In the shadow of its younger brothers for many years, we reckon it’s time the 100/4 and its derivatives stepped into the light...
The first of the big Healeys was launched in 1952 at the London Motor Show after being developed by Donald Healey, who based his car on the Austin A90 Atlantic. Luckily for Healey, the new sports car impressed the Austin hierarchy, which immediately began building the car at Longbridge, alongside the A90.
It used the same 2660cc four-cylinder engine as the Atlantic, but its svelte, aerodynamic shape allowed it to achieve 100mph – hence the ‘100’ moniker. 100M and 100S (above) versions are most desired, and 14,634 examples were built, before being replaced by the 100/6 in 1956.
Power (bhp@rpm) 90bhp@4000rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 144lb ft@2000rpm
Top speed 109mph
Gearbox 4-speed manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
It is much more cost effective to repair or replace worn mechanicals than it is to correct poor bodywork, so it pays to buy the best example you can afford.
It is also a good idea to consult a specialist before making a purchase, as the bodywork of the 100/4 is notoriously complex and known for hiding rot well. Being a soft top, the first thing you should check for is water ingress – make sure the carpets are dry and not discoloured. Inspect the foot wells, checking for any signs of rust, damp or shoddy repairs. Make sure you also check where the footwell meets the sills, before getting under the car to double-check the outer sills. Any signs of crustiness here should be taken as a warning sign – the inner sill is likely to be in much worse condition. Be suspicious of freshly applied underseal – it can be used to hide rot.
While checking the sills, take a look at the condition of the doors – they can be prone to rusting along the bottom. Even minor rust here can be a very expensive fix. Moving under the car again, make sure the front chassis rails are in good condition, especially where they meet the shroud. The boot floor can also be a weak point, so remember to lift the carpet and take a good look.
Early BN1 models were fitted with exactly the same 2660cc four-cylinder engine as the Austin A90, mated to a three-speed manual gearbox. 100M models came on stream in 1955 and employed a cold air box, high-lift camshaft and higher compression ratio.
Overall, these engines are incredibly tough and are capable of covering huge mileages, but a rebuild will be required eventually. Water has a habit of seeping between the head and block, so check the oil filler for signs of mayonnaise. Ideally, you’ll want this problem to have been addressed already – check for evidence in the service file. Ensure you check the oil level as well, as these engines are notoriously thirsty, sometimes using as much as one pint in only 250 miles. Listen for any knocks or clanging noises – it should run quietly and smoothly. Water channels in the engine are also prone to silting, and the same goes for the radiator. Fitting an electric fan can disguise overheating problems – best to look for prior proof of an engine strip to sort the problem.
The 1950s steering box can be labour intensive to keep in fine form; quizzing the owner can often tell you more about how it has been cared for than a history file ever will.
It needs to be regularly topped up, and any vagueness can mean that an expensive rebuild is required. Don’t expect modern handling, though.
On the test drive, pay particular attention to how the car rides. Sagging springs can make the car very low at the rear, while bushes and dampers tend to wear out quickly. If the ride is crashy or sloppy, you may need to budget for replacements. Polybushes are more expensive than you might think and can be tricky to fit.
All original seats will be leather, but most will have been retrimmed at this stage. Originality is prized, providing the condition matches. Leather can dry out easily, so look for signs that it has been fed and treated well over the years. Any damp seeping in through the roof can play havoc here, so again it is vital to check that the hood is sound. The seats can be uncomfortable, despite the Healey’s reputation for long distance touring.
There isn’t too much to worry about on the electrics side of things – just check everything works.
An early Austin-Healey makes fantastic financial sense, with values sure to rise as the years roll by. When economists talk about classic cars being better than money in the bank people immediately think ‘E-type’ – but should consider a 100/4. Investment aside, a big Healey is a beautiful car with rock solid mechanicals that is endowed with beauty and proportions that are the envy of other classic cars. It’s the sort of car that your other half will fall in love with.