The Nash-Healey marque came about from a chance meeting on an ocean liner in 1949. English sports car designer and builder Donald Healey and Nash-Kelvinator president George Mason began a conversation on the ship one day, which resulted in an understanding that Healey would build a new sports car for Nash using the Ambassador Six engine. Production got underway in late 1950 in Healey's small factory in Warwickshire, England, and the car debuted at the Chicago Auto Show in February 1951. For 1952, Nash-Healey entered and qualified two cars for Le Mans. One dropped out of the race with engine trouble but the second car, carrying racing number 10, finished, acing such marques as Cunningham, Ferrari, Lancia and Aston Martin. Its cumulative mileage for 24 hours was bettered only by two factory prepared and supported Mercedes-Benz 300SL coupes. This car has been mechanically restored to Le Mans specifications and has had minimal use since. Rarely does a true Le Mans veteran, let alone one that has placed so well, appear on the open market. This unique Nash-Healey is such a car.If the Cobra is a vaguely tamed raging bull, the Nash-Healey is more of a friendly mutt, concocted while under the influence of cocktails out on the bounding seas
|Vehicle:||1952 Nash-Healey Le Mans Sports Racer|
This Le Mans Sports Racer sold for $176,000, including buyer’s premium, at the RM Monterey auction, August 15-16, 2003.
The Allard and Cobra are iconic Anglo-American hybrids. The Nash-Healey is more of a friendly mutt. The plan formulated on the Queen Elizabeth was that Nash would deliver 3.6-liter straight sixes to England for placement into a widened ladder-frame Healey Silverstone. Production stopped after only some 100 units, but was resumed using bodies from Pininfarina, making the car even more of an international mongrel. This also made the Nash-Healey expensive, what with requiring shipping among three countries. As a loss leader it did little to aid Nash’s survival and Healey wouldn’t really make a mark on the American scene until the Austin-Healey 100/4 series a few years later. Just over 500 Nash-Healeys were built before production-and Nash-ceased in 1954.
With an American lump for an engine, placed in a conventional (read: primitive) chassis, the Nash-Healey didn’t move off the line particularly well, stopped poorly, wasn’t fast, and handled awkwardly. Other than that, it was a fine car.
The Nash-Healey’s brief Le Mans history was its apogee. A Healey-entered open car finished fourth in 1950 at the hands of future Le Mans winners Tony Rolt and Duncan Hamilton. A Sport Coupe was sixth the following year. The Nash engines were bored out to 4135 cc for the two cars used in the 1952 race. They had teardrop headrests on their open bodies, a streamlining innovation that was rare at the time. Our number 10 was constructed from the remnants of a coupe that crashed six weeks earlier in the Mille Miglia. Number 11 was equipped with an experimental engine with hemispherical combustion chambers.
Le Mans featured an outstanding lineup of factory entries in 1952, including Mercedes, Jaguar, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Talbot, Cunningham, Gordini, and Allard. The slippery and light space-frame 300SL coupes were the favorites. An assortment of Ferraris went blindingly fast before disappearing, not unexpectedly, mostly with broken clutches.
Jaguar also used light bodywork, but poor airflow across the steep radiator caused overheating. The Astons suffered rear end problems, a Cunningham crashed, and the brakes of the Gordinis and one of the Allards turned to dust. Two of the Mercedes continued 1-2, calmly lapping at their pre-determined pace. The only remaining challenge came from Talbot, but Pierre Levegh unwisely tried to drive the race solo, missed a shift in his fatigue, and damaged the engine.
With 135 hp churning through a three-speed box with overdrive, our number 10 Nash-Healey purred along unstressed, although number 11 departed early with engine problems. Leslie Johnson and Tommy Wisdom steadily rose in the standings. They may have been 200 kilometers behind the leaders, but they proudly mounted the last spot on the podium. There was no dishonor in standing up against such a show of attrition.
This 1952 Nash-Healey will indeed be welcome at the Le Mans historic races, and a docile, easy-to-live-with entrant at the popular vintage road rallies. Both Nash and Healey owners revere this mongrel as it was the American marque’s lone venture away from dowdiness and the Warwickshire firm’s first toe in U.S. waters.
Had it not been for this Sports Racers brief affair at Le Mans, it would have been worth just one-quarter to one-third what it brought here. The auction result demonstrates that a Le Mans provenance adds value, even for a lesser-known marque. While everyone and their uncle owns a Porsche or a Ferrari with war wounds from Mulsanne and Arnage, only six Nash-Healeys have scurried about the French countryside. We can guarantee that the new owner is the first on his block to posses one.-Janos Wimpffen