Wednesday 13th February 1946
Donald Healey Motor Company Limited was formally incorporated. The business was founded by Donald Healey, a successful car designer and rally driver. Healey discussed sports car design with Achille Sampietro, a chassis specialist for high performance cars and Ben Bowden, a body engineer, when all three worked at Humber during World War II.
Healey’s new enterprise focused on producing expensive, high-quality, high-performance cars. It was based in an old aircraft components factory off Miller Road in Warwick. There he was joined by Roger Menadue from Armstrong Whitworth to run the experimental workshop. In later years they also had a now-demolished showroom (formerly a cinema) on Emscote Road, Warwick, commemorated by a new block of flats called Healey Court. The cars mainly used a tuned version of the proven Riley twin-cam 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine in a light steel box-section chassis of their own design using independent front suspension by coil springs and alloy trailing arms with Girling dampers. The rear suspension used a Riley live axle with coil springs again. Advanced design allowed soft springing to be combined with excellent road holding. Lockheed hydraulic brakes were used.
When it was introduced in 1948, the Elliott saloon was claimed to be the fastest production closed car in the world, timed at 104.7 mph over a mile. The aerodynamic body design was the work of Benjamin Bowden and unusually for the time it was tested in a wind tunnel to refine its efficiency. This was the start of aerodynamic styling for reduced drag, that culminated in Bowden’s last UK offering, the Zethrin Rennsport. In 1949 the most sporting of all the Healeys, the Silverstone, was announced. It had a shorter chassis and stiffer springing and was capable of 107 mph. It is now a highly sought after car and many of the other Healeys have been converted into Silverstone replicas. These cars had numerous competition successes including class wins in the 1947 and 1948 Alpine rallies and the 1949 Mille Miglia.
Government planning and controls required any substantial expansion of production to be for the export market alone. So in 1950 Healey built the Nash-Healey using a Nash Ambassador engine with SU carburettors and Nash gearbox. Initially the 3848 cc unit was used but when in 1952 body construction was transferred from Healey to Pininfarina the larger 4138 cc engine was fitted.
The final Healey car of this era was the G-Type using an Alvis TB21 engine and gearbox. This was more luxurious and heavier than the Riley engined models and performance suffered.
Healey judged a cheaper sports car marketable in large numbers was needed to save the business, one that would fit between the MG and Jaguar cars then selling so well in USA. Working in with his eldest son Geoffrey in the attic of the family home, Healey designed a two-seat roadster employing numerous low-cost Austin components, the Austin-Healey 100. Austin chief Sir Leonard Lord was so impressed when he saw it on the Healey stand at the 1952 Earls Court Motor Show he offered to make it in his own factories under the name Austin-Healey.
The result was a 1953 a joint venture which created the British Motor Corporation to manufacture the Austin-Healey marque. The 100 evolved into the highly regarded and collector coveted 3-litre Austin-Healey 3000, followed by a diminutive 950cc Austin-Healey Sprite, known affectionately as the “frog-eye”or”Bugeye”.
Commenting on the 3000 after Donald Healey’s death The Times observed: “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.”
Donald Healey Motor Company was finally sold to the Hamblin Group, although Healey Automobile Consultants and the engineering parts of the company remained in the hands of Geoffrey and Donald Healey.