Sunday 3rd July 1898
Born on this day, Donald Mitchell Healey, noted English rally driver, automobile engineer, speed record holder and founder of the Donald Healey Motor Company Ltd, which produced Austin-Healey sports cars.
After college, Healey joined Sopwith Aviation as an apprentice in 1914, and two years later, at the age of 18, volunteered to fly airplanes for the Royal Flying Corps during World War I. After the war and two plane crashes later, Healey opened an automotive garage. Between the World Wars, Healey made a name for himself internationally as a rally driver, winning the famed Monte Carlo Rally. During the ‘30s, Healey joined the Triumph Company and soon became its chief engineer and technical director. Donald Healey had a bigger dream, and immediately following World War II, he established the Donald Healey Motor Company. Its first product was the Healey Westland, a sports car received quite favorably by the motoring public and press.In 1948, Donald and his son Geoffrey began touring America to promote the Healey automobile. Healey discovered that America was virtually devoid of sports cars, with Detroit preoccupied with pumping out post-war sedans in incredible volumes. Aboard the Queen Elizabeth in 1949, Healey was on his way to Detroit to visit General Motors in the hope that he could purchase Cadillac V-8 engines for his sports cars. While crossing the Atlantic, he chanced to meet a fellow passenger, George Mason, head of Nash Kelvinator. Mason predicted that General Motors would not sell engines to Healey because of the great demand for cars in America at the time. Mason offered to arrange transportation for Healey to the GM headquarters, on one condition. If a deal with GM fell through, he would discuss doing a project with Nash. In mid-1950, the Nash-Healey was born, arguably America’s first true post-war sports car. Following the Nash project, Donald and Geoffrey Healey, with Barry Bilbie and Gerry Coker, began work on what would become their crowning achievement, the Healey 100.With the American market clearly in mind, Donald Healey wanted to build a lightweight, affordable sports car that would achieve 100 miles per hour. When the car debuted at the 1952 London Motor Show it caused a sensation, resulting in 3,000 orders taken at the show alone. The night of the opening day, Healey met with the head of Austin Motor Company, Leonard Lord. That night they made a deal. Lord purchased the rights to the Healey 100, and a 20-year contract with Donald Healey. In return, thousands of Healey 100s could be built each year, as opposed to the 200 cars per year that Donald Healy had been able to build. And by the re-opening of the show the next morning, the car had been re-badged an Austin-Healey 100. Other cars followed, such as the notable Austin-Healey Bug-Eye Sprite and, later, the Jensen-Healey. But it was the Austin-Healey 100 for which Donald Healey will be forever remembered.