1953 Austin-Healey 100 Special Test Car

This remarkably well-documented ex-Mille Miglia, ex-Le Mans 24-Hour race Austin-Healey Works car began life as one of the Donald Healey Motor Company’s pre-production competition vehicles — properly referred to as the Special Test Cars — destined for use in International motor races and world-class distance and speed-record attempts. Of the four Special Test Cars built in 1953, NOJ 392 is the sole remaining car in original 100-specification guise.

By February 1953, Donald Healey had three of his first batch of 20 pre-production Austin-Healey 100 cars ready for publicity purposes, including motor shows in Europe and the United States.

Four of the pre-production cars were carefully built at Warwick to a detailed competition specification, serials SPL 224B, 225B, 226B and 227B. The first three were, respectively, road-registered NOJ 391, 392 and 393 while the fourth car, chassis 227B, remained unregistered as the endurance and speed-record car.

In 1953, NOJ 392 offered here was the car crewed in the round-Italy Mille Miglia road race by pre-war Austin Works racing driver Bert Hadley and Flight Lt. Bertie Mercer of the Royal Air Force. The car suffered throttle-jamming problems as the linkage’s spring-loaded brass ball joints failed before Ravenna on the southerly leg.

Later in 1953, Dutch rally star Maurice Gatsonides and well-known racing motor-cyclist Johnny Lockett co-drove NOJ 392 at Le Mans. It wore start number 34 and Gatsonides/Lockett brought it home in 12th place overall and second in class, covering 2,153 miles and averaging 89.59 mph.

After Le Mans, this Special Test Car was adapted to match standard production road trim. Bumper over-riders were added together with a tailpipe exhaust system. The aero screen and Le Mans-regulation bonnet strap were deleted, and a normal full-width windscreen was refitted. The car’s twin driving lights were more closely spaced, it is assumed in order to clear the newly fitted bumper overriders.

This Austin-Healey then entered a third phase of factory use, being used from mid-1954 as a development vehicle. Its most significant modification during this period was the mounting of a set of Girling disc brakes in place of its original drum system.

World-renowned Austin-Healey specialist The Healey Factory (of Melbourne, Australia) restored the car in 1994–95. Proprietor Rob Roland has been quoted as saying, “It had not been previously restored and was in amazingly original condition.” NOJ 392 was rebuilt to its 1953 Le Mans configuration, with the exception that its later disc-brake system would be retained in place of the period drums.

In late 2009, the present owner commenced an 18-month refreshment of the Australian restoration, with the remit to make NOJ 392 as it appeared at the start of Le Mans in 1953. The body and chassis were stripped and repainted in the correct shade of cellulose paint, the engine and gearbox were rebuilt, suspension re-bushed, brake pipes renewed and the interior re-trimmed.

Paul Hardiman

Paul Hardiman - SCM Senior Auction Analyst

Paul is descended from engineers and horse thieves, so he naturally gravitated toward the old-car marketplace and still finds fascination in the simpler things in life: looking for spot-weld dimples under an E-type tail, or counting the head-studs on a supposed Mini-Cooper engine. His motoring heroes are Roger Clark, Burt Levy, Henry Royce and Smokey Yunick — and all he wants for next Christmas is an Alvis Stalwart complete with picnic table in the back and a lake big enough to play in.

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