A cocktail of ample power and elegant simplicity
No car epitomises the idealised vision of British classic motoring better than an Austin-Healey. It is a vision of string-backed driving gloves for him, a headscarf for her and a jaunty blast along the lanes to a country pub.
But as ever with 1960s cars, the looks were considerably more glamorous than the mechanical parts underpinning them and performance was modest.
The best-known version was the Austin-Healey 3000, which bridged the gap to faster and more exotic machinery like the Jaguar E-type. It was an evolution of the six-cylinder version of the earlier Austin-Healey 100 and part of a lineage commonly referred to as the ‘Big Healeys’, thanks to their macho image and traditional driving manners.
For all its popularity, there has always been a degree of snootiness directed at the 3000: the ’50s origins, body on frame construction and prosaic nature of its running gear were considered crude even in its day.
Its toughness and simplicity made it a successful rally car though and the styling strikes a fine balance between beauty and butchness, qualities that have seen values rise significantly in recent years.
Of the 3000s, the MkIII (or BJ8) is favoured by many for its increased power, more luxurious equipment levels and grown-up grand tourer vibe. They are also the most numerous. The MkI – distinguished by its horizontal grille slats – and the MkII started out as roadsters in the traditional mould and were coded BN7 for two-seat versions and BT7 for 2+2s. A curved windscreen, quarterlights and wind-up windows only arrived in 1962 on the BJ7 MkIIa before becoming the default spec for the MkIII.
Mechanically the 3.0-litre Austin straight-six and associated running gear are tough and reliable, befitting their roots. Like any car of its era rust is always a worry, so condition is always an important consideration. But these are fundamentally tough, dependable cars with charisma and character of their own. For living that idealised ’60s dream at a slightly faster pace, a Big Healey remains a compelling choice and a safe place to put your money.
Price new: £1107 (MkIII) Price now: £40-50,000 (MkI/II); £60-70,000 (MkIII) Rivals: Triumph TR3; TVR Grantura; Sunbeam Tiger Heritage: Fit for road & stage
SPEAKING TO JEREMY WELCH
Owner of Denis Welch Motor Sport, the UK’s leading Austin-Healey specialist
In terms of value they’ve gone through the roof and are regularly north of £70,000-£75,000 for the more desirable two-seater models. Our business specialises in parts and upgrades for road and competition – replacing the iron head with an aluminium one is a worthwhile upgrade. Cams and carburettors are effective ways of tuning the cars, too. And while they’re not homologated for competition, aluminium radiators and electric fans are good for road cars that get a lot of use. At the end of the day it’s pretty old-school technology and they were designed to be tough.