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Donald Healey
© Copyright 2024, John Bowman

Donald Healey - the driving force behind the name

The Austin Healey owes its name and heritage to Donald Healey, a remarkable man remembered as much for his engineering skills as his success as a driver on international race and rally circuits.

Donald Mitchell Healey was born at Perranporth, Cornwall, in 1898. He joined the Sopwith aircraft company in 1914. Shot down by British anti-aircraft fire on one of the first night bomber missions, he was invalided out of the RFC at the age of 18, and went on to study engineering before taking up motor racing and rallying.

Donald Healey won the Monte Carlo Rally of 1931 and was well placed in other years. He also gained a reputation as a consultant engineer and designer, creating both the renowned Southern Cross and Dolomite Eight models for Triumph.

During the Second World War, Donald Healey was in charge of developing an aircraft carburettor for the Ministry of Supply, and also worked with Humber on armoured cars. It was here that he met Achille Sampietro, a chassis specialist for high performance cars who, in 1945, joined him in the newly formed Donald Healey Motor Company, based in an old RAF hangar at Warwick.

The first Healey saloon car, with a 2.5 litre Riley engine, appeared the following year. It went on to score class wins in the Alpine Rallies of 1947 and 1948, and the Targa Florio. A Nash-Healey gained third place in the Le Mans event of 1952. Healey himself drove a GT version in the 1948 Mille Miglia, finishing ninth overall. A little known fact is that a number of Healey Elliotts competed in the first ever race at the new Goodwood Motor Circuit in West Sussex, two of them finishing in the top three. A Nash-Healey gained a third place in the Le Mans event of 1952.

Over this period Donald Healey had been pursuing an idea to produce a new modern sports car to fill a gap in the UK and American market. The car would have to be offered at the right price and have 100mph performance. In 1952, the car became a reality and the Healey 100 made its debut at the 1952 Earls Court Motor Show. The car was an overnight success and following the show, a contract was agreed between Donald Healey and Leonard Lord of the Austin Motor Company to manufacture the car at the Longbridge factory. The Austin Healey 100 became an immediate best-seller and was exported with great success, particularly to the USA.

On May 20th 1958, BMC announced the launch of a new small and inexpensive sports care, the Austin-Healey Sprite.

Donald Healey's competitive spirit continued well into his fifties. In 1956 he recorded a two-way speed of 203.06 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats, driving a car of his own design. A month later the affordable high-performance 6-cylinder Austin-Healey 100/6 made its appearance and set a standard for sports cars for years to come.

When BMC was taken over by British Leyland, Donald Healey became chairman of Jensen Cars and was awarded a CBE.

Donald Healey died on 15th January 1988 at the age of 89. His cars live on as a glowing testimony of his contribution to the British Motor Industry.