A very hot Healey

The energies of the majority of speed-shop proprietors are directed towards extracting high bhp figures from small displacement engines, with the idea of turning Britain’s small saloons into “Q” cars capable of vanquishing their larger brothers. Just occasionally a tuner will attempt to extract even more horsepower from an engine, which is already extremely powerful in standard form, such a man is Ken Rudd, well known for his activities with the AC Ace, who in more recent times has turned his attention to tuning the Austin Healey 3000 at his garage in Worthing High Street.

The power unit of the latest Healey is the six-cylinder BMC “C” series engine, which in its Healey form delivered from the factory gives 124 bhp (net). This provides the 3000 with a top speed of around 112 mph and pretty exciting acceleration to match, bearing in mind the humble parentage of the engine. But when Ken Rudd has finished with the car it is transformed into a really fast machine with a top speed approaching 125 mph and quite staggering acceleration.

Only three major engine modifications are made, the whole lot costing a modest £86 (well, modest, to anyone who can afford £1,168 for the car in standard form). For a start, the cylinder head is machined to give a compression ratio of 9.7 : I. the ports and combustion chambers are machined and polished, and the valve seats are modified. All this costs £25 complete with new gaskets. A high-lift camshaft can be obtained for £25 and for a further £36 one can have a triple carburetter manifold and a third SU carburetter complete with linkages, which helps the Austin engine to breathe very deeply indeed.

It is, however, no secret that the ride and cornering characteristics of the big Healey are not the best in the world, and with this engine conversion it is virtually essential to incorporate the suspension modifications offered by Ken Rudd, which include stiffer dampers and springs for the front and rear suspension at a cost of £37. A brake servo is also recommended at £19 10s. 

We were recently able to borrow a demonstration car from Ken Rudd for an extended test to see for ourselves just how good the performance was. Our first impression on taking over the car in London traffic was that we were in for a tough time, as the needle of the water-temperature gauge was already on 190 deg F and the cockpit was pretty hot. However, trickling out of the City in the rush hour we found that this was a very docile monster which would burble along in top gear at 20 mph if necessary with the temperature needle never going above 190 deg F. Despite liberal use of asbestos around the bulkhead and cooling slots in the body sides the interior became rather hot and the Smiths heater will probably never be called into use.

Out on the open road (or what’s left of it) the Healey began to show its true character. The acceleration was quite prodigious, allowing queues of “mimsers” to be passed in a flash and an indicated 100 mph to be seen on quite short stretches of straight road. The gearbox has rather a slow change which if hurried produces audible protest from the gears. The lever has been slightly lengthened and combined with a general loosening up after 8,000 miles the gearbox on the test car was somewhat more pleasant to use than those on new cars we have tried. The accelerator has also been modified so that the inch or so of free play which becomes so annoying on the standard product is not now apparent.

Quite high average speeds can be made on cross-country journeys merely by using the impressive acceleration and top speed. On a journey to Silverstone the speedometer needle went off the clock along the new Missenden By-Pass, and since the figures finish at 120 mph this can be considered as quite impressive ! It must be mentioned that the brakes are quite capable of coping with this speed, the combination of front discs and rear drums bringing the car to rest with no sign of fade or grab. The hood should also be praised as there was no sign of flap at speeds which would have torn the hoods from many other cars.

The ride offered by this modified Healey is very firm and on bad roads the occupants are thrown about a good deal, but corners can be taken at surprisingly high speeds in spite of a good deal of pitching. Michelin “X” tyres of 6.40-15 in size are fitted, which no doubt help to accentuate the firm ride, but on the other hand they offer excellent grip in the corners, especially when the driver imprudently depresses the accelerator pedal a little too far and the car tries to fling itself off the road. On full lock the tyres tend to foul the bodywork. When taking performance figures the red line of the rev-counter, set at 5,200 rpm was not passed but even so the following impressive figures were taken : 0-30 mph 2.9 sec; 0-50 mph 6 sec; 0.60 mph 9.6 sec; 0-80 mph 14.9 sec; and 0-100 mph 21.8 sec; and, in fact, a best-one-way 0-100 mph on a slight down gradient came out at 20.6 sec. No attempt was made to check maximum speed as the stretch of road the tests were carried out on was a little too short for comfort, but Ken Rudd claims 130 mph, and a true 125 mph certainly looks to be quite feasible. Thus it can be seen that the Ruddspeed conversion enables the Healey to compete with other much more powerful but heavier cars such as the XK150, and only some very exotic and expensive machines have markedly superior acceleration figures. Petrol consumption varied between 16 and 19 mpg according to conditions.

In its modified form the Austin Healey 3000 shows little refinement compared with say a Porsche or Jaguar, and it is undeniably a “titan’s car” as defined by vintage-car enthusiasts. The steering is fairly heavy, the suspension is definitely stiff, the exhaust note is on the throaty side–although not of the type to attract the attention of the law if used properly, and the gearbox needs a strong left arm, but on the basis of excitement per mph per £1 this car is undoubtedly tops.—MLT.