Donald Healey reportedly fretted endlessly before his first 100 model went on display at the 1952 Earls Court Motor Show, fearful that the public and the critics would give it the thumbs-down. He needn’t have worried. The “Big Healey” went on to 15 years of success in the showroom, on race tracks and over rally stages, and has continued to enjoy enormous popularity today among those taken by its performance and its looks.

The 3000, the subject of this buyer’s guide, was the final iteration of the design. Launched in 1959 as the successor to the six-cylinder 100-Six, which itself was the follow-up to the four-cylinder 100, the 3000 stayed in production until 1967, with various alterations and improvements made along the way. That means that today’s 3000 shopper has a variety of options, from the purity of the Mk I and Mk II roadsters with their sidecurtains to the comfort of the later Mk III convertibles with their roll-up windows and wood-veneer dashboards.

 

The 3000 was named for its 2,912-cc, cast-iron, OHV straight-six, a bored-out version of the engine that had powered the 100-Six. Known as the BMC C-Series, this engine had been designed for motivating BMC’s big sedans, like the Austin Westminster A99, the Wolseley 6/99 and the Vanden Plas Princess 3-Litre. With a 10 percent increase in displacement over the 100-Six and a bump in compression ratio to 9:1, this understressed, four-main-bearing six was rated at 124 hp and 167-lb.ft. of torque. As with its predecessor, induction was through a pair of SU HD6 carburetors.


All 3000s are powered by a robust and torquey 2,912-cc straight-six. These four-main-bearing engines have no glaring weak spots.

The other mechanical change of note was the inclusion of Girling front disc brakes, as befitted the car’s higher performance. The steering was by cam-and-peg, with a straightforward suspension that included coil springs in the front and seven-leaf springs in the back. The rear axle was a standard-issue BMC unit with hypoid bevel gears. Two gear ratios were offered: 3.545:1 for four-speed cars, and 3.909:1 for cars equipped with the optional Laycock de Normanville electric overdrive. As with the 100 and the 100-Six, the four-speed was worked through a side gearchange with an angled lever.

The 3000 Mk I was offered as a two-seater, given the series designation BN7, and a two-plus-two, the BT7. Both were built on the same 92-inch wheelbase. (In reality, the back seats of the two-plus-two were not much more than gestures to practicality. Motor magazine waspishly noted that the space “will accommodate two small children or one adult (sitting slightly sideways) without too much complaint on short trips during a rail strike.”) The cars were fully carpeted, and the bucket seats were upholstered in leather.

The car initially sold well, particularly in its target market of North America. But when sales began to flag, BMC sought to turn around its fortunes with the launch of the 3000 Mk II in 1961. Externally, the only real news was the replacement of the wavy horizontal bars of the Mk I’s grille with a row of fine vertical bars, and a revised hood intake. But it was behind that grille that the real change lay: a trio of SU HS4 carburetors, which took the horsepower rating up to 132. As before, the car was offered in BN7 roadster and BT7 two-plus-two form. A brake booster was offered as an extra-cost option, and in November 1961, the side gearchange was replaced by a change with a central lever.


The lines of the Mk I, shown here, were unchanged through the 3000’s production. The condition of the car’s body is paramount.

Body

Interior

As it turned out, the triple SUs were a blessing mainly to the factory, which wanted to homologate their use for competition. Tuning three carburetors was a finicky job, and complaints led BMC to replace the HS4s with a pair of SU HS6 carburetors in June 1962. This change lopped just one horsepower off the engine’s rating; In fact, when Autocar magazine tested the new model, designated the BJ7, they discovered that it was six seconds quicker to 100 MPH, and a second quicker in the standing quarter-mile, than its predecessor.


Engine

Gearbox

Beyond the change in carburetion, the BJ7 was in fact a significantly redesigned car, for the first time offering roll-up windows. This was a direct response to the 1961 introduction of Triumph’s handsome, Michelotti-styled TR4, seen as a direct competitor to the Healey. The convertible’s windshield was more curved, and was now complemented by a pair of vent windows with chromed frames. Chromed finishers added to the tops of the doors helped to square off the lines. The optional 48-spoke wire wheels were replaced with stronger, 60-spoke wheels. With the launch of the BJ7, the two-seater was dropped from the lineup.

Breathing new life into the increasingly dated design, BMC launched the Mk III, designated BJ8, in February 1964. Though identical to the BJ7 on the outside, the BJ8 boasted a completely redesigned interior, the centerpiece of which was a wood-veneer dashboard holding a set of modern, black-on-white gauges. The seat upholstery was now Ambla, though leather continued to be available as an option. The backrest of the rear seats could be folded flat to create a cargo platform, much like the Porsche 356.


Brakes and Suspension


The engine was tweaked with a revised camshaft and the provision of SU HD8 carburetors, and was now rated at a full 150 hp at 5,250 RPM and 173-lb.ft. of torque at 3,000 RPM. The brake booster became a standard feature. Wire wheels continued to be an option, but were fitted to all North American-market cars at this point.

Even at this late date, Austin-Healey was committed to improving the car. Longstanding complaints about the vulnerability of the low-slung exhaust led in May 1964 to the introduction of the so-called Phase II Mk III, with revised frame rails providing space for a revised rear suspension. Softer, six-leaf springs were fitted, and the Panhard rod that had located the rear axle was replaced by a pair of radius arms. These changes resulted in a visible lift to the rear of the car.

So, which is the right 3000 for you? Start by narrowing your choices. Do you prefer the two-seat roadster, the 2+2 roadster or the 2+2 convertible? The roadster is the most pure design, and most reflects Donald Healey’s vision for the car, while the convertible offers creature comforts and a top that’s easy to fold and erect.


The Mk II had a redesigned grille. The convertible, shown here, joined the range in 1962; designated the BJ7, it was the first Big Healey with roll-up windows.

The Mk III, aka the BJ8, has a posher interior with a wood-veneer dashboard.

If you’re after scarcity, the rarest of the bunch is the three-carburetor, two-seat Mk II BN7, with a scant 355 produced. Just remember that the laws of supply and demand apply; A fully restored BN7 sold for a breathtaking $203,500 at Gooding & Company’s Pebble Beach Auction in August, setting a record for the model.

George Baxter, an Austin-Healey concours judge and the owner/restorer of the 1960 Mk I BT7 shown on these pages, advises buyers to take their time and do their homework when shopping for a 3000. Buying a Big Healey that’s less than what it might appear to be can be an extremely costly experience, he notes. For that reason alone, it’s a good idea to contact one of the Healey clubs to find someone knowledgeable who’s willing to help evaluate a particular car.

If you’re serious about buying any Big Healey, we can’t recommend strongly enough that you get your hands on a copy of The Essential Buyer’s Guide: Austin-Healey Big Healeys. Written by marque expert Reid Trummel, this book goes into much greater depth than we have space for here.

 


An honest, well-maintained original car, or one that’s been correctly restored, can be a much better deal than a marginal car that might need extensive work. Keep in mind that, with values rising sharply, some questionable examples might have been dressed up for quick resale.

You’ll certainly want to drive the car you’re considering. Healeys have their faults; the seating position comes in for complaints, the clutch can be heavy, the trunk is on the small side and the cockpit can get plenty warm with the heat radiating off that big chunk of cast iron on the other side of the firewall.

But on a summer’s evening, with the straight-six on song and the long hood pointing the way to adventure, who cares about any of that? The car’s looks and performance, coupled with its proud racing history and its connection with the legendary Donald Healey, are more than enough to guarantee its continuing popularity.

“I think it’s the car that a lot of guys wanted to have,” George says. “They ended up with the MG, they ended up with the Triumph. But, truth be told, they coveted the Big Healey.”

Specifications
Engine: Inline-six, cast-iron block and head
Displacement: 2,912 cc
Horsepower: 124 @ 4,600 RPM – 150 @ 5,250 RPM
Torque: 158-lb.ft. @ 3,000 RPM – 173-lb.ft. @ 3,000 RPM
Fuel system: Two SU carburetors/Three SU carburetors
Transmission: Four-speed manual with optional overdrive
0-60 MPH: 12.9 seconds – 9.8 seconds
Top speed: 103 MPH – 125 MPH
Length: 157.5 inches
Width: 60.5 inches
Height: 50 inches
Wheelbase: 92 inches
Curb weight: 2,548 pounds

Production
Mark I BT7: 10,825
Mark I BN7: 2,825
Mark II BT7: 5,096
Mark II BN7: 355
Mark II BJ7: 6,113
Mark III BJ8: 17,712
Note: Mark III production includes 1,390 Phase I cars, and 16,322 Phase II cars.

Price Guide

Body
The body’s condition is, by far, the most crucial item on your checklist. First, sight down the sides of the car to check for proper panel alignment, and check the door gaps. Does the swage line on the doors and fenders line up? Any problems here might indicate body integrity issues, or poor repairs.

The body is of semi-monocoque construction, with panels welded to the frame rails, so repairs will be complex and costly. Look underneath to check the frame rails’ condition, and to see if they or their welded seams are anything less than perfectly straight. Also check the front crossmember for damage.

Check the flange at the bottom of the front aluminum shroud for filler, or damage. Examine the joints between the rear aluminum shroud and steel fenders for electrolytic corrosion.

The rocker panels are constructed of inner, outer and center components, and can rust badly. The doglegs behind the doors and lower front fenders behind the wheels will rust out from trapped dirt and moisture.

Interior
The Austin-Healey 3000 is a simple sports car, and that simplicity is reflected in the interior. Nearly everything you might need to refresh an interior is available. That makes everything from a small repair to a full retrim a relatively straightforward job. Just don’t underestimate the cost of new upholstery; new leather seat covers carry a four-figure price tag. The Mk III’s standard Ambla covers had “chrome” piping, a twisted chrome core with a plastic sheath; some reproductions of this material are better than others.

The Mk III has the added complication of a wood-veneer instrument panel, which can suffer from exposure to the elements. These can be refinished, or badly damaged panels can be replaced.

Engine
The cast-iron, pushrod, OHV straight-six is a pretty simple and under-stressed engine, designed to provide enough grunt to push big sedans around. As with any engine, watch for blue smoke and listen for rattles and knocks, both of which indicate wear, and watch that the oil pressure is at least 50 psi at speed. All is not lost if it’s time for a rebuild; every part you might need is readily available from a number of suppliers. Just remember to factor the cost into your budget.

Keep an eye on the temperature gauge, too, as a silted-up radiator and block can lead to overheating. If the car is used in city traffic on summer days, an aftermarket electric fan might be advisable. A higher-capacity core that fits in the original radiator’s space is available to improve cooling.

All manner of performance parts are available; Healey restorer and concours judge George Baxter advises that 200 hp is easily achievable with the right cam and a pair of HD8 carburetors.

A head modified for unleaded gasoline is a plus; ask to see receipts for any engine work done.

Gearbox
All 3000s used four-speed gear-boxes with unsynchronized first gears, with a hydraulically operated clutch. The Mk I’s gearbox was improved in March 1960, when a more robust gearcluster was fitted. In November 1961, the Mk II was given a gearbox with top rather than side selectors, allowing the switch to a vertical gear lever.

Behind the wheel, check the condition of the synchronizers; the second-gear synchro is often the first to go, but the third- and fourth-gear synchros have been known to fail, too, George says. As with any gearbox, excessive noise or a tendency to jump out of gear indicates that it’s time for a rebuild. All of the internal components are available, and rebuilds are not complicated.

If the car is equipped with a Laycock de Normanville overdrive, as most North American examples were, make sure that it works on third and fourth gears. An inoperative overdrive may simply need a switch or a solenoid replaced.

Brakes and Suspension
The suspension is simple, and generally trouble-free. Check for kingpin wear by jacking up the front of the car and looking for free play in the front wheels. The worm-and-peg steering boxes are stout, but a worn box can be rebuilt. Check the idler arm for worn joints, too.

These cars had a supple ride when new, and George cautions that new springs can make the ride more harsh. Urethane bushings tend to put more stress on suspension components, and contribute to a rougher ride.

If the car is equipped with wire wheels, as the great majority of cars in the U.S. are, remove the wheels and check for worn splines, which can pose a danger. Remember that 60-spoke wheels were introduced with the launch of the BJ7. Though bias-ply tires can be fitted for originality’s sake, radials can provide better handling, and give more miles, too.

The uncomplicated braking system needs only the usual checks. All of the parts, from master cylinders to new front rotors, are available to put the brakes back into good health.

Parts Prices
Battery hatch cover: $100
Brake disc: $35
Brake master cylinder: $76
Bumper overrider, front: $32
Muffler, mild steel, Mk I-II: $168
Patch panel, front fender: $175
Patch panel, lower door: $74
Piston and ring set: $380
Radiator: $850
Seat kit, front, vinyl, Mk III: $790
Seat kit, front, leather, Mk III: $1,195
Tachometer cable: $20
Timing chain: $14
Water pump: $100
Windshield, BJ7, BJ8: $470

Recent Ads*
1965 Austin-Healey 3000 MK III: Recently completed ground up restoration of original 1965 Austin-Healey BJ8. BRG with white coves. British Motor Heritage certificate, numbers matching, 67,000 miles. $59,000

1963 Austin-Healey 3000 MKII BJ7: This excellent little 3000 Healey drives and performs just as beautifully as it shows. Purchased out of Southern California with a previous life in a Japanese museum collection, it is a very solid, driver plus quality car riding on an older restoration. $46,500

1966 Austin-Healey 3000 MK III: Purchased and kept in California. Garage stored. After purchase in 2003, engine completely overhauled. Registered every year thereafter, insured, driven less than 500 miles a year. $42,500

1961 Austin-Healey 3000 MK1 BT7: Fresh Kurt Tanner Restorations car just completed. Olde English White/ Red trim/ Black top and tonneau cover. 4-speed. Heater. Chrome/stainless wire wheels. Fixed steering wheel. Very accurate to the BMIHT certificate, and finished in one of the prettiest and most traditional Austin-Healey color schemes. Runs and drives perfectly. No disappointments. $64,900

*Source: Hemmings Motor News

Viewpoint
So what is it like to own a Big Healey? During the driving season (I’m from the northeastern part of the U.S.), the Healey gives our family the opportunity to be transported to a simpler place and time and allows us to forget the daily stresses of our modern world. My wife and I often head north up along the Delaware River, and it is never long before we both have huge grins, ear to ear. It’s like taking a mini vacation, if only for half a day or so. The Big Healey does have a presence that many people respond to, which is quite evident when we’re out and about. It brings smiles and comments from many onlookers, and invites conversation. Oh, and to look down that long, beautiful bonnet and to hear that deep throaty growl emanating from the twin tipped exhaust–it is arguably one of the best notes in the car world. As I write this, my wife and I have just returned from a beautiful evening drive upriver, and as often happens, we met a great couple because of the Healey. The Healey was the catalyst of introduction. We ended up spending over an hour at their beautiful farmhouse, sharing not only car stories, but other passions and interests. As we headed south to our home in the crisp evening air, we were filled with this special warm feeling. What else can I say? -George Baxter

By David LaChance/Hemmings Sport & Exotic

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