You know how the saying goes? “Wish I had a dollar for every time I heard that.”
The scene was the 1952 London Motor Show with a number of new cars on display including the Morris Minor SII, Bentley Continental R-Type and the Standard-Triumph TR sports car. Arriving late on press day, after nearly missing out on the pre-show festivities, the Donald Healey Motor Company sneaked its new sports car, the Healey 100 into the hall. It was faced towards a pillar, away from view, as Donald Healey didn’t think the grille looked right. Along came the boss of the newly formed British Motor Corporation, Leonard Lord, who said something like, “By Jove, what a lovely looking sports car and look! It has an Austin engine and gearbox. What a surprise! Mr. Healey let’s go to dinner and discuss making a deal. We’ll build the ‘100’ in our factories, and sell it across the world through our sales organization.”
Well not quite, as Lord while being BMC El Supremo, had come from Austin and that’s where his heart lay. He was well aware of plans afoot, with MG preparing a replacement for the square rigged T series, the car that eventually became the MGA. Plus Lord had been trying to make good the sales disaster of the Austin A90 Atlantic, which resulted in a surplus of 2.6 liter four-cylinder engines and gearboxes. So he let be known, through the close knit British automotive manufacturing industry, that he was interested in one of the smaller companies designing a new sports car using Austin mechanicals to compete against the MG.
Three different companies took up the project namely Frazer Nash, Jensen Motors and the Donald Healey Motor Company. Each built cars, but of the three, the Healey 100 came the closest to Lord’s brief, by using all A90 mechanical components. It is also true that it had been on Donald Healey’s mind that there was a gap in the sports car market between the Jaguar XK and the T Series MG.
Prior to the Motor Show, while Donald Healey had met with Lord about the car, discussions had not led to the result Healey wanted. At the Motor Show, Donald Healey and his staff had trouble keeping people away from the stand and within a short period of time Healey had received two offers of co-operation to manufacturer the new 100. Healey never let on who the others were. The car’s wonderful reception brought on Lord’s announcement that Austin was to build this new graceful sportscar and it would be available from Austin dealers throughout the world. What is true was that Lord did see the car at the Motor Show and, yes, he and Healey did have dinner and overnight the Healey 100 became the Austin-Healey 100.
While the first 20 were made by the Donald Healey Motor Company in Warwick, production got into full swing in June 1953. Jensen Motors ended up with the contract to produce the car which was delivered complete with trim to Austin’s Longbridge plant for the installation of the mechanicals.
Between the London Motor Show and the start of production over 3,000 orders had been received for new Austin-Healey 100s and it wasn’t until 1954 when all orders were satisfied. Then it was a further 12 months, before you could walk into a showroom and expect to drive away in a new car.