We sample a 1961 Austin-Healey 3000 originally delivered to Texas but now enjoying active retirement in the UK
Words and images: Jack Grover With thanks to: Sherwood Restorations
The ‘Big Healey’ reached maturity with the 3000 in 1959. Apart from the reshaped grille, there was little to differentiate it from the outgoing 100/6. Its name spoke of the enlarged 2.9-litre engine, with a useful 20 extra horsepower but no startling improvement in performance. In the other department, front disc brakes were now fitted which was probably the feature most appreciated by buyers.
Otherwise the design of the car was little changed since the original Healey 100, and that’s exactly how its band of enthusiasts wanted it. The 3000 not only picked up on the 100/6’s racing success, but built on it with an impressive track record on both sides of the Atlantic. The tough build of the cars made them especially potent in rallying.
The vast majority of British sports cars were exported, and a vast majority of those went to America. So it’s not surprising to regularly come across repatriated examples. This ‘Big Healey’ is one such case, having originally been sent to Forth Worth, Texas in 1961. It came back to the UK in the 2000s, had a spell in storage and then was fully restored in 2004, which included a conversion to right-hand drive.
It has been very well maintained since, so the light blue metallic over Old English White paint (a classic combo on an Austin-Healey) is still in excellent condition. This Healey is of the more common 2+2 body style, and when we drove it was fitted with a factory-supplied hard top (restored to the same standard as the rest of it), although the original hood is also with the car. The chrome on the bumpers and grille is flawless, and the wire wheels are smart, straight and free of scratches or rust.
I would say that the interior of this Healey is its stand-out feature, which is unusual for a sports car. Early 3000s have a much more glamorous cockpit than the black vinyl-clad and walnut-panelled later marks. Here there’s a sweeping, almost Art Deco, dashboard clad in dark blue (the same colour and material as the door cards) set with black-on-silver instruments. The seats are blue leather, the carpet is dark blue and it’s all set off beautifully by the chrome bezels, switches and handles. While the whole car speaks to the quality of its restoration, few miles since and good care, the interior especially has the look and feel of something only just out of the trim shop.
The BMC C-Series is a big lump and it fairly fills the engine bay. It is the correct pale green Austin Healey engine colour, with the correct red fan and shroud and there’s no peeling, heat damage or oil stains to be seen. The manifolds and carburettors are a clean, even and fresh-looking bare metal, but not polished to an unrealistic sheen. The paint on the bulkhead and wings is as good as the finish on the topsides, and the wiring loom was clearly replaced during the restoration.
The pedals are close together and massively off-set to the outboard side, while the gear lever is (with the export market in mind) off-set to the nearside of the transmission tunnel. So the ergonomics are somewhat lacking, but that doesn’t matter since few classic cars are as exciting to drive as a Big Healey, and the addition of a hard top does not really change that. The big straight-six has a lovely bellow as it thunders along – the C-Series was never a free- or fast-revving unit but it runs smoothly, pulls well and can deliver a thrilling amount of pace which the gearchange can easily keep up with.
The ride is firm and jiggly, so when pressing on this is not a car you can relax with. But it tracks nicely down the road, responding to heaves on the big wood-rimmed steering wheel. Despite its short, stiff springing and body-on-chassis construction the whole car feels very solid and durable, especially the interior. When not run hard, the big engine makes for relaxed cruising, especially with the overdrive engaged. With the hard top on the Austin-Healey makes a decent tourer, so long as you stick to roads with half-decent road surfaces.
Austin-Healey 3000: our verdict
The early 3000 is somewhere in the middle of Big Healey values – the very early 100s and the very late 3000s lead the way, with the 100/6 being the real bargain of the field. Arguably the Mk1 3000 splits the difference, with a style and character very much like the 100/6 but with the added performance and mechanical refinements of the 3000. If that sounds like a good combination to you then this car would absolutely fit the bill and would need no time or money spent on it upon purchase.