The Austin Healey 3000 is the archetypal hairy chested sports car. Brutish and powerful, it's the no-nonsense alternative to Jaguar's regal roadsters. Thanks to a simple recipe of big engine, rear-wheel drive and heavy steering, the Big Healey is the antidote to flappy paddles and adjustable dampers, and is as desirable now as it ever has been. Values have soared in recent years however - you'll need a deeper pocket than you might expect to get your hands on one.
The Healey 3000 was introduced in 1959 as a beefed up 100-6. The one complaint customers had about the 100-6 was the lack of power, so Austin Healey bored out its engine to 2913cc, replaced the block and fitted disc brakes to cope with the extra weight and power. Think of it as a similar (albeit less dramatic) transformation to the AC Ace and Cobra. This was a British car with an American ethos. In 1961 a more practical Mk2 arrived with numerous tweaks including wind up windows and an improved roof mechanism. Three years later the Mk3 arrived, boasting a power hike (up to 148 bhp) and an improved top speed of 121 mph. This is regarded by some as the greatest iteration of the 3000, particularly the later phase two cars with their revised rear suspension set-ups.
The most serious weaknesses are the chassis and bodywork. This is because the Healey has a ladder-frame chassis. While a simple construction, it is not entirely practical. Even a light impact can lead to kinks in the chassis, so make sure you give it a detailed inspection. If the car pulls to one side this could be why. Many owners underestimate the problem - meaning there’s a lot of cars out there with bodged repairs - so watch out. Corrosion is another issue to be aware of. Check the main rails, A and B posts, outriggers and sills, as well as the floor pan, wheel arches and wings for evidence of rust. The front shroud (which is around the headlamps, bonnet and grille) is a trouble spot because it’s made up of several curved alloy sections which are welded together. It’s not prone to rust but can be easily damaged. Also inspect the condition of the door bottoms, as well as the door action itself. If the door has trouble opening and closing it points towards chassis damage.
The engine is reliable - unsurprising given that it is low revving, unstressed and comes from a truck. Despite this there are some common issues to be aware of. These units have a tendency to weep water between the head and the block. This can be easily fixed but check the compression if you suspect something. The Healey also has a healthy appetite for oil (up to 250 miles per pint in some cases). A healthy oil pressure should sit somewhere between 45-50psi. You shouldn’t encounter any overheating problems on well-maintained cars, but the block’s waterways have been known to silt up in some cases, causing the engine to run hotter than you’d like. The Healey has been known to cover 200,000 miles between engine rebuilds without breaking sweat. This is just as well - a rebuild costs upwards of £2,000.
There’s nothing drastically wrong with the Austin Westminster-derived transmission. Even so, go up and down the gearbox and make sure gears aren’t jumping out - especially second - and allow a smooth, precise change. Check the overdrive is working as well.
As you'd expect of a classic sports car, the suspension may need attention. The front damper mountings, for example, can loosen and the lever arm dampers leak. The cam-and-peg steering box can leak too, but should remain strong if they’re regularly oiled. The 3000 was always low-slung so the rear suspension can't afford to sag. However, if the rear of the car looks unusually high it’s probably because the springs have been replaced. They take a while to settle but should eventually return to normal.
There’s nothing major to worry about but do all the usual pre-flight checks to ensure the lights, switches, dashboard and starter motor are all healthy.
Look for signs of sagging seats and missing trim. While replacement trim is readily available it can be pricey, so make sure nothing major is in need of replacing. One left-field issue with Healey interiors is sun damage. This is because many cars have been re-imported from America, and all those years under blue skies will have taken their toll.
The Healey 3000 drives like it looks. This is not a light or precise tool but a bruiser that tests your strength with heavy steering, a hot cabin and a searing exhaust note. It has charisma in droves - the automotive equivalent of that bloke in the local boozer who beats you in an arm wrestle but buys you a pint anyway. It’s hard work but the rewards always keep you coming back for more.
Healey values have rocketed through the roof in recent years. The car might have a working man’s image but you’re looking at gentrified prices. A rough Mk1 will start you off at £13,000, with prices quickly rising to £25,000 for something decent and £54,000 for a showroom ready example. Values only increase from here. A Mk2 project car starts at £22,000, topping out at £70,000 for something special, and the desirable Mk3 demands at least £50,000 for a working example.
The 3000 is a reliable, low-revving workhorse. Day to day running costs should be relatively low, however replacement parts and engine rebuilds can cost an eye-watering amount. The Big Healey demands a steep budget if you’re going to keep it running in good condition.
While it could hardly be called lithe, the 3000 became a successful competition car, claiming numerous class victories as a rally car and continuing to be raced extensively at events such as the Goodwood Revival and the Silverstone Classic.
The Austin Healey 3000 is one of the most recognisable British sports cars around. A cheaper and more thuggish alternative to the Jaguar E-Type, it provides driving thrills and head-turning charisma that only a TVR can match. While it will cost you a chunk of change, the reward is one of the most memorable sports cars money can buy.
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