be everyday cars back in the day it would have been a great relief to Donald Healey that demand for the 2+2 far outstripped the two-seater cars as he had only reluctantly re-introduced this configuration at the end of the 100/6 production run with the BN6 model. In fact customer demand was so high that the 2+2 accounted for 85% of sales in 1960 and a whopping 93% of sales in 1961 conclusively proving that The Boss is always right! However, today the driving shoe is firmly on the other foot and the ultra-rare two-seaters are the ones to have; after all Terry Thomas never worried about accommodating any +2s. Not only is the pure two-seater bodywork undoubtedly aesthetically the most pleasing but a more voluminous boot is a useful bonus. It is also the only configuration employed by the Works for competition purposes, whether that was racking up outright wins in gruelling trans-European rallies such as the Liege-Rome-Liege or mixing it with Ferraris and Porsches at the Le Mans and Sebring endurance races. With the marketing gurus yet to have their way with such fripperies as wind-up windows and walnut dashboards you had the stop, the go and the show all in one alluring package.
The British Motor Industry Heritage Trust Heritage Certificate on file confirms this ‘MK 1’ Austin-Healey 3000 left the Abingdon factory on 30th September 1960 bound for the Austin Motor Company Ltd. in South Africa, replete with desirable optional extras of wire wheels, overdrive, laminated windscreen, ‘Roadspeed’ tyres, miles per hour speedometer, locking petrol cap, black tonneau cover and an adjustable steering column. The trim and hood are both noted as black and the exterior as ‘primer’, common practice for South African market cars who’s final assembly took place once they had arrived in the country hence giving the ultimate customer an ‘any colour you like’ choice of paint finish. Erroneously, the Certificate states the Healey was in left hand drive form though the lack of the tell-tale ‘L’ in the car’s chassis number and its South African destination confirm this was not the case.
Little is known about the car’s early history though close inspection leads us to believe it has never been fully restored and it appears to have simply been well maintained and looked after throughout its life in, it must be said, a particularly car friendly part of the world. Some would argue that once taken apart, these ‘Big Healeys’ never go back together as well as they did originally and this lovely example seems to support this theory.
The owner is a frequent visitor to South Africa and was able to spend some time there sourcing a particularly nice Healey for his family’s use back in the UK. With the help of respected agents Frost Brothers of Knysna, he tracked down this lovely example in all important BN7 two-seater specification and shipped it back to England in 2015.
Once installed in his well equipped workshop he attended to one or two minor issues and then proceeded to drive it with some enthusiasm – when he could get the keys off his wife and daughter that is. Needing absolutely nothing in terms of bodywork, paint or trim the focus was very much on finessing the running gear. As is so often the way with these low slung machines, the engine sump takes quite a battering and cosmetically this example’s needed a bit of attention so the owner dropped it off and carefully reshaped it from the inside. A low oil pressure reading on the gauge prompted him to take a couple of big end and main bearings off to check the condition of the crankshaft journals, though these were all found to be in perfect order. A new oil pump and pressure relief valve did not improve matters so a new gauge was temporarily rigged up which duly showed some 70 PSI when cold. The fuel system was treated to a new pump and pipework plus new jets and seals for the SU carburettors while a rebuilt oil pressure and water temperature gauge was fitted (see above) with its associated pipework carefully installed as per the factory (straight runs in the engine bay with the coiled section between the bulkhead and dash since you asked). Turning to the suspension, he replaced all the bushes front and rear with ‘polybushes’ while taking the opportunity to fit an uprated 7/8” anti-roll bar and rebuild the kingpins including new top trunnion bearings. Reconditioned shock absorbers were purchased to which the owner then fitted uprated valves. He also overhauled the braking system, rebuilding the master and wheel cylinders along with the callipers which were treated to new stainless steel pistons. Braided brake lines were fitted throughout and though they were working perfectly, the mismatched rear brake drums were replaced with a new, ventilated pair. Along with sundry cooling hoses, cables and so on, the cost of this finessing of an already very good car was just over £2,700 and that was with the qualified aircraft engineer owner doing all the work himself.
It would be doing the Austin-Healey a great disservice to describe its body and paintwork as ‘usable’; it is way better than that yet it definitely encourages one to just jump in and drive it. There are no dinks or dents to speak of in the mix of steel and aluminium body panels though the owner was keen to point out a few minor blemishes in the paintwork of the off side front shroud which we have done our best to show in the photo gallery. Reaching inside the engine bay, one can just feel a weld line so a repair may have been executed in this area, albeit expertly. The Healey has excellent panel gaps and the all-important swage lines are very well aligned; these key indicators are unfortunately not always this sharp with unrestored, or even restored cars and this Big Healey sits ‘just right’. The paintwork itself is good throughout with a fine level of shine and depth without looking excessively thick. Well applied with no runs or blemishes other than those detailed above, it is refreshingly just a shade off the perhaps slightly hackneyed ‘ice blue over white’.
The chrome-work is in good order; there is minimal dulling where it has polished through on the rear bumper (please see the photo gallery) but no pitting or peeling of the finish present. The owner suspects that the front bumper may not be entirely correct for the car, as it has a hole for a starting handle and its returns perhaps come a little too far back but we certainly wouldn’t have noticed this had it not been pointed out - he has hence not drilled it to take the UK number plate. A delightful period feature is the single Talbot Berlin door mirror, a valuable and desirable item in itself.
The Healey is shod with correct 165/80R15 Kumho tyres sporting copious remaining tread. These are wrapped around painted wire wheels (so much less ‘bling’ than chromed versions) nicely offset with chromed spinners, all in nice condition.
A lovely, beautifully broken-in leather interior greets the occupants with well plumped seats that, though the bases look a little flat, yield to form a very comfortable bucket when you sit on (or should we say in) them and provide very good lateral support. The carpets and correct rubber matting are in good condition and the original ‘banjo’ steering wheel makes a refreshing change after so many after-market wood-rim versions. Behind this the simple but informative dashboard is in excellent cosmetic fettle with all the instruments working correctly though the owner is minded to carry a can of fuel in the car as the gauge has been guilty of slight optimism in the past. The fully trimmed hardtop ensures the cockpit is a wonderfully snug place to be on a pretty miserable autumnal day and its rear screen is free of any misting or scratches. The same can be said of the side screens whose effective seals give the interior an almost GT ambience (almost). There is an excellent tonneau cover present which, with the hardtop, pretty much obviates the need for a hood - just as well as the car doesn’t have one. The boot space is nicely trimmed and of decent ‘long weekend away for two, maybe a week if your smalls are small enough’ capacity as the majority of the spare wheel sits in a nicely trimmed section of the cockpit. The fuel tank looks to be in good order and a decent sized 12 volt battery is fitted along with a handy safety/security cut off switch though this is currently bypassed as it had been playing up, sometimes cutting the power at inconvenient moments.
The engine bay is to standard Factory specification with the addition of a very smart aluminium rocker cover, though if we were being ultra-picky, the chrome on the securing studs is less than perfect as shown in the photo gallery. It is nice to see the brass tops to the SU carburettors are still in place, along with the original Cooper brand air cleaners. A Kenlowe electric fan replacing the original engine driven metal version is about the only deviation from standard though it is definitely a sensible one. Overall it is really most presentable being clean, tidy and dry but not over-prepared.
Mechanically, the engine starts on the button after a gentle swing of the starter motor and it quickly settles down to a lovely straight six burble at just 500 RPM (the owner prides himself with having all his cars set up ‘just so’), showing oil pressure of over 50 PSI. Further up the rev. range, the exhaust note hardens a little though the engine remains unstressed and millpond-smooth.
The underside is essentially very solid and looks like staying that way with just a little ongoing maintenance. The new parts fitted are evident and clean, freshly painted suspension components plus a now undented sump contribute to an excellent overall impression. We could find no evidence of any previous repair work to the chassis or floors and the Healey is admirably free from extraneous fluids aside from a slight weep (not even a drip) from the overdrive drain plug which the owner hopes to attend to before the sale concludes.
So far so good but the best is yet to come; driving. Though we wouldn’t claim to have experienced 100s of Big Healey’s there have been quite a few and this is the best we’ve had the pleasure of conducting, a view concurred with by another member of the Austin-Healey Club who drove the 3000 back to back with his own particularly well sorted 100/4. On our extensive test run the Austin Healey felt totally up together and rode more smoothly than many we have driven including one that seemed minded to visit every passing hedge...The same could be said regarding the brakes which pull the car up straight, true and rapidly. This impressive performance is doubtless due to the inherent integrity of the 3000 and the work carried out since its return to the UK. The overdrive clicks swiftly and smoothly in and out on 3rd and 4th gears, though you have to remember to blip the throttle to disengage it – a standard feature which many people disconnect but not in this case. So impressed were we by the Healey that we were sorely tempted to just keep driving it rather than return it to its owner.
The Healey’s history file contains numerous invoices from marque specialists such as AH Spares, A Head 4 Healeys and the UK Healey Centre detailing the parts purchased since its return to the UK. The current V5C document is present along with copies of South African registration documents and the aforementioned BMIHT Heritage Certificate.
As a last hurrah if you like, a couple of weeks ago the owner gave the Austin-Healey a run from his Lincolnshire base to Prescott for a private test session, treating it to several runs up the hill and covering some 350 miles in the day with ease.
Great looking machines with gutsy performance and a soundtrack to match, is there anything that epitomises the Great British Sports Car better than the Big Healey? For an enthusiast looking for an excellent, honest car that drives beautifully and wants for absolutely nothing, this would be a great option.