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Nash-Healey: A Grand Alliance

By John Nikas with Hervé Chevalier

2024 review by Malcolm Bobbitt

A combination of Hervé Chevalier’s expertise on Healey and Austin-Healey with John Nikas’s enthusiasm for, and knowledge of, British and American marques in addition to being an award-winning automotive historian and author, bodes well for this massive two-volume tome on a previously neglected subject. The audience for this work is huge, taking in Triumph, Healey and Austin-Healey brands together with Nash from across ‘the pond’ and the Metropolitan from Austin. The work begins by chronicling the formative years of Donald Healey, and the fact that the motor car was prominent in his life is borne out by his piloting a 1907 Panhard et Levassor around Cornwall. Healey’s desire for motoring was insatiable and he was soon at the helm of a Prince Henry Vauxhall and a Humber. Such is the depth of the author’s research that there are vivid reports of Healey’s venture into aviation and his joining the Sopwith Aviation Company Ltd. Equally graphic are the author’s account of Healey’s wounding in the Great War and his repatriation to England where he was transferred to the Aeronautical Inspection Department (AID). A subsequent move into the motor trade and motor sport saw his involvement with the Triumph, Invicta and Riley marques.

Coverage of Donald Healey’s motor sport activities is quite exceptional and infectiously written. The images from the era are remarkable for their quality; many of them are previously unseen. The photographs of Healey’s Dolomite Straight Eight after its encounter with a locomotive during the 1935 Monte Carlo Rally are especially emotive. The work takes a new direction following the Second World War and Healey realising his dream of building his own cars, the first chassis of which became known as “The Horror” owing to its litany of faults. The prototype Healey roadsters are discussed in detail and accompanied by a raft of evocative images in both colour and monochrome. Taking a Healey Westland to America in 1948 brought the realisation that not only selling cars to American customers was a way forward, but also a joint venture with Nash would bring about America’s first true post-war sports car. The annals of Nash are essentially provided, and the author is to be congratulated in producing a remarkably succinct and well-illustrated commentary. A specific aspect of this is Nash’s desire to produce an American compact automobile which led to the N.X.L. concept and prototype which emerged in Britain as the Metropolitan.

It is in the second half of the first volume that the development of the Nash-Healey is explained: the whole process from its design, engineering and styling through to the building of a prototype and entering production. Here again, the author’s attention to detail and engaging prose is exemplary and made all the more dramatic with the accompaniment of a superb selection of illustrations. A specific dimension of this section is the involvement of external styling houses and coachbuilders, the most prominent as far as the Nash-Healey is concerned being Pinin Farina’s artistry.

The second volume of this work is no less a mammoth undertaking which focusses more on the Nash-Healey’s motor sport connections. It is not just about the events and race locations but also the drivers, mechanics and support teams; hence there are some entertaining cameos on the like of Duncan Hamilton, Tony Rolt, Leslie Johnson, Geoffrey Healey and Mortimer ‘Mort’ Morris-Goodall. Being truly international in its scope, this aspect of the work involves other cars such as Ferrari, Jaguar and Mercedes together with their drivers, to offer an informed and highly readable account of motor sport of the period – hence the inclusion of Stirling Moss, Briggs Cunningham and Peter Walker.

A huge achievement this colossal two-volume masterpiece certainly is. For all its enormity it is easily accessible with a clear layout, informed text and detailed appendices which together make for an admirable production. The cover price might seem to be overly expensive, but such impressions are swept away on realising the effort, passion and education that has gone into the project. While it is a work that can be dipped into at will to summon sheer enjoyment and knowledge, it is also one that is so addictively written that one feels the need to read it from cover to cover. Yes, it’s a book that records a niche subject, but it’s also a lot more in covering all facets of the automobile.

Publisher: Dalton Watson Fine Books

Price: £195 plus postage.

Description: Two hardback volumes in dust jackets, in a slipcase (268 x 302mm), 800 pages; colour and black & white images.

ISBN: 978-1-9563-0914-0

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