Window Shopper: Austin-Healey 3000


Story By Alan Cesar

You know a British car when you hear it. The familiar, rorty sound of a big six-cylinder is a visceral pleasure alone, reminiscent of overcast days on the twisty roads of the old country. If one car made that sound famous, it’s the Austin-Healey 3000.

The Big Healey, as it came to be called, was an aspirational yet attainable auto for the brand’s aficionados. Since the target buyers would be stepping up from Sprite ownership, value was still an important part of the 3000 equation. It wasn’t an option to follow the refinement-at-any-cost M.O. that Jaguar employed at the time.

The car’s racing pedigree is noteworthy, too: Parent company BMC rallied it extensively for the first half of the its production run. BMC’s competition budget shifted when the Mini proved an impressive rally machine, but the Big Healey had already racked up trophies and a positive reputation for the brand. Plenty of privateers continued to campaign the car worldwide. As a result—and thanks in part to its predecessor, the 100, for its own racing successes—the Big Healey is popular both among competitors and spectators in today’s vintage racing scene.

Mechanically very similar to the outgoing Austin-Healey 100 Six, this car’s technology is typical of the era: an all-iron pushrod OHV engine, independent suspension in front and a live axle at the rear. Its body-on-frame construction is flexible, however, and that straight-six lump is notoriously heavy. The 3000 moves well, though, and that engine has gobs of torque to propel it. The undersquare six-cylinder won’t wind to incredible revs; it’ll grunt out a stump-pulling 173 lb.-ft. from the most powerful of these strokers.

That’s the thing to look for in an Austin-Healey, especially if you’re switching from its svelte Sprite sibling. Though it’s been raced with plenty of success, the 3000 in street form is more of a grand tourer that continued to get more plush as the series progressed. Don’t get in one expecting the lithe experience of even a four-cylinder Austin-Healey 100.

With a philosophy of continuous improvement, a suspension redesign for the Mark III added suspension travel and revised the rear to use twin radius arms instead of a Panhard bar. This gave the car a better ride, with improved stopping power thanks to larger front disc brakes.

There’s a big community, too. The Austin-Healey Club of America publishes a beautiful magazine for its members. They have regional chapters all over and host plenty of events throughout the year. Their annual national meet, the Conclave, is a topnotch affair.

Wind-blown vintage motoring and restoration can be yours for a reasonable sum. Fortunately for those kicking tires, prices have dropped in the last 12 months. If you’re looking to get your hands dirty, a drivable project can sell for as little as $20,000. Look for nice drivers at about $35,000, with most good cars selling around $60,000 or $70,000. The very best, No. 1 condition cars top out around $120,000. Are you ready for a cross-country trip? Put on your driving scarf and pack your things; the Austin-Healey 3000 is your ride for grand, nostalgic motoring. Just don’t bring more than a few duffle bags: A spare tire limits trunk space.

Things To Know

Creature comforts improved through the 1959-’68 model run. The 3000 Mark II (introduced in early 1961) has wind-up windows; the Mark III (introduced in late 1963) has a zippered rear window in the convertible top. The top itself is easier to erect in the later cars; it’s more of a proper folding top than a complicated tent. Expect plush leather in place of vinyl seats in the Mark III, along with a classy wood dashboard.

Nearly all Big Healeys came with wire wheels. Disc wheels, a rare option on Sixes, make the car look goofy. Hubcaps are therefore just as rare, so if you get a disc-wheel car, make sure it comes with all four hubcaps if you want to keep it original.

Know your model designations: BN7 and BT7 are the chassis designations for two- and four-seater Mark I cars, respectively. The two-seater was discontinued for 1962, and the Mark II roadster became the BJ7. The Mark III, the most refined and desirable of the bunch, is a BJ8.

The mechanical components are dead-simple, and nearly all parts are readily available. Plenty of upgrades still exist, like tube shock conversions to replace the original lever shocks.

The first 1390 Mark III cars to roll off that assembly line did not have the suspension upgrades expected in the model. Phase One cars have the same suspension and ride height of Mark II cars. Thankfully, it’s easy to spot the difference: Phase Two cars received push-button door handles and parking lights that are separate from the turn signal indicators. The big wheel-to-fender gap in the rear is hard to miss, too. Ride height is very low in Mark I and Mark II cars, so remember to look underneath for frame damage from contact with the ground.

Corrosion is a formidable foe in this car. The main body structure features a mix of aluminum and steel, which invites corrosion at those contact points. The factory used felt pads in these areas to keep the metals separate, but felt—which absorbs moisture—is not effective at rust prevention.

Check the bodywork thoroughly. We’ve seen more bad restorations than good ones of these cars. The pursuit has been popular among shadetree restorers, so look for simultaneously hilarious and horrifying disasters resulting from body filler.

Consider your pocketbook before you take on a car that needs a lot of bodywork. Installing body panels is a long, labor-intensive job, which means big bucks if you’re outsourcing that part of the project. Each panel must be hand-fitted and shimmed into place to line up properly, and the flexible chassis just adds to the difficulty. Your mechanicals must be somewhat sorted before panels can be fitted: The drivetrain must be in place for this step, or all your work setting panel gaps will be for naught. The chassis will flex and everything will be out of place.

Andy Reid also contributed to this article.

Parts And Service

British Auto Parts
(541) 933-2880

Chris’ Garage
(913) 244-3323

Eclectic Motorworks
(616) 355-2850

Flying Circus British Cars
(919) 596-4250

Fourintune
(262) 375-0876

Glenn’s MG & British Car Repair
(888) 521-9890

Joe Curto, Inc.
(718)762-SUSU

Moss Motors
(800) 667-7872

The Motorway, Ltd.
(970) 472-8141

On the Road Again Classics
(408) 782-1100

Quality Coaches
(612) 824-4155

Sports Car Craftsmen
(303) 422-9272

Sports Car Services
(802) 387-4540

Sportscars Ltd.
(916) 366-0330

Tsikuris Classics
(863) 858-7981

Victoria British
(800) 255-0088

Resources

Austin-Healey Club of America
(877) 5-HEALEY

Austin-Healey Club USA

British Motor Trade Association

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