Austin-Healey 100 Buying Guide

The quintessential British sports car, the original Healey 100 is desirable on so many levels. Here's how to find a good one

Austin-Healey 100 Buying Guide

How much to pay

• Project £9000-19,000 • Good £25,500-48,000 • Concours £50,000+ •

Practicality ★★★
Running costs ★★★
Spares ★★★★
DIY Friendly ★★★★
Investment ★★★★
Desirability ★★★★

When Donald Healey and designer Gerry Coker teamed up to create a two-seater sports car based on Austin Atlantic running gear, nobody could have guessed just how quickly things would take off. The car made its debut at the 1952 Earls Court motor show where Austin’s Leonard Lord saw it, realised the potential and agreed a deal there and then to build the car under licence.

Those early cars (dubbed 100/4) featured a four-cylinder engine borrowed from the Austin Atlantic, with the powerplant upgraded to a six-cylinder unit in the 100/6, offering smoother delivery and more muscle. That didn't mean extra performance however, due largely to increased weight.

These big Healeys are largely sought after today, thanks to the driving experience, excellent club and specialist support, and deservedly high profile. Ideal for racing, long-distance touring, historic rallying or presenting on the show scene, these roadsters are fabulously versatile and very collectible.

Your AutoClassics Austin-Healey 100 inspection Checklist

Engine

The large-displacement engines in these cars are derived from truck units, so they’re not even slightly stressed when cruising. You can expect to notch up 200,000 miles between rebuilds – just as well, because a full overhaul of either unit costs plenty, though everything is available to do the work.

The simplicity of both four- and six-cylinder engines means it’s easy to check for wear. A healthy engine will have 20-25psi of oil pressure at idle, rising to 45-50psi when cruising. The pressure will drop once the engine is worn and you can expect copious amounts of blue exhaust smoke, signifying that the piston rings and/or cylinder bores have worn.

DIY rebuilds are perfectly possible, but most owners opt to get their unit revived by one of the many specialists out there.

Gearbox

Gearboxes are durable, but there’s no synchromesh on first and ham-fisted owners can cause damage by forgetting to double-declutch. The earliest cars got a three-speed gearbox that was actually a four-speed Atlantic gearbox with first blanked off, as the torque of the engine allowed the vehicle to pull away without protest in second. Parts for these transmissions are now extremely scarce.

The BN2 that arrived in late 1955 was fitted with a four-speed Westminster gearbox that’s far stronger than the BN1’s transmission. While overdrive was standard on the 100/4, it was optional on the 100/6 and if this isn’t funtioning the problem will probably be electrical, so check the solenoid or the dash switch.

Leaky rear axles are common, with the oil prone to seeping onto the rear brake linings. Replacing the seal is quick and easy but if left, the differential will drain and then seize.

Suspension and brakes

The suspension isn’t inherently weak, but age takes its toll on any big Healey. Over time the front damper mountings loosen, the rear springs sag and the lever arm dampers can leak. If the car is sitting low the exhaust is likely to have been bashed about so check this too.

The cam and peg steering boxes are prone to leaks, but most owners don’t bother with a rebuild – they just keep topping up with oil. The steering will never have the precision of a rack-and-pinion system but if it’s vague the bushes and kingpins have probably worn – it can all be fixed, but regular lubrication helps reduce the kingpin wear rate.

The all-drum braking system has no servo assistance and is perfectly adequate if maintained. There are no inherent weaknesses so just check for wear.

Most of these cars have wire wheels so check for rusty, loose or broken spokes, feel or listen for worn splines and check for buckling too. While most sets of wire wheels are well made, some are not.

Bodywork

The Healey has a separate chassis which can give plenty of problems, as can the bodywork – damage from impacts and corrosion are both likely.

Just a small bump can knock the ladder-frame chassis out of line, so ensure the main rails are straight. If the car pulls to one side the chassis is distorted, while the main rails and outriggers can also rust badly. Mud gets trapped between the outriggers and bodyshell, so keeping things clean helps to stave off corrosion.

A rough car that’s never been touched is a better bet than one that’s already been badly restored, although untouched Healeys are few and far between. Look for rot in the floorpans, wings and wheelarches. The inner sills are tricky to repair and they’re structural.

The front and rear shrouds are made up of several alloy sections with lots of compound curves. The soft metal is easily damaged and repairs are difficult, but it’s easy to spot filler as everything is single-skinned. The front and rear wings could also be made of aluminium; steel was standard but alloy replacements have been available for years.

If the swage line from behind the front wheelarch to the rear wing is inconsistent where it meets or leaves the door, the car has been badly restored. See how well the doors open and shut if the car is jacked up at the back. If the door gaps close up the chassis is weak.

Interior

Interior trim kits are available but they tend to be costly and they don’t always fit as well as you’d hope. Therefore, don’t be blasé about a car with a tatty cabin. The problem remains that these cars tended to vary slightly from one example to the next, which is why a bespoke trim is the only guaranteed way of achieving perfection.

Rear bumpers corrode from exposure to the nearby exhaust, and windscreen frames are virtually extinct. Most exterior trim can be sourced but some of it is expensive, especially items such as grilles.

History

  • 1952: The Healey Hundred debuts at the London Motor Show, designed to sit between cheap sports cars such as the MG Midget and costly ones like the XK120.
  • 1953: The Healey 100 is ready to go on sale. Retrospectively known as the 100-4 or BN1, the car uses an Austin A90 2660cc four-cylinder engine mated to a three-speed (plus overdrive) manual gearbox; 10,688 are produced.
  • 1954: 55 examples of the 100S (for Sebring) are built, with alloy bodies and cylinder heads. Two coupés are also built on the BN1 chassis; both survive.
  • 1955: The BN2 supersedes the BN1, with a four-speed C-Series gearbox, stronger brakes and a swage line through to the tail. The 100M kit is introduced, which raises power to 100 or 110bhp, depending on camshaft. Around 1100 100Ms are produced, many modified retrospectively. From October 1955 the 100/4 gets larger brakes (still drums all round) and a four-speed gearbox; 3924 are built.
  • 1956: The 100/6 (BN4) is introduced, the first of the six-cylinder big Healeys. Behind the new oval grille is a 2639cc C-Series six-cylinder engine. the wheelbase is stretched by two inches and the windscreen is now fixed; it previously folded down.

AutoClassics says…

These big Healeys are hugely desirable as they’re effortless to drive, surprisingly nimble and look gorgeous. But there are a lot of ropey cars out there; bodged restorations are far from unusual.

Many buyers want something that’s basically original but with a few sympathetic upgrades, so making sure that the interior trim and gauges are correct can reap dividends.

The four-cylinder models are the sportscars while the six-cylinder models are the cruisers. However, the 100/6 falls between two stools being heavier than the 100/4 and less powerful than the 3000, so it tends to be overlooked. As a result the 100/6 can be a bit of a budget buy, not that there’s any such thing where big Healeys are concerned. All of these cars now fetch strong money and once you get behind the wheel you’ll soon see why.

Specifications

Austin-Healey 100/4
  Power 90bhp
  Top speed 103mph
  0-60mph 10.3sec
  Economy 25mpg

Austin-Healey 100/6 (1956-1957)
  Power 102bhp
  Top speed 103mph
  0-60mph 12.9sec
  Economy 26mpg

Austin-Healey 100/6 (1957-1959)
  Power 117bhp
  Top speed 111mph
  0-60mph 11.2sec
  Economy 26mpg

Picture courtesy of MagicCarPics

Looking to buy an Austin-Healey 100?

You'll find Austin-Healey 100s for sale with the AutoClassics classifieds.