Born to Drive

Ian Clayton likes to drive his BJ8 and over the past ten years or so has regularly used it for his commute across Sydney, before his recent retirement, as well as on many club runs with his wife Carol.

“I enjoy driving the car.” Ian said. “So would take it to work a couple of times a week. It was over an hour to get there and of course back home in the afternoon. Then on the weekends whenever a situation would come up like going to the local shops I would take the car, but I would not go anywhere that I would need to park it in the shopping centre carpark. Plus there are runs with the club, including the Brass Monkey Run that takes place mid-winter to the coldest places imaginable. Most people would think you were mad to leave home at 6am mid-winter and then drive for two or so hours with the top down to someplace even colder for breakfast. Along with 150 or so other cars it’s a wonderfully eccentric thing to do.”

“A few years back I drove across to Perth for the Austin-Healey National Rally. I went with my son Troy, and Carol flew across. Driving across in the Austin-Healey was just fabulous and despite being on the road for close to seven days we had a great time. I did wonder what it would have been like to turn right at Perth and come home the long way.”

“One of the big things I appreciate about the Austin-Healey is its simplicity and reliability so much so is that I think it’s just brilliant. About the most technical part in the car is the overdrive and even that is just a set of whirring gears inside a casing. Mechanically it’s a basic car but, as the saying goes, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I have found the Austin-Healey to be just as reliable as our modern Toyota.”

BJ7 v BJ8

If you attend any gathering of Austin-Healeys you will be bound to see that the number of later cars far exceeds the earlier cars, and there are probably more 3000 Mk3s or BJ8s than any other single model on display.

Without doubt, the popularity of the BJ8 in Australia exceeds that of all other models, but available records show that only 11 were imported into this country when new. The vast majority have been privately imported in more recent years, and most of those from North America.

So, what makes them different and more attractive to the majority of buyers?

In the last issue of BMCE we looked closely at a 3000 MkII BJ7, noting with the introduction of that model the Austin-Healey was slowly catching up with the rest of the sports car world: with a proper convertible hood and wind-up windows among its refinements.

For years Austin-Healey buyers put up with leaky soft-tops, wind-prone side curtains, gear levers that entered the cockpit from the side of the gearbox tunnel and exhaust pipes that crashed on the smallest of pebbles.

As early as 1961, Geoff Healey of the Donald Healey Motor Company had suggested to BMC a raft of improvements that included a major alteration to the chassis profile, along with updates to the body and fittings.

At the time, BMC lacked the commitment to take these on board for one reason or another – usually financial. Some exterior changes were made with the introduction of the BJ7 in the middle of 1962, but it was to be a further two years before some major changes were implemented.

Of course the biggest market for the Austin-Healey was North America, so it made good sense for BMC to be conversant with how US vehicle manufacturers released their new models. So, in October 1963, in line with the US 1964 model year releases, BMC announced the new Austin-Healey 3000 MkIII that carried the chassis code BJ8.

Unlike with the release of the BJ7 there was no overlapping production, with the first BJ8 carrying the next chassis number from the last BJ7.

Externally, the differences between the two models were indistinguishable. You would have needed a sharp eye to notice the badge above the grille was changed from 3000 Mk11 to 3000 Mk111 or you may have noticed that exhaust pipes exited from the opposite side to the earlier model.

However, there were significant interior changes as well as under the bonnet. Gone was the traditional Austin-Healey scalloped metal dash, which was replaced by a timber dash that incorporated the instruments directly in front of the driver, centre switches and a lockable glovebox. The BJ8 is the only big Austin-Healey that was fitted with a glovebox, and had a key-operated starter in place of a push-button.

 To read the rest of this story, grab a copy of the printed magazine from your local newsagent (in Australia), a digital copy from Pocketmags.com, or subscribe today here.


The BMC Experience Issue 19. Oct-Dec 2016 Magazine

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