These cars were almost lost in the limelight of the Jaguars, Aston-Martins, Mercedes-Benzes, and Ferraris that raced in the same grids
Not long after the stunning Austin-Healey 100 debuted, Donald Healey began planning a high-performance version of his well-received sports car. Knowing that a competitive racing variant would boost the image of the various production models, several special test cars were created in 1953 and 1954 with various motorsport applications in mind.
After a strong showing at Le Mans and a sensational, record-setting run at Bonneville with lightly modified 100 models, Healey’s team returned to Warwick to develop a purpose-built version for the 12 Hours of Sebring in March 1954. The prototype 100S (S for Sebring) was thoroughly re-engineered to compete at the height of international racing. To meet international homologation standards, 50 production versions were built at the Healey Cape Works, with the first delivered for the 1955 Sebring race.
The 100S engine was based on the Austin A90 powerplant, although larger valves, SU H6 carburetors, alloy pistons, forged-steel connecting rods, a high-lift camshaft, a nitride-hardened crankshaft and a Weslake eight-port alloy cylinder head were specified for torque, reliability and usable power. Driving the 132 horsepower and an astonishing 168 foot-pounds of torque to the rear wheels was a modified, close-ratio C-Series gearbox.
The 100S was among the first sports cars to come equipped with Dunlop-supplied 4-wheel disc brakes and had upgraded suspension, twin fuel pumps, a 20-gallon rear tank, a strengthened chassis, Le Mans headlamps and a high-output racing dynamo.
The exterior of the car benefited from a redesigned oval radiator grille, louvered hood, Perspex windscreen and external fuel filler—all of which gave the car a distinctive appearance, while the aluminum body, penned by Jerry Coker and constructed at Jensen, contributed to a dry weight of less than 2,000 pounds. Most production examples were finished in a dashing ivory over lobelia blue livery in anticipation of sales in the United States.
Available solely in right-hand drive, the cockpit was purposefully equipped, with lightweight seats that had cooling slots, a wood-rimmed steering wheel and a 140-mph speedometer.
The Austin-Healey 100S compiled an outstanding racing record, with impressive results including a 3rd place overall finish and 1st in Class at Sebring, 1st and 2nd in Class at the Mille Miglia, and 1st in Class at Goodwood.
The 100S was also a favorite of both professional racers and amateur drivers in the United States. The 100S presented here, AHS3707, was shipped on April 21, 1955, to Gough Industries in Los Angeles, CA, as one of a group of six delivered in sequence, 3707–3801, to be sold to ambitious local drivers.
The first owner is unknown, but in 1957, Richard Lord of Los Angeles purchased 3707 and it remained in his care for three years before Robert Schilling acquired the car for racing purposes. Schilling immediately painted the coves red to differentiate his Healey from the competition. The 100S Register states that he participated in at least four races with 3707.
By 1965, 3707 was in the care of Louise Greg-Young and was repainted Healey Blue and equipped with wider wire wheels. Paul Haus of New Jersey acquired 3707 seven years later, owning it for nearly a decade.
Acquiring the car in 1982, Fred Cohen of Los Angeles enlisted Global Healey to perform a complete restoration, but soon turned the project over to Hill & Vaughn in Santa Monica, CA. Robert Pass of St. Louis, MO, owned the car briefly in the late 1980s, selling it to Mark Smith, the famed East Coast collector who cared for it for twelve years. Most recently it has been a fixture in two prominent collections in the Northeast.
Of the limited 100S production run, 3707 is among the minority, having no record of any major repairs and retaining its original matching-numbers engine. Although it has been almost 30 years since it was fully restored, this 100S maintains an outstanding appearance.
Given its rarity and the success of these cars in period, 3707 should be a desired entry for the best driving events in the world, including the Mille Miglia Storica, Le Mans Classic, and Goodwood. A well-prepared 100S can hold its own with almost any production-based sports car of the era, especially on a rough, demanding road.
|Vehicle:||1955 Austin-Healey 100S|
|Number Produced:||50 production series, five Works development versions|
|Original List Price:||N/A|
|SCM Valuation:||$400,000- $600,000|
|Tune Up Cost:||$250-$500|
|Chassis Number Location:||Stamped on printed plate screwed to firewall in engine compartment (Prefix AHS for production cars, SPL for development cars)|
|Engine Number Location:||Stamped on plate riveted to top right side of engine block|
|Club Info:||Austin-Healey Club USA|
|Alternatives:||1955-57 Alfa-Romeo 1900 Zagato (SSZ), 1953-55 Aston-Martin DB2/4 Bertone Spider|
This car, Lot 58, sold for $632,500, including buyer’s premium, at Gooding & Company’s Amelia Island auction, on Friday, March 11, 2011.
Until recently, except among Austin-Healey enthusiasts, the 100S race cars have not been widely known. They were almost lost in the bright limelight of the Jaguars, Aston-Martins, Mercedes-Benzes, and Ferraris that raced at the front of the same grids at Sebring, Le Mans, and the Mille Miglia in the mid-1950s. It was, in fact, the slower speed of the 100S driven by Lance Macklin at the ill-fated 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans that created the conditions leading to the horrific accident involving Pierre Levegh’s 300SLR.
Nevertheless, with its lithe beauty, forgiving road manners, and ease of maintenance, the 100S has always had a loyal following, which explains why out of only 50 units built (55 if you count the Special Test Cars that served as prototypes for the production run) there are at least 37 surviving examples (41 counting the specials) on the road.
Driving under the radar
There is even a growing industry of creating 100S replicas using Healey 100 donor chassis. Having driven several of the real cars, I can attest to the pleasure the 100S gives on a challenging road at a reasonable pace.
No 100Ss have traded publicly in years. As at first glance they resemble the more common 100-4, which is a $60,000-$100,000 car, so some collectors were surprised by the ease with which this example reached its sale price.
Owners of the cars, and they are a fairly tight group who all seem to be able to recite the provenance of every car in the register and knew this one simply as “Fred Cohen’s car,” were not at all surprised by the hammer price. I was told of at least half a dozen private sales in the same number of years for approximately the same amount. One current owner notes that he gets two or three offers a year to buy his car in excess of this amount.
Given that this car is in excellent condition because of its lack of extensive use and respectable restoration—and has an unquestioned history—the sale was definitely in line with the market. As the front-line exotics from the same period, like the Ferrari TdF, continue to accelerate in value, less expensive cars that are eligible for all of the same events, and have the degree of exclusivity that the 100S has, will continue to gain in value.
No one in the 100S fraternity is quite sure who actually bought the car, so I can only express my hope that the new owner took to heart the note about the reception that this car will get at any historic race or rally—and will actually take it out and use it. These are not fragile cars, and can be driven robustly on events like the California Mille and the Colorado Grand.
It would be a shame if this great car—well bought—is just tucked away for its assured investment appreciation potential.