Touring Healey

From the first Austin-Healey 100 built in 1952 right through to the very last 3000 that rolled down the BMC Abingdon production line in March 1968, each had something that many other cars of the period just didn’t have. The ability to tour quickly on the open road.

Back in 1952 the Austin-Healey suspension of front coils, wishbones, lever arm shocks and anti-roll bar, along with semi-elliptics, lever arm shocks and Panhard rod keeping the rear in check, was state of art for a road-going car.

However, as happens with any vehicle in production for some period of time, the rest of the world eventually does catch up. This was circumvented slightly in May 1964, with the deletion of the rear Panhard rod in favour of radius arms, and chassis alterations which improved rear ground clearance and handling.

Without doubt, the other factor that enhanced the touring capabilities of the Austin-Healey was the electrically operated Laycock de Normanville overdrive. These were fitted as standard to the four-cylinder cars, as were wire wheels, but both were optional extras on and from the introduction of the 100/6 in May 1956. It was very rare that an Austin-Healey was ordered without the two options, although they do exist.

The chassis change in 1964 not only improved handling, but also assisted in one other area that may have been fine in the early ’50s, but left a lot to be desired for the new sports car buyer of the ’60s. That was the area of ground clearance; as there was another thing that pre-’64 Austin-Healeys did very well besides touring, and that was to drag their bums when the slightest undulation was encountered. It was, and still is, quite common for pre-’64 Austin-Healeys to have flattened tailpipes, especially if you drive them the way they should be – with enthusiasm!

Touring amongst the members of the Australian Austin-Healey clubs has been popular right from the formation of the first club in the late 1960s. Members can choose from the annual National Rally that rotates through each mainland state, plus there is at least one Tasmanian trip per year where members from the north-eastern states have been known to turn left at Melbourne on their way home to take the long route. Of course individual clubs organise long and short touring events for their members.

Long time enthusiast

One such active member of the Austin-Healey Owners Club of NSW is John Sherman, who along with wife Judy just love touring in their 1967 Austin-Healey 3000, which as you will see has been subtly modified to make for a very pleasant form of transport.

Austin-Healeys are not just a recent additions to John’s life as, apart from a stint in National Service, he has never not owned an Austin-Healey; for his whole driving life.

John’s first was a Sprite Mk2a and in late 1972 he bought a 100. He joined the AHOC and soon after took his then girlfriend Judy to a rally in Coffs Harbour. The weather was terrible, convincing John that roadster Austin-Healeys weren’t for him and soon after bought a convertible.

“When I had the Sprite, a mate had a Triumph TR3”, John told us. “He sold that and came home with an Austin-Healey 100. I had not seen one before and I decided there and then that I had to have one. That opportunity came after National Service. I just loved the shape as to me it looked like it’s doing 100 MPH, even when standing still. It still does!”

“Looking back I would say that I spent more time working on that 100, than I spent enjoying it. My father was wonderful as he lent me the garage space to rebuild what was necessary.”

So John started looking for an Austin-Healey with a convertible roof. The first produced was the 3000 Mk2 BJ7 and was introduced in 1962. In addition to the convertible roof, the model was also the first to be fitted with wind-up windows.

“I looked at a 3000 convertible which at that time was about the same price as a new Holden. Thankfully my father came to the party and lent me the money. That was in November 1974 and I still have the 3000. It was restored about eight years back and quite happily shares the garage with what I call the Sebring Tourer, that you see here.”

A matter of choice

Like many owners I was interested in John’s views as to what Austin-Healey model was the best to have.

“To jump into and go round the block it’s definitely the 100, as they are light and nimble. Sadly, I sold mine some years back”, John responded. “However, because Judy’s and my interest, especially with the AHOC, is touring all over Australia, the convertible car is far more suitable. The most memorable trip in the BJ7 was two and a half weeks to Perth and return with our daughter Kate in the back seat.”

It seemed that John had the model Austin-Healey just perfect for his wants, so why did he go that one step further with his 3000 Sebring Tourer?

“I’ve always wanted an historic car.” John answered. “There is a car in our club that won its class at Sebring in 1965 with Australian Paul Hawkins at the wheel and I thought that the Sebring 3000 was the classic historic Austin-Healey model to have. In 1992 I bought a very late 1967 3000 Mk3 BJ8 and already had a convertible hardtop. Right from then I knew it was going to finish up in the style of the ’65 Sebring 3000.”

“Judy was horrified when I bought the car, especially as I actually paid money for it. It came in from North America and so typical of so many cars imported during that period; not only was it just a bunch of bits, but was incomplete as well. I knew that during the restoration I would be buying lots of parts, but all the main things were there – chassis, body, gearbox, engine and diff.”

“I really valued the convertible hardtop, as only 250 were ever made when the cars were new. With the original convertible hardtops, it’s not something to take on and off all the time, as the hood has to be removed completely. Right from the beginning I knew that the BJ8 would be fitted with that hardtop. In a way I was lucky, as I set out to have a car that was like an historic car, I could do whatever I wanted without destroying its historic fabric.”

A question of originality

“There was a time when I was a fanatic as far as originality was concerned.” John said. “However I think my love of touring changed my viewpoint about what I really wanted and I knew that I could put together a car that had some modern attributes like improved headlights, alternator, air conditioning to look after Judy, and lots of other things. It took over twenty years to complete the car with the help of good friend of mine Eric Rudd, who used to be the proprietor of Butler and Rudd in the Sydney suburb of Brookvale. Basically we did all the suspension, brakes, engine and the rest of the mechanicals. My thought was and remains that you really don’t have to start spending serious money until you commence on the panels, paint and trim.”

“So after eighteen years I ended up with a rolling chassis with brakes and the like fitted. Then Judy retired and I suddenly realised that I was no longer 21 and a lot closer to retirement than I thought. So I made the decision to send the car away to The Healey Factory and get it finished very quickly. I had originally bought the car through them, but before I brought it home had them repair and paint the chassis.”

While the list of things done to John’s car was substantial, all were done to improve its ability to tour in the maximum comfort possible.

If you would like to read the rest of this story, grab a copy of the magazine from your local newsagent (in Australia) or subscribe on-line today.

The BMC Experience Issue 7. Oct-Nov 2013 Magazine


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