Nash Healey History
By: Bob Segui
The history of the Nash Healey starts in the mid 40s, WWII had just ended, and service men and women were coming home and bring with them something that was new to America, sports cars from Europe.
Donald Healey was building a 4 cylinder Riley powered sports car called the Healey Silverstone. This car was doing well in races in Europe and caught the attention of Briggs Cunningham. Donald was commissioned to build a Healey Silverstone with a new engine from America, a Cadillac V8 engine. This car was very successful and Donald wanted to purchase additional V8 engines from General Motors, so he took a trip to America on the Queen Elizabeth. Looking back into history, this trip would turn out to be an important event in the continuation and success of Donald’s car company.
In a chance meeting aboard the Queen Elizabeth, Donald would meet George Mason, the President of the Nash Motor Company. Donald shared that he was on his way to see if he could secure V8 engines from General Motors for the Healey Silverstone. Mr. Mason offered engines if Donald was unsuccessful with GM. Mason knew that having a “sports car” with the name Nash on it would be a nice addition to the Nash Family of cars. It was through this meeting that the Nash Healey was born, and a long-term friendship was established. This chance meeting would turn out to be profitable for both men.
A prototype with a 102” wheelbase was designed by Donald and constructed using a body provided by Panel Craft of England. A 234.8-cubic-inch (3.8. litre) high-compression straight 6-cylinder Nash Ambassador engine was fitted with an aluminum head and two 1¾” S.U. Carburetors. A three speed manual transmission with Overdrive was standard. The prototype was shown publicly for the first time at the Paris Motor Show in early fall of 1950. Production of the Panel Craft bodied Nash Healey began in late 1950 and continued until March 1951 in Warwick, England. The Nash Healey was built in England, but was for export only to the United States, and a total of 104 Roadsters were built. Some people think that the 1953 Corvette made by Chevrolet was the 1st American Sports Car, the Nash Healey beat it by 2 years.
From April 1951 until January 1952, the Nash Healey was not made. 1950 was the first entry of a Nash-Healey at Le Mans. It finished the 24 hours in 4th. In 1951, a Nash Healey finished 6th. Two special-bodied Nash Healeys entered and qualified to race at Le Mans in 1952. One dropped out due to engine troubles, the other finished 1st in class, and 3rd overall, beating out cars by Aston Martin, Cunningham, Ferrari and Lance. Only two factory prepared Mercedes-Benz 300SL coupes completed more total miles in the 24 hours than the Nash Healey.
Also in 1952, the Nash Motor Co. had acquired the services of Pinin Farina of Turin, Italy to redesign the body for the Nash and Nash Healey. The Nash Healey was truly an international car. The engines were manufactured by Nash at the Kenosha, Wisconsin plant, and then shipped to England where they were installed in the chassis with the “trailing link” front end suspension. The chassis and engine were then shipped to Turin, Italy were they were married to the custom hand built body by Pinin Farina. The new Nash-Healey was shown for the first time at the Chicago Automobile Show in February, 1952. Only 150 Pinin Farina bodied Nash Healey Roadsters were built that year.
1953 saw the addition of a longer 108 inch wheelbase hardtop coupe named the Le Mans. This was done to honor the fact that the Nash Healey placed 1st in class in the 1952 Le Mans Race. Only 162 Nash Healeys were built in 1953, 62 of them being the new Le Mans Hardtop. It was also during this year, that the engine was increased to a 258.6-cubic-inch (4.1-litre) and the 2 S.U. Carburetors were replaced with 2 HY Carter Carburetors. The 1953 Nash-Healey Hardtop, also known as the Le Mans Coupe won first place at the 1953 Italian International Concours D'elegance held at Tresa, Italy.
In 1954 the roadster was no longer being produced and the Le Mans Coupe went through some minor restyling. Less than 100 cars were built. Production costs were higher than the price for which Nash was able to sell the car in the states, and production stopped. Records indicate that 506 Nash Healers were made between December 1950 and August 1954.
This chance meeting aboard the Queen Elizabeth turned out to be profitable for both Donald Healey and George Mason. For Donald, it allowed him to get out of debt and to make the Healey 100. For George Mason, the meeting led to a friendship that one day allowed him to be introduced to Len Lord, President of Austin Motorcar Company. George Mason reached an agreement with the Austin Motorcar Company to produce the Nash Metropolitan.