Road Tested in 1963
With a production run reaching back 12 years to 1952, the car must surely be
approaching the end of an unusually long and successful line that has bred international. competition winners, earned a lot of dollars and, above all, provided relatively inexpensive high performance for enthusiasts throughout the world. In its latest form the combination of speed, refinement and character is still outstanding value.
In several easy stages, the. Healey has matured over the years: it gained two more cylinders from the rationalized H.M.C. C-series engine, another gear, an extra 352 c.c., much more power and torque, better handling and brakes, more refinement and room, and various face lifts, until it reached the unique blend of vintage sports and modem GT in the Mk. Ill 3000 announced a month ago.
A little of the original Healey 100 still remains: the Classic looks; firm ride; only marginal ground. clearance; the vintage driving position and a take-off that few cars can equal regardless of price. In other respects it has mellowed with age reflecting the changing tastes of its ardent supporters-or perhaps a new, /more sophisticated generation of sports car drivers.
Popular demand has turned the original stark cockpit into a snug and fashionable office with polished wood on the facia and a dividing console down the middle that looks good but gets in the way. Even the passenger's grab handle has been replaced by a glove box. Gone too is the lovable bark. Two exhaust pipes and four silencers have subdued the noise to a pleasant grumble that is drowned at high speeds by the whirl of fan, intakes and wind.
Yet this is no cissy sports car. A top speed of 122.5 m.p.h. is fast by any standards and quite exceptional for £1,200. Moreover, it will accelerate to 120 m.p.h. in little more than a mile in satisfying surges that whip it across country at high average speeds. Handling and steering are by no means outstanding by modern standards but better than first acquaintance (and many old hands) would suggest and the car satisfies the sporting tradition by being great fun to drive even if it takes time and know-how to make firm friends.
In a nutshell, you now go much faster in greater (but by no means sumptuous) comfort on no more petrol-a fair return for
Performance and Economy
THIS is the fastest production Austin-Healey yet made. Larger carburetters, a new camshaft and a more efficient (and quieter) exhaust system have raised the power of the 6-cylinder, 3-litre engine from 131 to 150 b.h.p. with a useful increase in torque above 1,700 r.p.m. Compared with the Mk. II car tested in April, 1963, it has gained nearly 7 m.p.h. in top speed (122.5 m.p.h.), knocked 6 secs. off the time needed to reach 100 m.p.h. (23.7 sec.) and pulls even better at low and moderate engine speeds. Sports cars do not usually attract lazy drivers but anyone who tires of changing gear can set it in top or third and motor smoothly on from 10 m.p.h. through traffic.
Surprisingly, this impressive performance has been achieved on less fuel, nearly all the steady-speed consumption figures showing a slight improvement. Only at very low r.p.m. when the big lazy engine is working below maximum efficiency is there a slight drop. High-speed motorway cruising is utterly relaxed if rather noisy, 4,000 r.p.m. corresponding to about 100 m.p.h. in overdrive top, so it is possible to amble along in the hundreds without any fear of overstressing the engine. Only when the tachometer needle approaches the red sector starting at 5,500 r.p.m. (the recommended rev. limit) do you begin to wince at the howl from beneath the bonnet, but there is seldom any need to use such high revs.
Our test car was an easy starter, although it would occasionally spit back through the twin 2-in. S. U. carburetters with a jerk if the choke was pushed home too soon after a cold start. There was pinking on premium grade petrol and the engine often ran on even if the throttle was blipped before switching off. Plenty of revs and clutch slip are needed to start on a 1 in 3 hill with the rather high first gear, and as an indication of the massive torque, 2nd will cope with a 1 in 4.
By absolute standards, the Healey is quite an expensive car to run, its overall fuel consumption of 17.7 m.p.g. representing a cost of £13 1 Os. per thousand miles on petrol at 4s. 9d. a gallon. During the first part of our test, it recorded
- an all-time high in oil consumption-about 45 miles to the pint. This was later rectified by B.M.C. who fitted new piston rings after the original ones were found to be excessively scuffed-possibly the result of incomplete running in.
Servicing demands are quite heavy too by modern greaseless standards, 13 points needing attention every 3,000 miles.
AN unusually smooth-acting Laycock overdrive working on third and top gears gives six forward. speeds to play with. Choice of ratios is never so critical when there is ample torque throughout the rev range, and five of the six are quite acceptable. The exception is second, which is so close to first that it is hard to detect any change of note when accelerating hard. The first three gears' maxima are about 42, 52 and 85
m.p.h. at 5,250 r.p.m.-mid-way through the tachometer's yellow warning sector. Something nearer 62 m.p.h. for second would seem to be a better gap filler. Overdrive third, 10 m.p.h. slower than direct top, is used more as an instant high town gear than an extra ratio when shifting through the box although we used all six gears when taking performance figures. Powerful but obstructive synchromesh works on the top three ratios, leaving accurate double-declutching to find first: most people settled for second instead-a point in favour of its low gearing. Unlike some sports cars on which the clutch is either in or out, the Healey's has a long travel and the gentle bite and smoothness of a touring car. What little whine there is from the gearbox and axle is soon drowned by other more aggressive noises.
Steering and handling
GIVEN sufficient practice and not a little nerve, it is possible to corner the Healey very fast indeed, but it is not the sort of car that you drive on the limit first time out. The steering is averagely light and not particularly positive by sports car standards except when cornering quickly, when a delicate touch is needed on both the throttle and steering wheel, either of which can be used to direct the car. In this respect it is far removed from the typical understeering family saloon which remains stodgily stable with big sweeps of the wheel. This is not Healey technique and would soon land anyone who tried it in trouble. With a light throttle the steering is practically neutral but under power it reverts to oversteer and, in the extreme, a power slide although the vicious breakaway of earlier cars appears to have been cured: even in the wet, an impressive amount of torque can be turned on out of a sharp bend without sliding the tail. As a safety factor, lifting. the throttle mid-way through a corner makes the front tuck in after a pause-like a frontwheel drive car in slow motion-by amounts depending on the speed and radius of the corner when indelicate opposite lock prevents the car from going sideways and tyre-scrub soon slows it down.
Firm suspension, which tends to twitch the car off course on roughish roads, emphasizes the need to concentrate quite hard to hold the right line when driving quickly. At lower speeds it just goes where it is aimed.
The old trouble of poor ground clearance is still there; you have to pick a careful path along rough tracks, and the right speed over hump-back bridges to avoid scraping the exhaust pipes. Even backing off a pavement ramp can make them touch the ground. _
Big brakes (11.25 in. discs at the front, drums rear) need Iots of push and a vacuum servo has now been standardized to take the he-man effort out of stopping. Most of the time the brakes felt powerful and reassuring but a front wheel locked before the best recorded stop of .92g. The same locking brake, probably accounted for the mild veering after being soaked by heavy rain, and twitching even in the dry when stopping from high speeds: we felt this was a peculiarity of our test car and not typical of the model. The hand brake would almost certainly have held on a 1 in 3 hill if another notch had been found by adjustment. It coped easily with 1 in 4.
Comfort and control
LIKE most good sports cars, the Healey has firm springing (independent coil and wishbone at the front and a leaf-sprung rear axle) that only feels unduly harsh over rough roads: sports car drivers will not complain. Two absurd failings mar the seats and driving position: the poor rearward adjustment which, despite a telescopic steering column, prevents drivers of any size from getting very, far from the wheel if they want to and the upright squab that compels a right-angled, elbows-out posture that most people did not like much although they soon got accustomed to it. A few extra shillings spent on longer runners and an adjustable squab angle would make far more people fit in greater comfort.
The combination of negligible body roll and good side support keeps you firmly in place when cornering hard: anyone in the back is so firmly wedged that no side-support is needed. On long journeys, the rear seats-little more than an upholstered ledge-are strictly for small children (a good excuse to retain a sports car and a growing family) and they are just tolerable for adults on short hops. Alternatively, the rear seat can be folded forward to form a useful luggage platform, supplementing a boot which is already half filled with spare wheel.
The low seating and large transmission hump/console have made the short gear lever rather high and it must be worked with the elbow raised and cranked. You soon get used to the position. The pedals are fairly comfortable but not very well placed for heel and toeing: many saloons are much better.
An easily erected and well fitting hood, wind-up windows and a heater make the Healey quickly adaptable to all weathers. Heavy rain revealed a small leak in the sealing which dripped cold water onto the gear lever. Otherwise, the inside is attractive and snug, air seepage rather than draughts giving the modest output of the heter plenty to fight on a cold day, but there is certainly never any need for the overcoats and gauntlets that were once essential sports-car wear. For such a low car, visibility is quite good, only the rear quarters of the hood making any objectionable blind spots. A large rear-view mirror on top of the scuttle gives a good view through a big plastic window and the lights are powerful if not outstanding.
There is no audible flapping of the taut hood but the noise rises with revs and speed until normal conversation ceases at about 75 m.p.h. and shouting is useless above 100 m.p.h. The optional radio would only be audible during fairly gentle driving, when a loud carburetter intake hiss can be heard above the woflle of the exhaust. Sound damping on the bulkhead would help to reduce this and other mechanical noises.
Fittings and Furniture
ALTHOUGH the new facia layout with its polished wood, neat dials and symmetrical switch gear looks neat and tidy, most drivers preferred the less stylish but more practical layout of the Mk. n ear. The overdrive switch, for instance, which could formerly be flicked with a right-hand finger without lifting it from the wheel, is now grouped with four other toggle switches in the centre where it is easy to confuse with the wipers. On the other hand, it is now more logically placed near the gear lever. .
Smallish dials for the almost accurate speedometer and rev counter are neatly calibrated but not angled towards the driver, making the top of the scales invisible. Well-fitted carpet covers the floor and vinyl cloth the seats, sides and the new central console which houses a radio and a small container for oddments. Its padded lid forms an armrest which got in the way of gearchanging so much that it was left permanently open. Any other luggage can be thrown behind the seats or, if small enough, locked in the passenger's cubby hole on the facia. Unlike the boot, the doors (stiff but self supporting when open) cannot be locked, but the car can be immobilized by turning an electric master switch in the boot. There is no interior light; even worse, no headlamp flasher.
The B.M.C. safety belts are comfortable to wear and easy to adjust but only the anchorage points are standard fittings.
MAKE Auslln-Healey . TYPE 3000 Mk III . MAKERS Auslin Motor Co. ltd., longbrldge, Birmingham.
Cylinders. . .. 6
Bore and stroke.. 83,36 mm. X 89 mm.
Cubic capacity. .. 2,912 c.c.
Valves. . .. O.h.v.
Compression ratio 9,03 : 1
Carburetter(s) .. Twin S.U. HD8
Fuel pump.. S.U. electric
Oil filter. . .. Tecalemit or Purolator full flow
Max. power (gross) 1 SO b.h.p. at 5,250 r.p.m.
Max. torque (gross) 173 lb. ft. at 3,000 r.p.m.
Clutch. . .. Borg and Beck 9! in. single dry" plate
Top gear (s/m) .. 3,545 (overdrive, 2.91)
3rd gear (s/m) .. 4.629 (overdrive, 3,81)
2nd gear (s/m) .. 7.341
1 st gear. . .. 9,348
Reverse. . .. 12.021
Overdrive .. Laycock-de.Normanville electrically operated
Final drive .. Hypoid bevel
M.p.h. at 1,000 r.p.m. in:
Old. top gear.. 25.0
Top gear.. .. 20.5
Old. 3rd gear.. 19.1
BRAKES .. Girling hydraulic, disc front,
drum rear Dimensions I .. 11* in. front, 11 in. rear
Total friction area 112 sq. in. of lining working on
383 sq. in. rubbed area of discs and drums
SUSPENSION AND STEERING Front. . :. Independent coil and wishbone
and an anti-roll bar.
Live rear axle located by Pan hard
rod and semi-elliptic leaf springs Shock absorbers.. Lever Armstrong
Steering gear.. Cam and peg, ratio 15 to 1.
Tyres .. .. Dunlop Road Speed 5.90-15
COACHWORK AND EQUIPMENT
Starting handle.. Yes
Jack . . .. Screw thread
Jacking points. .' 4: beneath springs
Battery. . .. Offside in boot
Number of electrical
fuses' .. .. 2
Indicators .. Flashers, self cancelling
Screen wipers.. Lucas electric DR3/A
Screen washers.. Push button Tudor
Sun visors.. .. None
With ignition key Starter, boot and facia glove box Interior heater.. Smith fresh air (optional)
Extras. . .. Heater, overdrive, wire spoke
wheels, tonneau cover, leather seats, luggage carrier, whitewall tyres, etc.
Upholstery.. Ambia vinyl Floor covering.. Fitted carpet Alternative body
types. . .. None
other eighties road tests:
(1898-1988)Donald Healey, a smart-suited bon viveur, designed the rally winning Austin Healey in his attic at home. The Healey Austin alliance spawned one of the most successful and charismatic British sports cars of the Fifties and Sixties. After designing the Jensen-Healey, he went into retirement and died in the late Eighties.