The cars we loved.
Imagine a crisp fall day in the English countryside. You hear the roar of a V6 speeding over hills and around corners. It’s sometime during the early 60’s and the English automobile industry was still at its peak. Very likely, the car you see about to dart by you is an Austin Healy 3000. The “big 3” as all 6 cylinder powered Healeys were called, could have been a top candidate for poster car for English Motoring in its heyday. Appearances in popular culture, most notably the Tears for Fears song “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” help strengthen its mystique as the quintessential classic English sports car (sorry Jaguar XKE fans).
Produced from 1959 to 1968, the 3000 ‘s development can be categorized in three distinct periods, usually referred to as Mk (or Mark) I, II and III. Originally a rather tamed open top car called the 100/6, the addition of a larger engine in 1959 changed the character of the car, and so the 3000 was born. With tidy body work by Jensen Motors and assembly by BMC, the 3000 was purely an English product in every way. Small, light and fun to drive, the 3000 combined the traditional and the advanced in one attractive affordable package.
By today’s standards, the 3000 was practically a go-cart. I find it difficult to imagine two typical Americans even fitting into the small two seat interior. There was room for a picnic basket in the trunk and maybe a purse in the glove box, but not much else. The inside had few creature comforts; this car was all about performance driving. Heaters were even optional and the windshields in early cars were flimsy fold always. Gradually the 3000 became more refined with each successive generation, but remained light. The Mark III version released in 1963 is generally considered the best. Advancements like rollup windows, fixed a windshield, removable hardtop and wood grain interior made the 3000 more of year round car. They also featured an eye-catching two toned interior and revised grille.
Refinements to the front longitudinally mounted engine (up to 3 carburetors) bumped horsepower up to 150. Ride quality, engine response and handling were all improved with refinements to the double wishbone front suspension and 4 speed manual transmissions. Even though mechanically these were still simple cars, they are great examples of with elegant engineering. Despite being tremendously successful worldwide, the US had become the largest market for the 3000 by the mid 60’s. Unfortunately, Austin Healey could not afford to adapt the 3000 to the strict new American emission standards and production ceased in 1968.
In many ways 1968 marked the beginning of the end of an era where inexpensive, small and fun to drive sports cars were almost always from England. The 3000’s demise was followed by a string of other English roadsters, all eventually giving way to the rise of the Japanese sports car.