Pretty in Pink: An Unlikely Austin-Healey Story

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Written by The Staff of Motorsport Marketing

From the March 2016 issue

Posted in Features

<b>Story by John Webber

Before you ask: No, this Austin-Healey was never featured in a Pepto-Bismol commercial.

And yes, it now looks exactly as it did in the fall of 1955, when it left the Donald Healey Motor Company factory bound for the Earls Court Motor Show in London, where it introduced the 100M to the motoring public.

After the show, wearing the same colors, it was shipped to the Bahamas. Healey’s competition manager Roy Jackson-Moore raced it at Nassau’s Windsor Airfield during Bahamas Speed Week; we can only imagine the raised eyebrows. There he pushed the eye-catching roadster to a ninth place in Class D–behind seven Ferraris and one Healey–and recorded an impressive 116 mph.

After the car’s return to the U.S., Jackson-Moore drove it to California, where it served as the 1956 test car for Road & Track and Motor Trend. Then it spent a year racing in numerous SCCA events.

After its works racing career, the trail gets a bit hazy, since in those days an old race car–especially a pink one–got no respect. This 100M went through numerous owners, some unkind. Over the next two decades it was raced again as a privateer, suffered from neglect, lost a few parts, and had its unique color scheme painted over and its interior dyed.

So it was just another used-up sports car when Alan Alfano bought it in 1975. He had no idea a pink and black Healey existed, but over the next 10 years Alfano was to uncover tantalizing clues to his car’s former life. His diligent research and persistence finally paid off: In 1985, he discovered the roadster’s true identity and began a long, painstaking restoration that brought it back to show car glory.

Healey’s 100: A Milestone Car

In 1952, Donald Healey introduced the Healey 100–known internally as the BN1–to much acclaim at the Earls Court Show. Designed by stylist Gerry Coker, the low-slung two-seater became an instant hit. For many the shape seemed to define British roadsters, even though its sensational bodywork covered the humble mechanicals and running gear from an Austin A90.

At 2200 pounds, the new car was nimble and fast. It was called the 100 because it could top the ton–as the Brits say–and at that speed its delighted occupants waved goodbye to most other sports cars. The 100 proved to be sturdy and reliable, and it sold well, with most examples going to the U.S. Two years later the improved BN2 model–sporting a real four-speed transmission–hit the market, and a year later the 100M arrived.

Gerry Coker was reunited with his Earls Court show car At the 2015 Healey Enclave in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He remembered it well, recalling that as the introduction of the M approached, Donald Healey asked him to create a car that would make a big splash on the stand.

After going through a pile of color samples, Gerry suggested a shocking pink-and-black paint scheme with a pink interior piped in black. His daring plan was approved, and the car–the only factory Austin-Healey to wear these colors–wowed the crowd. The 100M created quite a buzz and gained special mention in Britain’s Autocar magazine.

This 100M offered more than bling. The M was Healey’s new hot rod, the latest in a series of improvement tweaks that started after he entered a pair of lightly modified BN1s in the 1953 24 Hours of Le Mans. The cars ran in close to street trim, and driver Gordon Wilkins called them “two of the cheapest and most completely standard cars in the race.”

In a field of 60 starters, the Healeys–wearing bumpers and running lights–outlasted a flock of expensive racers to finish a surprising 12th and 14th. Each covered more than 2100 miles, averaged better than 88 mph, and delivered just under 15 mpg. Not one to miss an opportunity, Donald Healey jumped on this success, marketing a Le Mans Modification Kit, which contained several of the engine upgrades from his Le Mans cars, through BMC dealers.

The 1956 factory M took those upgrades to the next level, featuring high-compression pistons, a high-lift camshaft, stiffer valve springs, bigger carbs (with new intake manifolds and a cold-air box) and a modified distributor. Horsepower was boosted to 110.

Along with the added power, the M’s handling was upgraded with a stiffer front suspension and heavier anti-roll bar. And to enhance the car’s racing image, the bonnet was louvered and secured with a sporty leather strap.

In the U.S., a 100M sold for $3275, a premium of about $375 over a standard BN2. At that price it had stiff competition, considering an American enthusiast could pick up a V8-powered Corvette or Thunderbird for around $3000.

Total factory production of the 100M, which ended in 1956, numbered 640; our featured car is number 33. It’s estimated that fewer than 200 documented factory Ms remain today.

The Long Road Back to Earls Court

When 22-year-old Alan Alfano bought this roadster from Healey 100S expert Bill Wood–who later called it “the one that got away”–it was running and driving, but in need of love. It was Alan’s first 100, the third of 12 Healeys he was to own.

It was red with a red interior, and he was drawn to its racy looks, set off by the distinctive grille, louvered hood and folding windshield. Alan registered the car and set about making it a presentable driver, and it was to serve as a rolling restoration project for the next 10 years.

As he began to replace the tattered interior, he discovered pink fabric on the seat bottoms and frames, as well as around the spare tire and on the glove-tray. And where the seat cover material overlapped, he found pink creases in areas the red dye had not penetrated.

He was puzzled, but the pink rang no bells. “I didn’t think much about it at the time,” he says.

But since he’s a detail-oriented guy, Alan took photos and saved the material he removed. When he showed the pieces to A-H club members, he got no help. “Austin-Healey never made that color,” they told him.

Alan also noticed that despite the red exterior, his car’s engine compartment and frame were painted black, and that color appeared to be original, as did the ID plates. Later, when he carefully sandblasted a layer of red paint from the body, he uncovered pink on the lower portion of the left-front fender. Still, he didn’t know what to make of the odd color.

In 1985 he sent the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust his car’s chassis and body numbers. He was floored when he received a personalized response headed with “Congratulations.”

His Heritage certificate bore this notation: “Car is marked ‘Earls Court Show,’ in records. See also enclosed photocopy from The Autocar 21 October 1955.” The car’s colors were recorded as “black top, pink bottom,” and its destination was listed as “USA, after display in London Motor Show.”

“That certificate,” Alan says, “was my first clue that there had ever been a black and pink show car.” And that certificate eventually led to a meticulous (as in counting the stitches in seat covers), five-year restoration to as close to original condition as he could make it.

When he finished in 1991, the car was stunning, but at shows, people didn’t know what to make of it. “Some called it the Mary Kay car,” Alan recalls. “They had never seen another like it. I knew I had done the right thing bringing it back to original, but people’s reactions were mixed. Some told me they wouldn’t have painted it those colors, even if they were original.” Alan enjoyed the 100M until 2006–a total of 31 years–when he sold it to Healey expert John Hodgman.

In the Pink

Current custodian and long-time British car collector Martin Stickley, who also owns a BJ8, discovered the Earls Court car in 2013. He had contacted Hodgman about performing some work on his own BJ8.

Stickley ended up buying the 100M. He loved the unique paint scheme and was fascinated by the history behind it.

He has learned that in the 25 years since the car was first shown, peoples’ reactions to a pink Healey have come full circle. With today’s emphasis on provenance and originality, Martin encounters nothing but love when he shows the car.

At the Gettysburg Enclave, admirers crowded around it, and the Earls Court 100M was one of the most photographed cars at the show. “Everyone who sees it wants to know all about its history,” he says. “They all want to ride in it.”

This story ran in an old issue of Classic Motorsports. Want to make sure you’re reading all the latest stories? Subscribe now.

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Reader comments:

ebonyandivory
ebonyandivory UberDork
May 28, 2017 5:26 a.m.

Any idea what this would sell for today?

dougie
dougie Reader
May 28, 2017 10:25 a.m.

With the current big rise in the price of factory "M's," I would think $200K-$250k

ebonyandivory
ebonyandivory UberDork
May 29, 2017 5:29 a.m.

In reply to dougie:

I could be wrong but it seems like there's one or more previous owners with a lot of regret. They didn't know what they had (with the factory interior and paint hidden away)

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