If you are an Anglophile looking for a roadster with dashing looks, Le Mans racing provenance and a major dose of English charm, then an Austin Healey may just be the ideal choice.
Austin Healey occupies a unique niche in the hierarchy of British Sports Cars. With classic Aston Martins now commanding stratospheric prices, and vintage Jaguar XKs climbing confidently into the six figure range, the Austin Healey is the sensible alternative, yet still far more rakish and rare than the MGs and Triumphs which populate the more affordable end of the spectrum. The later Healeys had a brawny straight six engine, which produces a sound just as memorable as the gorgeous shape and sloping rear of the car’s voluptuous body. The Healey didn’t have the aristocratic pretensions of the Jaguar XK, but they competed successfully both in the States and in Europe in the 1950s, including Le Mans and the Monte Carlo Rallye. A streamlined Healey special even set world land speed records at Bonneville in 1953.
If I sound partial to the Healey, there’s a very personal reason: My father had an Austin-Healey 100-Six when I was a very small lad, and like many car aficionados, my early fascination with automobiles centered around my father’s garage. The car was silver-blue metallic with creamy white flanks and a falling beltline that tapered all the way to the tail.
As a small kid, it wasn’t hard to fall in love with something so beautiful, where all the glorious detail happens right at the eye level of a 4-year-old. Any classic British car is a feast of smells, sounds, and sensory inputs that imprint themselves very indelibly on a young mind.
The Healey is a magnificent machine to look at and to drive, but it’s not without quirks and problems. Heat is the primary bugaboo of the Healey. My father recalls vividly the occasion when he and my uncle were so unbearably hot that my uncle felt compelled to remove his pants and use them like a wind sock to funnel air into the footwell of the car, using the waistband to capture air from over the windscreen and direct it down each leg and into either side of the cockpit! The gambit was only partially successful—my father’s new gum sole shoes still melted from the heat in the pedal box. Still, he spins many positive memories of the car; its heavy, solid steering feel, and magnificent carbureted engine note, the fond memories of driving it in the Fourth of July parade in our hometown. If you are a dad thinking of a classic car to share with your child, why not pick up a Healey and make some memories of your own?
Words by: Bradley Price, a New York-based designer, car nut, racing history buff. He founded the Autodromo brand in 2011, and divides his spare time between his stable of vintage Italian cars and running the car blog Automobiliac.