Though we list the Austin-Healey 3000 as a separate family, it was little more than a 100 Six with a bigger engine and better brakes. It was only in the 1960s that more significant changes came along. Thus, the “Big Healey” formula established in 1956 wasn’t altered conceptually in its 12 years.
From the first 100 Six to the last 3000, these were rugged sports cars with a 92-inch wheelbase and a heavy but reliable engine -- not to mention a hairy-chested, rumbly personality and smooth styling. The Austin-Healey 3000, introduced in the spring of 1959, spanned nearly nine of those dozen years. In that time came Mark II, Convertible, and Mark III models, plus assorted running changes in engine, chassis, gearbox, and body construction. But almost all these developments were logical and improved the basic car. We can also be thankful that they didn’t change its character.
Initially, the Austin-Healey 3000’s main distinctions were an enlarged engine with 2912 cc and 124 horsepower, plus front-disc brakes (drums continued at the rear). These changes mirrored those made that same year to another Abingdon-built sports car, the MG MGA. As before, there were two roadster styles: two-seater BN7 and BT7 2 + 2.
Two years later, BMC announced the 3000 Mk II, for which the engine was given three SU carburetors. Rated output rose to 132 bhp but magazine tests showed no gain in performance, and since the setup was tricky to keep in tune, BMC dropped it a year later. Also during the Mk II run, a new type of gearbox casing and linkage were adopted with a more direct-acting selector mechanism.
At the end of summer 1962, the Mk II became Mk II Convertible, the body getting its first (and only) re-jig. Without changing overall apperance, BMC gave it a slightly more curved windshield, roll-up door windows, and a proper fold-away soft top. The two-seater was discarded and all Austin-Healey 3000s were now 2 +2s. The engine, modified yet again, reverted to twin SU carburetors yet suffered no power loss. All in all, the new Convertible was a more modern and practical package.
The Big Healey saw one more major revision in the spring of 1964 with the advent of the 3000 Mk III. Boasting even more power -- 148 bhp -- from the same-size engine, it featured a restyled dashboard with wood paneling, and a between-the-seats center console. A “Phase II” version arrived later in the year with modified rear-axle location (now by radius arms) and chassis alterations allowing more suspension travel.
Built at Abingdon from early 1964 to the winter of 1967-68, the Mk III was undoubtedly the best of the breed -- and the fastest: top speed was about 120 mph. Snug and well equipped, it was equally comfortable open and closed.
Of course, not even the most popular cars go on forever, and the Big Healey was beginning to look a bit old-fashioned by the mid-1960s. Even so, no fewer than 5494 Mk IIIs were produced in 1966, the highest one-year tally since 1960, when the original Austin-Healey 3000 was at its sales peak. But by then, BMC faced new U.S. safety and emission regulations and decided that modifying the Big Healey to meet them wasn’t worth the money. Thus, except for a single car assembled in 1968, the Big Healey was consigned to history at the end of 1967.