Austin-Healey 3000: Expert tips on buying, maintenance and more

Photography Credit: Robert Bowen

[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of Classic Motorsports. Price has been updated to the 2023 value.]

The Austin-Healey 3000, commonly known as the Big Healey, has become an icon of classic British motoring. According to Hagerty's price guide, a No. 3 condition example is worth about $44,000. Valuations vary depending on the model and year, of course.

Expert:

Rick Bodeur
Ragtops & Roadsters
ragtops.com 

Upgrading the gearbox to a modern five-speed transforms the car and makes it more pleasant to drive. 

One common problem with the Austin-Healey 3000 involves the brake lights. They turn on via a pressure switch, and over time they require higher pressures on the brake pedal to light up. Check the brake light operation regularly; replacing the switch is relatively quick if it’s necessary.

As with any British car of the period, the electrical switches should be toggled frequently–even the windshield wiper switch when it hasn’t rained–to prevent oxidation build-up in the contacts. The wiping action of operating the switches often gets them working. If not, cleaning or replacement is
in order.

When shopping for an Austin-Healey 3000 there are a few things you should keep an eye out for. First, check door fit. Doors can sag due to rust and/or improper structural repairs. The rockers/sills are prone to rust-through and are sometimes covered or patched without concern for strength.

These cars use an oil filter canister with a replaceable filter element. The element is held in place against the engine block by a spring and plate located in the bottom of the canister. During an oil change, take care that these parts aren’t accidentally discarded. If they’re found to be missing, replace them quickly to avoid compromising the functionality of the filter element.

Most Big Healeys in the U.S. have wire wheels secured with “knockoffs.” Several times during the driving season, the knockoffs should be tapped with the proper hammer to ensure they stay tight.

At least annually, the brake system should be visually inspected for leaks, especially at the rear wheels. Remember, the brakes can seem to work okay even when the rear-wheel cylinders leak or seize. That’s because the front wheels do most of the braking. With inoperative rear brakes, an emergency stop
could result in a spin. Rear brakes rarely wear out; they are more often replaced due to fluid contamination.

Check all fluids regularly. This is vital to the car’s health.

A popular update is to install an electronic ignition system to replace the ignition points. The result: Starting is better (especially in damp or colder weather), and the electronic units are less sensitive to wear of distributor shafts.

The cars should start readily with the choke engaged (cold start). Once warmed, they should run reasonably smoothly without hesitation. Worn-out carburetors or distributors can be costly to repair correctly.

Check front suspension components by shaking the top of the tires in and out. Any click or clunk indicates a suspension rebuild may be needed.

Here at Ragtops & Roadsters, we most commonly see these cars come in for comprehensive tune-ups, brake repairs, suspension rebuilds, electrical fault analysis, and full restorations on examples stored for 10 to 40 years.

Expert:

Michael Grant
Moss Motors
mossmotors.com

One of the most common problems you see in these Big Healeys is high engine temperature. Two consequences of this are possible engine damage and the dreaded “Healey hot-foot,” a state of discomfort caused by a hot driver’s footwell. This problem can usually be solved with better insulation around the driver’s feet and new grommets throughout the firewall.

However, the engines in these cars are actually comfortable running at higher temperatures, so don’t be overly concerned unless there’s a loss of coolant. The 3000 is fitted with a 7-pound pressure cap that raises the boiling point of the coolant to approximately 233 degrees. Therefore, a reading in the neighborhood of 190 degrees is not considered high in these engines.

In extremely hot summer weather, there is an advantage to removing the thermostat altogether. However, if this is done, it is vitally important to install a blanking sleeve in its place. Otherwise, overheating will occur. 

We commonly field questions regarding brake fluid. Some are concerned because the old familiar brands have changed. Castrol LMA now says “Synthetic” on the bottle. The Lockheed “Premium” fluid has been replaced by “Super DOT 4.” Others have questions about the ever-contentious silicone brake fluid.

When it comes to picking a brake fluid for your Austin-Healey, do not consider anything that doesn’t meet FMVSS 116. Fluids rated at DOT 3, 4 and 5.1 are all hygroscopic, meaning they will absorb water out of the atmosphere. This will lower the boiling point of the fluid. We recommend using fluids that meet the DOT 4 specifications, like Castrol GT LMA and the Lockheed Super DOT 4.

A common misunderstanding is that DOT 5.1 fluids are connected to DOT 5 fluids. This is not true. Think of 5.1 as a glycol-based DOT 4 fluid that meets DOT 5 standards. The 5.1 fluids are used primarily in vehicles equipped with ABS.

If you choose glycol fluids, they must be completely drained and replaced every 18 to 24 months, regardless of how much you drive your car. Glycol fluids will strip the paint off the car if they spill or leak.

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Comments
NOHOME
NOHOME MegaDork
7/25/22 9:57 a.m.

Pretty cars, but  from a chassis design and build point, probably the lowest quality car I have worked on.  

wspohn
wspohn UltraDork
7/25/22 10:28 a.m.
NOHOME said:

Pretty cars, but  from a chassis design and build point, probably the lowest quality car I have worked on.  

The Healeys are a PITA to work on - Jensen welded the inner sheet metal to the chassis which makes extensive body work expensive, the axle over the frame (except for the very last cars) was a stupid move to save money and compromised handling etc.

But they sure look nice!

And I would put Triumphs right up there with the AH in terms of poor assembly quality!

Funny that the AH had issues but the contemporary BMC stuff (MGA/MGB etc.) not so much.

sfisher71
sfisher71 New Reader
1/15/23 6:17 p.m.

Tightening the wire wheel knock-offs regularly is good advice.

Even better advice: clean and grease the splines every so often to prevent rust and wear. Remove the wheels (one at a time is OK) and use a wire brush to clean between the splines on the car, then do the same on the wheels.

This is also a good time to check your spokes for tightness. You used to be able to buy a wire-wheel spoke wrench from Moss, but I sold my last wire-wheel equipped car a couple decades ago. 

A thin film of wheel bearing grease will help seal out moisture; apply it before putting the wheel back on. (I used Castrol, because Col. George E. T. Eyston was director of Castrol when he set a bunch of land speed records in various M.G. products after racing them at Le Mans in the Thirties, but you should use your favorite brand.)

I used to do this at least once a year in the '90s, when my daily driver was an MGB with wire wheels. If the car in question is mostly driven to shows and tours, add this to your wintertime tinkering list. It's a good time to do as this article says and check the brakes for leaks, wear, etc., and can be part of a pleasant day with your classic while waiting for the weather to clear.

 

carloshermida
carloshermida New Reader
1/16/23 1:48 p.m.

Best is to get a car that looks like a Sebring 3000

But has a Corvette engine   etc

Replicars are the best investments

They always start

and run perfectlysmiley

lotusseven7 (Forum Supporter)
lotusseven7 (Forum Supporter) Dork
1/16/23 10:47 p.m.

I found a complete Sebring MX(big fender flares) unbuilt kit with a factory built rolling chassis a few years back. Always wanted a "big Healey", but with the crazy prices, this will be the next best thing or possibly a better thing? it has Mustang II front suspension, a Ford 8" rear with 4-link rear suspension, mounts for either a Ford or Chevy V-8 and is set-up with a clutch pedal for a standard transmission. In the boxes are the complete interior, carpets, seats, door glass, windshield, wood dash, all the aluminum trim, wiring harness, gauges and more. It even has all the nuts & bolts to assemble the whole car!!! I can't wait to clear out space in the garage to spread out all of the parts, do an inventory and start the assembly. Maybe some day I'll finally get the Healey I've always wanted.

gsarahs
gsarahs New Reader
3/7/24 6:17 p.m.

I never intended to but due to a crooked company stripping my '65 Healey down to its core without any permission, I then bought a '67 BJ8. Then after winning my court case, I now have both, each in my favourite two-tone colour schemes! There's nothing like the purr of a straight 6 Healey engine!

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