Once you own a Healey something happens inside, and when you find yourself without one, you find that you want another one. This is what happened to me after selling my award winning 1959 Austin Healey Sprite a couple of years ago. I had owned my Sprite for over 30 years and found that as I got older, I was getting bigger and my car seemed to be getting smaller. I knew that I wanted another Healey and thought it would be pretty cool to have a car that was made the same year I was born. So, I started looking at cars by Donald Mitchell Healey (DMH) that were made in 1953.
My search started with the Austin Healey 100. I had seen them at club meets and I even had the privilege when I lived in San Diego of taking DMH for a drive in a red 100 when he was visiting a fellow club member in Rancho Santa Fe, California. I believe that this is the car that he is seen standing next to on the cover of Donald Healey, My World of Cars. On the plus side, I liked that the car had great lines, was a little bigger and had more horsepower than my Sprite. On the minus side, I ruled the 100 out because I felt I also wanted a car that I could lock and had roll up windows, so the search continued. I remember seeing Nash Healey roadsters at the 2002 International Meet in Lake Tahoe, and started rereading my Healey books so that I could learn more about this car. DMH in the book, Donald Healey, My World of Cars shared that his company in the late 40s was in financial troubles and the teaming up with Nash allowed him to get out of debt and to make the Healey 100. I learned that a coupe version was also made in 1953; I liked that the car had roll up windows and that the car could be locked.
The history of the Nash Healey starts in the mid 40s, WWII had just ended, and service men and women were coming home and bring with them something that was new to America, sports cars from Europe.
DMH was building a Riley powered sports car called the Healey Silverstone. This car was doing well in races in Europe and caught the attention of Briggs Cunningham. DMH was commissioned to build a Healey Silverstone with a new engine from America, a Cadillac engine. This car was very successful and DMH wanted to purchase additional engines from General Motors, so he took a trip to America on the Queen Elizabeth. Looking back into history, this trip would turn out to be an important event in the continuation and success of DMH’s car company.
In a chance meeting aboard the Queen Elizabeth, DMH would meet George Mason, the President of the Nash Motor Company. DMH shared that he was on his way to see if he could secure engines from General Motors for the Healey Silverstone. Mr. Mason offered engines if DMH was unsuccessful with GM. Mason knew that having a “sports car” with the name Nash on it would be a nice addition to the Nash Family of cars. It was through this meeting that the Nash Healey was born, and a long-term friendship was established. This chance meeting would turn out to be profitable for both men.
A prototype with a 102-inch wheelbase was designed by DMH and constructed using a body provided by Panel Craft of England. A 234.8-cubic-inch (3.8. litre) high-compression 6-cylinder Nash Ambassador engine was fitted with an aluminum head and two 1.75-inch” S.U. Carburetors. A three speed manual transmission with Overdrive was standard. The prototype was shown publicly for the first time at the Paris Motor Show in early fall of 1950. Production of the Panel Craft bodied Nash Healey began in late 1950 and continued until March 1951 in Warwick, England. The Nash Healey was built in England, but was for export only to the United States, and a total of 104 Roadsters were built. Some people think that the 1953 Corvette made by Chevrolet was the first American Sports Car, except for the fact that the Nash Healey beat it by two years.
From April 1951 until January 1952, the Nash Healey was not made. 1950 was the first entry of a Nash Healey at Le Mans. It finished the 24 hours in 4th place. In 1951, a Nash Healey finished 6th. Two special-bodied Nash Healers entered and qualified to race at Le Mans in 1952. One dropped out due to engine troubles, the other finished, beating out cars by Aston Martin, Cunningham, Ferrari and Lance. Only two factory prepared Mercedes-Benz 300SL coupes completed more total miles in the 24 hours than the Nash Healey.
Also in 1952, the Nash Motor Co. had acquired the services of Pinin Farina of Turin, Italy to redesign the body for the Nash and Nash Healey. The Nash Healey was truly an international car. The engines were manufactured by Nash at the Kenosha, Wisconsin plant, and then shipped to England where they were installed in the chassis with the “trailing link” front end suspension. The chassis and engine were then shipped to Turin, Italy were they were married to the custom hand built body by Pinin Farina. The new Nash-Healey was shown for the first time at the Chicago Automobile Show in February, 1952. Only 150 Pining Farina bodied Nash Healey Roadsters were built that year.
1953 saw the addition of a longer 108-inch wheelbase hardtop coupe named the Le Mans. This was done to honor the fact that the Nash Healey placed 2nd in the 1952 Le Mans Race. Only 162 Nash Healeys were built in 1953, 62 of them being the new Le Mans Hardtop. It was also during this year, that the engine was increased to a 258.6-cubic-inch (4.1-litre) and the 2 S.U. Carburetors were replaced with 2 HY Carter Carburetors. The 1953 Nash Healey Hardtop, also known as the Le Mans Hardtop won first-place at the 1953 Italian International Concours d’Elegance held at Tresa, Italy. In 1954, the roadster was no longer being produced and the Le Mans Hardtop went through some minor restyling. Less than 100 cars were built. Production costs were higher than the price for which Nash was able to sell the car in the states, and production stopped. Records indicate that 506 Nash Healers were made between December 1950 and August 1954.
As I mentioned before, this chance meeting aboard the Queen Elizabeth turned out to be profitable for both DMH and George Mason. For DMH it allowed him to get out of debt and to make the Healey 100. For George Mason, the meeting led to a friendship that one day allowed him to be introduced to Len Lord, President of Austin Motorcar Company. George Mason reached an agreement with the Austin Motorcar Company to produce the Nash Metropolitan.
The Nash Healey also has a history on both the big and little screen. There have been a few movies where a Nash Healey can be seen, the most famous is the movie Sabrina (1954) staring Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn and William Holden. And for those that used to watch The Adventures of Superman, Clark Kent (a.k.a. Superman), he also drove a Nash Healey. It’s pretty cool owning the same make of car that Superman chose to drive.
In 2005, a 1952 Nash Healey was the oldest of the five cars selected along with a 1953 Chevrolet Corvette, a 1953 Studebaker Starliner, a 1953 Kaiser Darrin and a 1953 Ford Thunderbird to appear on the America on the Move: 50s Sporty Cars by the United States Postal Service.
If you have the chance to see a Nash Healey at a car show or on the street, stop and introduce yourself to a member of the Healey family of cars.
Bob Segui is a long-time Healey enthusiast and founder of the San Diego British Car Club Council. Bob is also the West Coast Correspondent for the classic car website Retro-Speed.
(Photos courtesy of Bob Segui.)