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SNAPSHOT 31: Healey 1946

Mention the name Austin-Healey and most people interested in motoring of the past will form a mental image of attractive medium-sized sporting two-seaters of the 1950s and sixties, or even the smaller Sprites – particularly the ‘frog-eyed’ ones. Drop the prefix and there will less recognition although some will recall the ‘Silverstone’ open sports model that was much favoured by club racers. Refer to a Healey ‘Elliott’ and there are likely to be a number of blank looks – but that is the model which we see here. As for the name that the cars bear, some will at least remember that Donald Healey won the Monte Carlo rally in 1931, driving an Invicta.

Initial development of Healey cars began in Warwick during the early part of 1946 and although the advanced design fabricated sheet-steel chassis were made ‘in house’, the engine was a tuned 2.4-litre Riley unit and the initial two models, a convertible sports-tourer and an aerodynamically efficient saloon, were bodied by outside coachbuilders. For the saloon Donald Healey used the services of Samuel Elliott & Sons of Reading, who although having built bodywork in the mid-1920s had moved away from this to do shopfitting and specialist woodworking before using their skills to clothe these saloons – just 101 of them being made over a four-year period.

The pictured car existed in December 1946 when Bill Boddy visited the works so it may have been the first example completed. In the Motor Sport article that followed he incorrectly referred to this saloon as NX-199 but as can be seen the Trade Plate actually reads the other way round. That aside, it had already been timed at 104.65 mph over a ‘flying’ ¼-mile on the Milan-Como autostrada – a performance that Boddy described as ‘momentous’.

Then in July of 1947 a Healey of this pattern attained a mean two-way speed of 110.8 mph along the Jabbeke autoroute south of Ostend. Subsequent advertising stated that “This substantiates the claim that the Healey Saloon is the ‘Fastest Production Car in the World’.” There was though a price to pay: almost £1600 complete, or £950 in chassis form, was anything but cheap. When the 66⅔% purchase tax on cars selling at over £1000 was introduced in mid-1947 – wow!

Nevertheless, Donald Healey persevered, there was even a Healey stand at the 1947 Paris Motor Show, and as indicated at the beginning, much more was to follow.

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