When England looked to exports to help pay off the national debt after WW2, Donald Healey was one of the first to recognise the importance of the massive potential of the North American market.
The story of how the Healey 100 was designed specifically with the US market in mind and how it became the Austin-Healey 100 overnight at the 1952 Earls Court Motor Show is well known, and was covered in detail in Issue 2 of this magazine.
Part of the agreement with Leonard Lord was that Austin would take on the management of the construction of the new sports car, while paying the Donald Healey Motor Company (DHMC) royalties for each car.
Donald Healey was also provided with a substantial budget to promote the marque on the international racing stage and record breaking. Cars were entered into such diverse events in Europe as the Mille Miglia and Le Mans by DHMC, while the BMC Competitions Department had a lot of rally success with various Austin-Healey models.
To be successful in the US market, though, Donald Healey knew that he had to prove the cars locally. To this end he instituted a series of record-breaking runs on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, and circuit racing across the country.
Surely the home of the most popular and well-known motor racing circuit in America was Sebring, Florida, which held its first race in 1950, and where the annual 12-hour event has been held since 1952.
The circuit uses service roads and parts of the old concrete runways of the WW2 Hendricks Army Air Force training base for B-17 bombers.
The circuit is still notoriously bumpy, especially where the old concrete meets newer asphalt, and in its early days was poorly marked out, making it difficult at times to even find the correct course.
Originally 5.2 miles (8.4km) in length, it was a difficult circuit to master, partly because of its flatness, without camber on the corners, and partly due to the rough and changing surfaces and wide variety of corners, from fast sweepers to hairpins.
In the early days it was a classic case of what wins on Sunday, sells on Monday. And Donald Healey was correct about the importance of the North American market. Over 90% of all Austin-Healeys built were sold there new.
A glance at the history of this classic event shows that cars designed by the Donald Healey Motor Company competed in every Sebring 12 Hours from 1954 through to 1968.
In 1954, DHMC entered four 100 models at Sebring, with a tremendous first-time result for one of the cars, finishing third overall and first in class.
The following year there was a veritable swarm of Austin-Healeys, including seven of the 100S model, which commemorated the previous year’s class win. Best result was for the sole official DHMC entry, driven by Stirling Moss and Lance Macklin, in sixth place overall.
DHMC entered two lightened and highly-tuned 100S models at Sebring in 1956, but both cars retired with disintegrating exhaust systems.
Late 1956 saw the introduction of the new Austin-Healey 100/6 and the following March DHMC, via importer Hambro Ltd, entered three special streamlined versions in the US race, but without success.
The following year a further three, without the streamlined bodies, were entered, while for 1959 no Big Healeys were entered, as the DHMC focused on the Sprite entry.
Four British Racing Green 3000s were entered, officially by BMC but still run by DHMC, for 1960, while DHMC’s attention again turned to Sprites for the following two years.
For 1963, DHMC prepared three 3000s and a Sprite for the event. The following two years brought single entries of separate 3000s, with the 1965 entry, driven by Australian Paul Hawkins and English driver Warwick Banks, being the last for the 3000.
The DHMC entered Sprites at Sebring through to 1968 with private entries for the following two years.
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The BMC Experience Issue 16. Jan-Mar 2016 Magazine
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