• Believed to have raced in the 1955 Bahamas Speed Week
• Very rare factory-fitted Le Mans kit and four-speed gearbox
• FIVA-accredited for competition in events such as the Mille Miglia
• Close to concours condition
It was an unplanned encounter between Donald Healey and Leonard Lord which gave rise to the celebrated Austin-Healey marque in 1953. Healey had cut his teeth as a car designer with Triumph in the 1930s and, post-war, turned to building his own cars. They were desirable and sporting but costly, and so only a small handful were made. Lord was the notoriously difficult Chairman of Austin, a man who was not easy to like but who understood the British motor industry perhaps better than anyone else.
Healey wanted to build a more affordable car capable of 100mph, and constructed a single Healey Hundred around Austin A90 Atlantic mechanicals, which he displayed at the 1952 Earl’s Court Motor Show. Meanwhile, Lord was seeking a replacement for the A90, which had been a commercial failure. The combination of Healey’s engineering know-how and the financial might of Austin was the formula for an internationally successful sports-car, and the Austin-Healey 100, named for its 100 mph top speed, entered production in 1953.
In its first year, Austin-Healey entered two lightly tuned 100s in the Le Mans 24-Hour Race, where they placed 12th and 14th overall, a remarkable achievement for an all-new marque. Austin-Healey’s reputation as a maker of sports-cars to rival the very best was established, and the answer to sports-car enthusiasts’ prayers was granted when the factory began offering a Le Mans tuning kit for fitment by owners and dealers.
The BN1 was superseded by the BN2 in 1955. Besides certain engine upgrades, the most significant improvement was the four-speed gearbox, replacing the three-speed unit of the earlier cars, but some 670 BN2s were built at the factory to Le Mans specification and designated the 100M. However, a small number of late-production BN1s were also sent from Longbridge to the Donald Healey Motor Co. to be upgraded, and then returned to Longbridge for despatch to dealerships.
The bolt-on kit consisted of an 8.1 to one compression ratio, two 13/4” SU H6 carburettors, with an aluminium inlet manifold and carburettor cold air box, high-lift camshaft, stronger valve springs, a distributor with an alternative ignition advance curve and a louvred bonnet. With the kit fitted, the BN1’s power was increased from 90 to 100 bhp.
This Austin-Healey 100, chassis no. BN1 223802, is a particularly interesting example. As a very late BN1, it sports a Le Mans tuning kit and a BN2 four-speed gearbox, both of which are understood to have been factory-fitted when new, making it, in effect, a kind of prototype 100M. Although the Le Mans kits were mainly sold to owners of BN1s to be retro-fitted, BN1 223802 features a bend in the shroud bracket to clear the cool air box, which is a hallmark of factory fitment, among other details.
Since well over half the Austin-Healeys of the mid-1950s were being exported to America, where they were especially popular with SCCA racers, 223802 is also noteworthy for being an original right-hand drive model. Having left the Longbridge factory on 8th February, 1955, painted Ice Blue and Old English White, it was intended for export to Australia.
However, it ended up somewhere quite different. From Longbridge, there is speculation that it was assigned to the Donald Healey Motor Co. in Warwick and subsequently shipped to the Bahamas to participate in the 1955 Speed Week. The car’s history becomes clearer from 1957, when it was discovered in the Bahamas, painted dark green and primrose yellow, by an Englishman, Dr. Pryor, who was on holiday there. It had apparently been abandoned near Nassau, and after making enquiries he was able to purchase it, leading to it being repatriated to Britain, via Trinidad, in 1958. At this point, it received its registration URK 397.
Dr. Pryor was told that it had been raced in the Bahamas and was hit from behind, leading to its abandonment. It is also understood that it was more economical for the Donald Healey Motor Co. to leave its cars behind anyway, since they would have been subjected to purchase tax on being imported into Britain, which in 1955 stood at 60 per cent of the sales price. Sir Sydney and Lady Greta Oakes, who part-organised the Bahamas Speed Weeks, were friends with Donald Healey and themselves motored around the island in Austin-Healeys. It has also been claimed, albeit without firm proof, that 223802 may have raced at Sebring.
Unfortunately, Dr. Pryor suffered a serious accident in the car after a few years of driving it, and it was taken off the road, to be sold to a Mr. Alan Davis in 1971. Between 1980 and 1985, the present owner oversaw its restoration by Victor Smith in its original colours. The car changed hands a few times between 1985 and 2018, when the present owner reacquired it. It has been cared for over the past three years by Kent classic-car specialists Rose’s Garage and Bushell’s Vehicle Restorations.
The car comes with a wealth of paperwork, including past MoT certificates, registration documents, photographs of its restoration in the early 1980s and invoices stretching back 40 years. The car also comes with some useful period literature in the form of manuals and so on. Furthermore, it has approval from F.I.V.A. to participate in the Mille Miglia.
The Austin-Healey’s interior is superbly presented, with the seats, door cards and carpets all in excellent condition, with very little evidence of wear. The instrument cluster is neat, functional and clean and the whole package is set off nicely by the handsome wood-rimmed Moto-Lita steering wheel.
For the most part, the car’s interior is something of a time capsule, although the seats are equipped with modern safety harnesses, which should help provide peace of mind should one choose to drive the car in competition.
As the photographs show, the car’s external finish leaves virtually nothing to be desired. The paintwork still looks recent and the metallic sparkle of the Ice Blue paint really brings the car to life on a sunny day. The same might be said of the brightwork, while the dark blue hood is clean and free from any blemishes as far as we could see. Tasteful grey wire wheels, also in superb condition, set the car off nicely with their Blockley tyres, and the spotlights are a useful period touring accessory.
Apart from some minor marks on the windscreen frame, a small scratch over the nearside front wheel-arch and a minute paint chip on the nearside door, there is very little to fault with this car and it is not at all far from being concours-standard.
To the best of our knowledge, the mechanics are every bit as good as the clean, handsomely-presented engine would suggest. Having been serviced in recent years by Bushell’s Vehicle Restorations, it has evidently been maintained to a high standard so should be a delight to drive. It has recently been fitted with a new Le Mans aluminium cylinder head and an aluminium petrol tank.
Close inspection of the car’s Le Mans kit reveals numerous indicators that it was, in fact, fitted by the Donald Healey Motor Co. in Warwick, for example: hand-written numbers on the carburettors; stamped distributor number; original brass Le Mans Modification Kit plaque; shroud bracket bent to clear the cool air box.
Along with Jaguars, MGs and Triumphs of the period, the Austin-Healey represents the British sports-car at its very best. Rakish lines and a brawny 2.7-litre four-cylinder engine made for a versatile and appealing car which was equally at home in the international sports-car racing scene as it was weaving through English country lanes.
Rarer by far than the later Austin-Healey 3000, the 100 is now perhaps the marque’s most desirable model, especially when equipped with the ultra rare factory fitted Le Mans performance upgrades. While any Le Mans-specification 100M is a worthwhile purchase (and especially so in Right Hand Drive due to 100M's being mainly built in Left Hand Drive for the American Racing Series), this is surely one of the best not just on account of its condition but also because of its proto-BN2 specification and fascinating, if slightly mysterious, early Bahamian provenance. Chassis 223802 looks to be the ideal car for touring or racing, and will surely bring a smile to your face no matter whether you’re driving it in earnest on the Mille Miglia or gazing at it from across a concours lawn.
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1955 Austin-Healey BN1 100M "Le Mans"
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