The Austin-Healey 100-6
A Car Worthy of Distinction

[bn4]

Several years ago I was browsing through the classified ads in the local newspaper, when I happened to come upon an Austin-Healey for sale. The ad read "1958 Austin-Healey restoration for sale", and also included the asking price and telephone number of the person selling the car. After reading the ad description, my mind started to wander. I could easily visualize myself sitting in the bucket seat of that awsome vintage sportscar, but at the same time, I knew I already had enough British car projects in the works, and I wasn't quite sure how I could justify another one. Needless to say, my vision was very short lived. But still, beyond rational reasoning of anyone who doesn't understand the the excitement of owning and driving a classic British sportscar, I took the newspaper to work with me and laid it on the "will get to it later" part of my desk.....just in case.....

During the week to follow, I had thought about pitching the newspaper in the waste can, but couldn't bring myself to do it. A week had gone by, and I was sitting at my desk at lunch time with nothing to do. I peered over at the newspaper, and my curiosity finally got the best of me. I started thinking about that Austin-Healey again, and how much fun I could have driving it. Without much ado, I reached over to the corner of my desk, and picked up the newspaper, grabbed the telephone, and called the number in the ad before I could change my mind again. A woman with a very kind voice answered the telephone, and after a few moments of questions and answers, I could tell this was a classic case of an aborted restoration project. The woman described the car with aluminum shrouds, with two small rear seats, and I knew in an instant that this was a big Healey she was speaking of. I've always been very fond of this model of British car, and that dream of sitting behind the steering wheel started to become even more of a reality. I didn't know a great deal about the various big Healey sportscar models at the time, other than I felt they were a beautifully styled sports car that had always caught my eye while browsing through my favorite British car magazines, or while visiting British car events throughout the summer.

I decided to take a drive and have a look at the car and all of its assorted, loose parts. After all, I thought to myself, I've always enjoyed the challenge of putting these cars back together and giving them a chance to prove their worthiness again. Therefore, this might be right up my alley. Upon my initial inspection of this project in the works, I found the chassis placed on top of cement blocks, coated with a fairly old layer of dusty primer, as if waiting for quite some time to be painted and assembled. Over in the corner was a freshly rebuilt engine bolted to an engine stand. Hanging on the walls were the wings, doors, deck lid, bonnet, wind screen, and shrouds, appearing as if they had been hanging there since the day they were removed from the car. In another corner were a pile of tattered cardboard boxes of loose parts waiting for someone to decide whether they needed to be replaced or refurbished. Everything appeared to be in good order, and just begging for someone to come along to take good care of them. Well, that person was here to save the day! Within a week the car was parked in my garage....with all of its parts. Needless to say, my wife was very accommodating. My sales pitch had worked, and as it turned out, she also had a soft spot in her heart for Austin-Healey's after spending so much time looking at them with me at the various British car events we've attended over the years.

[needs_a_home] After checking the identification numbers, I found the car to be a 1957 Austin-Healey 100-6 BN4, built at Longbridge during September of 1957. The car was titled as a 1958 model because that was the year it had initially been sold when it was new. It was quite common to place the year of the initial sale on a new car's title whether it was built during that year or not. The car was a 100-6, but displayed a 3000 badge on the grille, and had a crease down the center of the bonnet. As I found out later, the crease was added to the early six cylinder cars for a very limited period of time to help strengthen the redesigned bonnet, but was later removed because they determined that it was not needed. As far as the 3000 grille badge goes, someone either replaced the grille with one belonging to a later car due to damage, or had accidentally placed the wrong badge on the grille without knowing it was incorrect. But that was irrelevent, because whether the car was a 100-6 or 3000 was very insignificant to me. I was very happy to be the new owner of this car and all of its loose parts, and I couldn't wait for the day I'd be running it through the gears, just like when it was brand new.

A fresh paint job with brightly polished chrome, the smell of a new leather interior, and the unmistakable deep burbling sound of an Austin-Healey six cylinder engine. A wonderful classic British roadster with a strong engine, robust mechanicals, and great handling and performance for its day. It has a beautiful, simple, distinctive design that causes heads to turn from every direction without fail, and very strong support from suppliers, clubs, and fellow enthusiasts. All the things that make up a fantastic classic car! I could go on and on, but I won't.....

It wasn't long before I was sending for my British Motor Industry Heritage Trust (BMIHT) build certificate, and was looking for any information about this model. I started ordering some of the recommended books, and decided which clubs to join. I wanted to learn as much about this car as I possibly could. After all, if I were going to finish restoring this car, I wanted to do it correctly. One of the first books I received was an Austin-Healey buyers guide. I found this to be a handy little guide that provided a little bit of information about each model of car, and gave a rating that tells the prospective buyer what kind of investment the car would make, if that was their intent. I first started flipping through the pages to take a look at the various models, and I curiously looked at the investment ratings while doing so. To my surprise, the author rated the 100-6 poorly, but the rest of the big Healey's were rated fairly well. This didn't make any sense to me, and it gave me a strong desire to learn more about this so called black sheep of a car.

After reading more on the subject in other books published about Austin-Healey's, I quickly learned that the 100-6 had taken a bum rap over the years. You see, it was a turnkey car that had been provided a capable new six cylinder engine (previously used in other Austin produced vehicles) to replace the earlier four cylinder engine due to potential supply problems (later found to be untrue). The six cylinder engine apparently had not been thoroughly evaluated for its new set of wheels, and as a result, the car did not perform any better than the 100-4, which was the car it had replaced. As always, the automotive journalists of that time had a field day writing about this shortcoming, and this led the engineers to come up with a quick and successful modification to enhance the performance of the engine. The change came in the form of a redesigned, freer breathing six-inlet-port head design, which became more commonly known as the 6-Port head. The old design is known as the integral or two-port head, and was perfectly fine for its other purposes, but not necessarily so for a sporting car. The 100-6 was now being sold with the new head design, boosting the horsepower from 101 to 117, which provided a noticeable performance improvement. The new 6-Port head was also being sold as a factory option for owners of the early cars who could bolt the new arrangement right into place of the old head. For promotional purposes, some were now labeling the updated 100-6 with the name "Mille Miglia" after the famous Italian auto race in Brescia.

The lack of front disc brakes (which was soon becoming a standard item among sports cars), and the very short lived problem with engine performance compared to the four cylinder engine, were the talk of the day. Even though the integral head had been quickly replaced with the more efficient 6-Port design, the damage caused by the initial bad press had already been done. After roughly two and a half years of production, the Austin-Healey 100-6 was rebadged as the 3000. Along with its new name, it was given some additional improvements such as front disc brakes, and a slight increase of engine displacement made possible by a new block casting enabling a larger cylinder bore dimension by 3.94 millimeters. This increased displacement improved performance even further to 124 horsepower. With the new badges in place, the Austin-Healey 3000 was now the model to own.

Today, over forty-five years later, the bad press of its early, initial existance is still haunting the 100-6 for no good reason. The old books are being read by new enthusiasts, which helps them decide on which models to buy. Some enthusiasts go for the early 100-4 because they like the original Jerry Coker design with the fold down windscreen, and others go for the later cars with the more modern conveniences like roll-up windows, and power assisted brakes, but I'm proud to own the car that proved its worth, even though it had to struggle with a few deficiencies. The 100-6 has the simplicity of the 100-4, yet shares some of the attributes of the later cars.

As current day owners are finding out, these few shortcomings are very easily corrected, and they really don't have any bearing on the styling and beauty of the automobile. In fact, some owners prefer to keep the integral head arrangement, because it is an original part of the car, and of much interest to many enthusiasts. These cars are still as much of a joy to drive, and will satisfy nearly any British car enthusiast who strives for an exciting, seat of your pants kind of car. Owners who are interested in increased performance are taking advantage of engine modifications that are easily carried out. Some of the more extensive changes can be made while the engine is out of the car for a rebuild, and others can be made while the engine is in the car. New brake materials are being produced that make a noticeable improvement in braking performance, and even disc brake conversions are being added along with brake servo's, utilizing the later disc brake type assemblies. The 100-6 is all part of the hairy chested big brute Healey saga, and it is exactly what a classic British roadster is supposed to be. A simple sports car with great performance, beautiful styling, and a fantastic history to back it all up. It may very well be the best value among the big Healey's.

[100-6]

The 100-6 After Restoration

Further reading on the subject unfolded a lot more information on the 100-6 that indeed places it among some of the most historical cars. The 100-6 made some very significant contributions to the long list of notable historic events that all the Healey cars made over the years. The 100-6 is the car that replaced the 100-4, took some low blows at the very beginning, but then came back gleaming from bumper to bumper, and proudly paved the way for the later 3000 models.

[Red_Line]

The 100-6 had some very proud moments in competition and performance history:

  • 1956 - 500 miles at the Bonneville Salt Flats, averaging 153.14 mph without a hitch.

  • 1957 - 26th overall at Sebring 12 hours. Long nosed Sebring cars; one had previously been prepped and raced at Nassau in 1956.

  • 1957 - Mille Miglia of Brico, 37th overall, 1st in its class.

  • 1958 - 14th overall, 3rd in class at Sebring 12 hours - Gil Geitner/Phil Stiles/Harold Kunz; This car had the MM designation with the new 6-Port head.

  • 1958 - Coupe des Alpes - Rally des Alpes - Bill Shepard/John Williamson; One of seven teams to achieve a penalty free run.

  • 1958 - Coupes des Dames - Alpine Rally - Pat Moss/Anne Wisdom; 10th overall, 1st ladies, 1st in unlimited GT class.

  • 1958 - Alpine Rally - Bill Shepard/John Williamson; 2nd in class, and 7th overall.

  • 1958 - Liege Rally - Pat Moss/Anne Wisdom; 4th overall, 1st ladies, 1st in unlimited GT class.

  • 1958 - Liege Rally - Gerry Burgess/Sam Croft-Pearson; 10th overall, 4th in class.

  • 1958 - Liege Rally - Nancy Mitchell/Anne Hall; 2nd in Ladies, 6th in class, and 15th overall.

  • The results of the '58 Liege Rally gave the BMC team the manufacturers team prize and club prize for the British team.

  • 1958 - Dr Dick Thompson SCCA National Class D championship.

  • 1958 - European Ladies Touring Championship presented to Pat Moss and Ann Wisdom. They also finished in 6th place for the European Touring Car Championship.

  • 1958 - CUAC long distance attempt at a banked track at Montlhery near Paris, France, the car ran for 10,000 continuous miles in a little over four days, averaging around 98 mph, stopped only because of limited track time due to other obligations. The records set were International Class D. Marcus Chambers was one of the drivers in this program, and later became head of BMC and Leyland competitions group. This car now belongs to Peter Riley who lives in England and races it on the vintage circuits. He is married to Ann Wisdom.

    The list goes on.....

    [100-6_RoadAmerica]

    The 100-6 is still winning races at some of today's vintage races. A recent photo of Phil Coombs driving the winning 100-6 MJG582 at Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin
  • Austin-Healey Club USA

    100-6 Restoration Project

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    2000-2002 Scott G. Helms for British Car Week & Austin-Healey Magazine