The Austin Healey 100 was the first sports car to be built by the Austin Healey combine. It was a quintessential post-war British sports car and had all the nimbleness and speed that had come to define these cars. It combined the cottage industry sportscar making skills of Donald Healey and was initially developed to be produced in-house. However, Leonard Lord, the Managing Director of Austin, saw potential in this design and deciding to support in building it in larger quantities. Jensen Motors were brought on board by Austin to supply the bodies.
On the face of it, this project looked like any one of the numerous sports cars being built in England at the time. The War had left the countryside littered with small airfields and these were now an ideal breeding ground for light, small sportscars. But the 100 stood out by way of its appearance in the 1953 24 Hours of Le Mans. The two entries finished 12th and 14th overall, a commendable result given the competition. This showed the makers that the car had greater potential than first anticipated. To commemorate this win, a special ‘Le Mans’ package started to be offered as a bolt-on option.
The stock Austin Healey 100 was powered by a 2.6-litre four-cylinder motor producing 90 hp. The Gerry Crocker designed body was mounted on a chassis with longitudinal members and cross bracing, designed by Barry Bilbie. The front suspension was an independent, double wishbone job using coil springs, the rear had a rigid axle with semi elliptic leaf springs. Power was sent to the rear wheels via a 3-speed manual. The 100 got its name from its 100 mph (160 kmph) maximum speed that it could achieve. To this, the Le mans package added engine modifications like a high-lift camshaft, along with larger carburettors, higher-compression pistons, a free-flow intake manifold, a special distributor and a cold air box. This bumped up power to 110 hp created a decidedly swifter car.
The Le Mans kit was a big success for Austin Healey, so when the revised BN2 (the earlier version available from ’53 was called BN1) launched in 1955, the company decided to offer the kit factory fitted under the 100M designation. The aforementioned mechanical changes were provided along with additions including larger anti-roll bars and a louvered bonnet held together by a Le Mans-specification leather strap. These were over the other improvements standard to the BN2, like a new 4-speed manual, reworked suspension and a two-tone paint option. Top speed increased to 110 mph (177 kmph).
The Austin Healey 100M was quite rare, with only 640 units being built in this spec when production ended in 1956. This makes the car shown here quite special, given that British sports cars from this era didn’t have the highest reputation for longevity. It has been recently restored and is up for auction at RM Sotheby’s Arizona 2018 sale. While not in the same league at its compatriot at the auction, the D-Type, the 100M was a great tool for the growing culture of motorsport in the country. Also, it almost certainly had role to play in making the small British sportscar a defining part of the car world right up until the 70s.