1957-1961 Austin-Healey

For the 1957 model year, British Motor Corporation (BMC) made a big change to the big Healey. First of all, it lengthened the wheelbase by two inches (to 92), giving more space in the cabin and allowing 2+2 seating to be added.

It also made minor style changes to the bumpers and nose, specifically an elliptical grille in place of the original "fan" style and an extra air intake in the hood. A fixed-position windshield was also fitted.

1958 Austin-Healey
This 1958 Austin-Healey 100-Six has a 2.6-liter
six-cylinder engine and 92-inch wheelbase.

To keep the lid on costs, disc wheels were now standard, and there was no overĀ­drive, though center-lock wires and overĀ­drive were both available as options -- and often specified. At the same time, the old four-cylinder engine was ditched in favor of the new, physically larger, heavier, BMC C-Series six-cylinder engine. Put all together, this was BN4, the original 100-Six.

With 102 bhp, the 2.6-liter six was 13.3 percent more powerful than the old four, which was all well and good, but the car itself was nearly 300 pounds heavier than before, too. The result was a car that looked good but was actually slower than its predecessor, which gave BMC's marketing staff a lot of grief in the next two seasons.

Announced with drum brakes just weeks before Triumph standardized front discs on the TR3, it was a low point for the brand. Every subsequent move would be upward, however.

As a result, BMC's engine tuners at the Engines Branch factory in Coventry completed a tuneup job in double-quick time, finalizing a new deeper-breathing head that, with raised compression, delivered 117 bhp, which seemed to make all the difference.

At almost the same time, in the last weeks of 1957 (there was no clean break; this was BMC, after all, where efficiency was not a word well understood at the time), final assembly was moved out of Longbridge and into the MG sports car factory at Abingdon.

From that moment, Abingdon became the manufacturing home of all BMC sports cars, for the little "bugeye" Sprite would soon appear too, and an MG Midget would follow. Nor was this the end of the changes, for BMC's planners realized their mistake in making the 100-Six solely a 2+2 and reintroduced a pure two-seater version, coded BN6, to run alongside it. Confused? Don't worry; there were more changes to follow.

Until mid 1959, therefore, big Healeys then had 117-bhp engines, and this type of 100-Six, available either as a two-seater or a 2+2, could reach 111 mph. To its joy, the clientele found that the revised engine was surprisingly tunable.

With the 100-Six's reputation on the up-and-up, and with some success in circuit racing and the rough-and-tumble of European rallying to report, the brand then received a further boost. Along with several other cars in BMC's sprawling range, the Austin-Healey's six-cylinder engine was bored out to 2.9 liters, with peak power rising to 124 bhp at 4600 rpm.

But that wasn't all. Nearly three years after Triumph had raised the accepted standards of sports car design, the big Healey -- now dubbed the 3000 -- got front-wheel disc brakes, which meant that the chassis was finally able to deal with the extra power and torque of the six-cylinder engine.

Maybe there was mild disappointment that there were no style changes to celebrate the boost (you had to look carefully even to find the "3000" badges), and maybe the back-end ground clearance was still rather pathetically low, but this was an altogether more capable machine.

"Dollar for dollar this is still one of the top sports cars on the market," concluded Road & Track, and it wasn't the only magazine that deemed the 3000 a good value for the money. Two-seat (BN7) and 2+2 (BT7) types were still available, but demand for the former was falling fast.

Changes then came thick and fast. In spring 1961, the 3000 entered its Mk II phase, the most important change being the fitment of three SU carburetors with 1.5-inch chokes in place of twin SUs with 1.75-inch chokes.

There was a new front grille with vertical bars to point up the change, but no significant performance increases (even with a boost to 130 bhp), and as it was more difficult to set up and synchronize the triple SUs, no one was very impressed.

Read about 1962-1966 Austin-Healey cars in the next section.

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