On the date celebrating the 238 anniversary of our country I had the chance to celebrate another anniversary, the 55th anniversary of the Austin-Healey 3000. Built in England from 1959 until 1967 the 3000 was one of the “big” Healey’s (the 3000, along with the 100/6, was called a big Healey to separate it from the later and much smaller Austin-Healey Sprite).
Austin-Healey as we know it began with the Donald Healey Motor Corporation in 1945. Donald Healey, already established as a successful rally car driver and chief engineer at Triumph (he was responsible for the 1934 Triumph Dolomite), started the company in in an old aircraft components factory off Miller Road in Warwick, England.
The first car produced by the Healey Motor Corporation was the Healey Westland Roadster (approximately 64 were manufactured). It was in 1952 that the Healey Corporation joined with the British Motor Corporation to create the Austin-Healey nameplate. When Donald Healey died in 1994 The Times commented: “The big Healey’s brutally firm ride, heavy steering and engine so close it would roast a driver’s feet never detracted from the superb, timeless styling and classic proportions.” I can attest to the brutal ride; the styling speaks for itself.
The Mark III was manufactured from October of 1963 until 1967 when the production of all new Austin-Healey’s came to a close.
For 1964 the Austin-Healey 3000 MK III chassis was updated from the 1963 version to give the rear axle more vertical space. The leaf spring package was updated to six leafs. The disc brakes were modified and the turn-signals at the front were enlarged. Although the BJ8 is a bit heavier than it’s predecessors it still managed to get faster. The 120hp 6-cylinder engine was capable of going 0-60 mph in less than 10 seconds with a top speed of nearly 120 mph.
Driving the Healey
I haven’t had any exposure to British sports cars of the ’60s (or 70’s or 80’s for that matter) other than viewing them in a new car show room, the closest I’ve come to driving one is a MINI Cooper S, which, at least compared to the 3000, isn’t really the same thing.
It is thanks to Sara Gates, owner of a 1964 Austin-Healey 3000 BJ8, that I finally did get the opportunity to drive a piece of automotive history. As I got in the 3000 the first thing I noticed was how low to the ground the Healey is – it is not an easy car to get in and out of. The second thing that caught my attention is the seat is fixed in position, you adjust to it, not it to you. Looking for a height adjustment or a lumbar support? You won’t find them in the 3000, what you will find is driving excitement in a classic design.
The ’64 Austin-Healey 3000 features overdrive, but I never had occasion to use it, you can take the car up to sixty and stay in third, fourth gear is barely necessary and I don’t know when you would use the overdrive.
The Healey’s not designed to be a muscle car, it’s designed for drivers who appreciate strong acceleration and great handling. While the handling was what I expected, the acceleration was better. It seemed to get up to 60mph in no time and it didn’t require pushing the engine at all. The tach goes up to 6000 RPM but I rarely broke 3000 … I can’ t imagine how fast the car would go if really pushed.
As mentioned earlier the ride is brutally firm, yet still enjoyable. You really feel connected to the road when you are driving a 3000 (not too surprisingly really since you are only about 4-inches above it). The roasting of the feet was less than pleasurable but as Sara told me later, it could likely be reduced with some additional insulation. It really didn’t seem that much worse than the roasting my tootsies took in my ’74 Super Beetle.
Like any car of the sixties safety features are virtually nonexistent. A lap belt and that’s it. My guess is the designers felt if they could survive WWII they could survive anything, including a steering wheel that seems expressly designed to impale you in an accident and a windshield that is at best a cruel joke (it certainly doesn’t block much wind and the fact is, if you are over 5’10” your head may well stick out above it).
Running through the gears in the 3000 is a joy. The gearshift is tight but once you get used to it shifting is easy. The throws are a little long by today’s standards but still all gears are easy to find. My biggest problem was downshifting from 2nd to 1st but I quickly learned that I didn’t need to. The 6-cylinder engine has plenty of torque so in most instances I just stayed in second. Really, the only time first gear is necessary is starting from a stop.
Power steering and power brakes were luxury items in the sixties that the 3000 had no need for. With that in mind the steering took more effort than I am used to, but it really didn’t take long to for me to adjust. The brakes, like the steering is something you quickly adjust to (or die I suppose).
So that was my day with the Austin-Healey 3000. I suppose I’ve had better days, but not too many.
One last thing. Sara is married and her car isn’t for sale.
Much of the information presented in this article was gleaned from the following websites: