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Retro: Looking back at the 1959 Austin Healey 3000

By Michael Stahl, 13 Nov 2020 Features

1959 Austin Healey 3000

Rally-fit roadster with unlikely stage presence

It’s a remarkable story: the child of London dentist Alfred Moss becomes smitten with cars and goes on to be a world-beating driver. No, not Stirling – though he did all right – but his sister Pat, many of whose international rally successes were achieved in an apparently unlikely vehicle, the Austin-Healey 3000.

The ‘big Healey’, launched in 1959, was an evolution of the four-cylinder Austin-Healey 100/4 of 1952. Far from a purpose-designed competition car, the roadster was developed for export to the booming, post-war US market.

In 1951 British engineer, rally driver and car maker Donald Healey had created the Anglo-American hybrid Nash-Healey roadster for just this purpose. But it was pricey, costing even more than Jaguar’s XK120, and Healey set new sights on the niche between the Jag and MG’s antiquated T series.

1959 Austin Healey 3000

Clothing Austin mechanicals in a sexy, all-steel body, the Austin-Healey 100/4 was such a hit at the 1952 Earls Court show that Austin took on full production, under licence to Healey. The 20-year agreement would also later produce the Sprite.

The new Austin-Healey 100/4 was an immediate success, and in 1956 – in response to the Chevrolet Corvette and Ford Thunderbird – it gave way to the 100/6, with a 25mm longer wheelbase and a 2.6-litre, six-cylinder engine. In 1959, a capacity increase, further engine tuning and Girling front disc brakes produced the burly 3000. Stylish, powerful and fast, it was still unsophisticated, being built on a simple ladder chassis with coil/wishbone front and leaf-sprung rear suspension damped by 1930s-tech lever-arm units.

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Though famously hairy to drive near the limit, the 3000 was very popular as a club-level racer, and in 1960 an alloy-bodied GT version was homologated for races like the Sebring 12-Hour.

1959 Austin Healey 3000

Surprisingly, the low-slung roadster (and nominal 2+2 version) found its greatest success in rallying, with Pat Moss’s second on the 1959 German Rally and 1960 Alpine Rally and victory in the 1960 Liège-Rome-Liège being highlights among many class wins.

Power and comfort increases attended the 3000’s evolution through Mk1, 2 and 3 guises, though the car retained its 2337mm wheelbase. From 1962, midway through the Mk2 run, a subtly revised ‘convertible’ body created a more useable 2+2 cockpit, which would continue for the Mk3.

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When production ceased at the end of 1967, about 43,000 examples of the 3000 had been built, from a total of about 72,000 100-series cars. Reportedly, 90 percent were exported to the US.

1959 Austin Healey 3000 interior

Twinning ways

BMC’s C-series in-line six featured a cast-iron block and head, with pushrod ohv. Bored to 2913cc, the twin-carb 3000 Mk1 made 92kW; the Mk2 98kW, before Mk3’s bigger, twin SUs, dual exhausts and hot cam brought 112kW at 4750rpm and 224Nm at 3000rpm. A Mk3 did 0-100km/h in 10sec and a top of 190km/h via a four-speed manual with overdrive.

Cushy convertible

The 3000 Mk1 (pictured) and Mk2 came as a BN7 two-seater and BT7 2+2. They were superseded by a redesigned 2+2 (BJ7) ‘convertible’, with wrap-around windscreen, wind-up windows and vertical-slat grille. Cockpits grew cushier, with final Mk3 (BJ8) boasting wood veneer dash and leather trim. Weight was contained to 1180kg.

1959 Austin Healey 3000 engine

The 1959 Austin Healey 3000 by the numbers

  • 190km/h top speed
  • 1931: Donald Healey wins the Monte Carlo Rally in an Invicta
  • 17,712: total Mk3 (BJ8) produced, most popular 3000 variant
  • 1971: Austin-Healey marque retired by BMC after 20-year agreement expires

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