Driving the Austin-Healey 100-Six

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A British Sports Car of Good Appearance and Effortless High Performance

At the last Earls Court Motor Show the Austin-Healey was seen in new form, with an Austin A105 power unit replacing the earlier four-cylinder engine. If this change somewhat reduces performance and, with the demise of the tuned 100M and (export apart) the light-alloy disc-braked 100S versions, transports this famous make from sports to sporting category, it remains one of our notable fast cars.

Increased wheelbase makes possible the inclusion of two rather pointless children’s occasional seats behind the main bucket seats, the squabs of which fold forward to provide access to this offspring, occasional guest’s or extra-luggage space. In a car which weighs 21¾ cwt. the twin-carburetter A105 Austin engine, giving 102 b.h.p., provides ample performance, effortlessly delivered. This can be translated right away as well over 100 m.p.h. in top gear, with acceleration from rest to 50 m.p.h. in 8½ seconds, and the s.s.¼ -mile devoured in under 19 seconds.

Using the red-and-black model which has been acting as patrol car at Goodwood and Aintree, we formed the following impressions during a dry/wet journey to the Midlands, local “pottering” and a fast one-way run to Silverstone.

As soon as comparatively open roads are reached it is apparent how easily this six-cylinder Healey eats up the miles, although first acquaintance in heavy London traffic earned a black mark for jerky get-away due to lack of progression in throttle opening. The driver also takes a few miles in which to become accustomed to finding all three pedals offset to the off side in relation to the steering-column. This is on account of the big “swelling” over the gearbox, which also necessitates setting clutch and brake pedal close together and the accelerator far to the right. In fact, no particular inconvenience results and the clutch foot can be parked comfortably. The driver finds his seat rather low and hard but gripping him firmly; both front wings are visible to an occupant of average height but the central rear-view mirror, while very large and effective, tends to obstruct the near-side view.

The gear-lever protrudes from the left of the gearbox cover and is set at an angle, over towards the driver. It looks awkward but in use is found to be quite convenient, although the movements notably between first and second, are considerable. The lever itself is absolutely rigid and very rapid changes can be made, at the expense of a jar as the synchromesh is over-ridden. The action is rather stiff. The lever lifts to engage reverse, which is safely beyond first and second positions. The central pull-up hand-brake earns little praise; it nestles too close to seat and propeller-shaft tunnel to be gripped easily and on the car tested pulled up to waist level, which was inconvenient and clumsy. It has a normal release button; why do not B.M.C. adopt the excellent M.G. fly-off action?

The instrumentation is simple but reasonably effective. Before the driver is the panel carrying a combined oil-pressure and water-temperature gauge (oil pressure varies from 40-60 lb./sq. in. with engine speed; water temperature is normally 160 deg. F.), matching Smiths 120-m.p.h. speedometer and 6,000-r.p.m. rev.-counter, the former with trip and total distance indicators, and a fuel gauge. The speedometer and rev.-counter are calibrated with figures at widely-spaced intervals and are thus not of the “scientific” variety, while their needles swing somewhat although they do move in the same plane. The fuel gauge is far too vague to be of value, and its needle swings continually. A push-button for the starter, separate ignition key which also locks the boot, pull-out wiper and lamps buttons and a choke knob set well under the facia on the left virtually complete the controls, if one includes a convenient flick-switch for the overdrive, placed for the driver’s right hand. There is a screen-squirt’s button to the left, the Smiths heater controls occupy the centre of the facia, with a substantial grab-handle before the passenger. The self-cancelling direction-flashers have their control button on the steering-wheel boss and work well; a warning light blinks disconcertingly at the driver when they are in use. The horn button in the wheel centre sounds a very penetrating horn, ideal for a fast car. The steering-column is adjustable and there are brackets for fitting an aero-sereen before the driver, although the main screen no longer folds nor is normally detachable.

As this is a sports model too much luggage accommodation isn’t to be expected. The boot carries a clamped-down spare wheel, tool-roll, petrol filler tunnel, and Lucas battery under a plastic cover, so very little room remains. For small objects, however, there is a lipped shelf before the passenger and each door possesses a rigid deep well. With hood erect there is an unlipped shelf behind the occasional seats.

The doors are hinged at the rear, with well-placed interior handles at the front, and pull-out flush-fitting external handles. There is an ashtray and detachable padded rest between the front seats. Excellent rainproof Perspex sidescreens are provided, with sliding windows, these becoming, however, unpleasantly stiff to open in wet weather, due to the felt seals swelling. The hood provides reasonable protection in torrential rain but requires patience to erect, or to stow behind the squab of the occasional seats. There is reasonable visibility when it is erect, or there would have been had the screen not misted up. In the end the hood came completely adrift on the near side; after finger-pinching and skin removal we got sense out of it after a very wet twenty minutes. This wouldn’t matter to the young enthusiast but as the car is now a 2/4-seater something better should be provided — there is, of course, a hard top for £90 extra. The windscreen, commendably, is of Triplex laminated plate glass, and a good, traditional, divided tonneau-cover is provided.

The Austin-Healey 100-Six derives its performance from a conventional 2.6-litre push-rod o.h.v. six-cylinder engine with twin S.U. Type H4 carburetters, each with a Coopers’ pancake-type air-cleaner, and using A.J. needles. The lubrication system incorporates a full-flow oil filter and the sump holds 12 pints, the total oil capacity being 13¼ pints, The forged steel crankshaft runs in four steel-backed white metal bearings and the chain-driven camshaft also has four bearings. Cooling is by pump and a four-bladed fan, with thermostatic control, the water capacity being 20 pints, under pressure. Ignition is by Lucas HA12 coil and DM6A distributor from a 12-volt Lucas battery, with Champion NA8 long-reach plugs. A 9-in. Borg and Beck hydraulically-operated clutch takes the drive to a four-speed and reverse gearbox holding four pints of oil, or 5¼ pints if the optional electrically-controlled Laycock de Normanville overdrive, operating in third and top gears, is fitted. A Hardy Spicer propeller-shaft conveys the drive to a ¾ floating hypoid-bevel back axle holding three pints of oil. Steering is cam and peg with a ratio of 14 to 1, the body is integral with the crossbraced box-section frame, there is coil-spring-and-wishbone i.f.s. and underslung ½-elliptic leaf rear springs with Panhard rod, while the brakes are 11-in. 180 sq. in. Girling, 15 by 4J steel disc or wire wheels are used and the shock-absorbers are hydraulic lever type. A battery master-switch is standard equipment. Fuel is fed from a 12-gallon rear tank by an.S.U. Type HP electric pump. The engine has provision for lifting lugs for service engine replacernent, which must give vintage enthusiasts a bad pain!

The engine starts easily if given a little help with the choke and runs very smoothly, with a nice noise from the S.U.s as it is opened up. Even in the 4.1-to-1 top gear there is excellent pick-up and the engine will pull overdrive from low speeds. A drop to third produces enough acceleration for all normal purposes and a flick of the overdrive switch to normal third gear sees off most other cars! The gearbox is commendably silent in third, which can conveniently be used in traffic driving. The change out of overdrive is obtained by accelerating and it is thus possible to select normal drive but not engage it until it is required for rapid acceleration, which is an attractive feature.

The ride for a sports car is very comfortable, but the tyres protest under fast cornering. The steering, which asks three turns lock-to-lock (turning circle, 35 feet), is not particularly light, nor is it very precise, but there is no noticeable road-wheel reaction or “pidder” and slow cornering is facilitated by quick castor return-action. On rough roads, however, very vicious scuttle float and judder develop, which affects the steering-column and conveys appreciable vibration to the driver’s hands. On main roads this is not particularly evident but it is, nevertheless, something which no designer worth his salt would permit. Although it was recently stiffened, the bonnet top still skiffles a little.

In cornering the Austin-Healey is well balanced, with a bias towards understeer. The Dunlop “Road Speed” tyres hold well in the rain, although extreme acceleration or fast cornering on damp surfaces naturally promotes rear-end break-away. The brakes are adequate, given firm pressure on the pedal, and vice-free apart from some squeal when lightly used, but they fail to provide that reassuring “giant’s hand” retardation or the splendid power of disc brakes.

Cruising speed is really a matter of driving ability and traffic conditions, because 80 m.p.h. comes up as soon as you try and 90 m.p.h. is commonplace. The absolute maximum is about 106 m.p.h. but the easy time enjoyed by the machinery is perhaps more impressive. For example, 80 m.p.h. in top gear equals only 4,350 r.p.m., which a flick into overdrive reduces to 3,380 r.p.m. At 60 m.p.h. the engine is idling at 2,555 r.p.m. in overdrive top gear; 1,000 r.p.m. in top equals just over 18 m.p.h., increased to 23.18 m.p.h. in overdrive at this engine speed. The engine peaks at 4,600 r.p.m. and runs to and beyond the red mark on the rev.-counter which is at 5,000 r.p.m. — approximately, this equals just under 30, 47, 70 and 90 m.p.h. from first to overdrive third, and 100 m.p.h. in overdrive top is equivalent to 4,200 r.p.m. So it will be seen that the A105 engine is never very highly stressed; in a total of 370 miles it required neither oil nor water, nor does it “pink” or run-on. Fuel consumption came out at 21 m.p.g. on Esso Extra, driving reasonably hard, but not rally-fashion, with generous use of overdrive.

The filler is rather small and its cap is not secured. The self-parking Rainbow screen wipers were notably effective. There are screen demisting vents on the scuttle, and doors admitting hot air above driver’s and passenger’s knees. The good appearance of the Austin-Healey 100-Six, in two-tone finish with air-inlet in the bonnet top, can be appreciated from the accompanying pictures, and the neat recessing of the rear “flashers” and the way in which the rear lamps are set well forward of the bumper are good points, but the radiator grille seems to us rather ugly and the fender behind the front bumper to constitute unnecessary weight.

The lamps’ dipper is on the floor, close to the clutch pedal. The bonnet is opened by pulling a wire handle under the scuttle. The lid, held by twin side safety-catches, requires propping open, as does the boot lid. Under-bonnet accessibility, at least of the “uppers,” is reasonable and the wafer-thin dip-stick reasonably well placed. The body seemed free from rattles except for a very loud and irritating tapping as the near-side sidescreen fouled a bolt on the screen frame —  we discovered that a rubber grommet normally prevents this.

To sum up, the latest Austin-Healey 100-Six is an excellent sporting car, especially for the family motorist who requires occasionally accommodation for two children. It offers very considerable acceleration and speed, especially for its modest cost, from a quite effortless engine. The price is £762, or £1,144 7s. inclusive of p.t., this increasing to £1,283 17s. with extras as tested. — W. B.

The Austin-Healey 100-Six Series BN4 2/4-Seater

Engine: Six cylinders, 79.4 by 89 mm. (2,639 c.c.). Push-rod operated o.h. valves. 8.25-to-1 compression-ratio. 102 b.h.p. at 4,600 r.p.m.

Gear ratios: First, 12.6 to 1; second, 7,84 to 1; third, 5.47 to 1; overdrive third, 4.24 to 1; top, 4.1 to 1; overdrive top, 3.19 to 1.

Tyres: 5.90 by 15 Dunlop “Road Speed” on 15 by 4J centre-lock wire wheels.

Weight: 1 ton 1 cwt. 3 qtr. (without occupants but ready for the road, with approximately ½-gallon of petrol).

Steering ratio: Three turns, lock-to-lock.

Fuel capacity: 12 gallons. Range approximately 252 miles.

Wheelbase: 7 ft. 8 in.

Track: Front, 4 ft. 0¾ in.; rear, 4 ft. 2 in.

Dimensions: 13 ft. 1½ in. by 5 ft. 0½ in. by 4 ft. 1 in. (high-hood up).

Price (with extras as tested): £1,283 17s. (inclusive of p.t.).

Makers: The Austin Motor Company Ltd., Longbridge, Birmingham, England.

 

Miniatures News

Simca have put their Champs Elysees showroom at the disposal of the International Miniature Automobile Club, for the first International rally of miniature automobiles, due to open on December 1st. At this exhibition all manner of motor-car miniatures will be displayed and 100,000 young visitors are expected. British manufacturers are being invited to send a full range of their model cars. “All European kids are dreaming of British cars and are eager to see them,” say the organisers, whose address is Club International des Petites Voitures, 20 rue Therese, Paris.

A replica of the Le Mans-winning Ecurie Ecosse D-type Jaguar is expected on the market soon.

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