Alan Cesar
Alan Cesar SuperDork
3/25/13 2:45 p.m.

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.

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