The First Nash-Healey

The Nash-Healey has been called one of the most improbable cars ever conceived. Maybe that's because the idea for it originated not on land but on the sea -- and really quite by chance.

Head of the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation George Mason had visited Europe in 1949 and was fired up by the exotic sports cars he'd seen there. He returned home aboard the Queen Elizabeth, where he happened to meet Donald Healey, the British sports car specialist.

Mason had already heard of Healey. An amateur mechanic turned competition driver, the Cornishman had won events like the Monte Carlo Rally in the 1930s for makes such as Triumph, Invicta, and Riley. After the war, Healey fulfilled a long-held ambition by building cars with his own body and chassis designs, powered by Riley's 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine.

The first of these appeared in 1946. Healey offered a series of attractive sedans, roadsters, coupes, and convertibles through 1951, albeit in very small numbers, only about 500 in all. However, just one model accounted for about a fifth of that total. It was the Silverstone, a fast, lightweight two-seat roadster with classic cycle fenders that was making a name for itself in European competition at the time the two men met.

Healey was heading to the United States in 1949 primarily to persuade Cadillac to supply its new 331-cid overhead-valve V-8 for a new sports car he was working on. On the voyage he mentioned this to Mason, who told him that if Cadillac didn't come through for some reason, Nash would be happy to sell him some of its ohv Ambassador sixes. Sure enough, Cadillac refused, needing all the engines it could build in those steel-short years. So Healey contacted Mason.

Soon, a few Ambassador engines and drivelines were on their way from the Nash factory in Kenosha, Wisconsin, to Donald Healey Motor Car Company Ltd. in Warwick, England. Healey went to work immediately, converting his Silverstone operation into a larger, but still quite limited, Nash-Healey production facility.

a Nash-Healey prototype
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Photographed in England, the Healey-built Nash-Healey prototype differs from the production 1951 primarily in its frontal styling.

One of its first efforts was a two-seat racer that Healey entered in the 1950 LeMans 24 Hours in France. It came home fourth among the 29 finishers from a starting field of 66, bested only by two Talbots and an Allard. Earlier, a Nash-Healey had finished ninth in class at the grueling Mille Miglia in Italy.

Continue to the next page to learn more about this first Nash-Healey's impressive performance in the 1950 LeMans 24 Hours.

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