In light of its popularity, and taking into consideration the potential of its rigid and low-frame chassis, the 4-cylinder Austin-Healey gave way in 1956 to the first 6-cylinder version, the 100-6, which boasted a BMC C-Series engine with a cubic capacity of close to 2.7 liters.
The success of the Austin-Healeys across the Atlantic was such that most of the cars produced between 1953 and 1968 were sold in the United States—mainly in California, where the climate was conducive to preserving car bodies.
However, at the end of the 1960s, the style of the Austin-Healeys as created in 1950 started to age. Fiberfab, a California crafts company specializing in fiberglass work, had been founded by Warren “Bud” Goodwind in 1964. This company offered body kits in resin and fiberglass that allowed the classic English roadsters—Austin-Healey, Triumph TR, and MGA—to be fitted with new bodies.
The car presented here is an Austin-Healey 100-6 from 1959. In 1968, it was fitted with an elegant and unusual fiberglass body, with a sleek profile and stylish lines inspired by the larger Italian GTs of the time. It is claimed that Fiberfab only produced five Healey Jamaicans in total.
This one has been completely restored, starting from the bare chassis, stripped and subjected to anti-corrosion treatment prior to re-assembly of the engine and transmission (four gears plus overdrive). The running gears, brakes (with disks at the front), and the wire wheels (Borrani with central locking) are new. With the pleasant sounds it makes, the exhaust system reinforces the sporting character created by the wire wheels. This beautiful and extremely rare Austin-Healey Jamaican works well and has a tried-and-tested mechanical system. It is reliable, easy to maintain—and offers an exceptional opportunity for “driving with a difference.” It comes with its French vehicle registration document.
|Vehicle:||1959 Austin-Healey 100-6 Jamaican|
|Years Produced:||Austin-Healey 100/3000 from 1952-1967|
|Number Produced:||Austin-Healey 100/3000 from 1952-1967|
|Original List Price:||$3,087|
|SCM Valuation:||$35,000-$45,000 (standard 100-6)|
|Tune Up Cost:||$250-$500|
|Chassis Number Location:||Plate screwed to firewall in engine compartment|
|Engine Number Location:||Plate riveted to top left side of engine block|
|Club Info:||Austin-Healey Club USA|
|Alternatives:||1955-59 MGA, 1955-63 Triumph TR3, 1960-67 Sunbeam Alpine|
This car, Lot 250, sold for $56,267, including buyer’s premium, at Artcurial’s Rétromobile sale in Paris on February 4, 2011.
With all due respect to the owner who was selling this car, the claim that Fiberfab produced only five bodies for Austin-Healeys is very unlikely.
During the period when this car was rebodied, Fiberfab was advertising its products in every sports car magazine in the United States—often with glossy one- and two-page ads showing bikini-clad models draped over the finished product in a sunset-enhanced California beach scene. I doubt if any car mag reader in my age group—I was in my teens at the time—didn’t dream of buying a rusted-out Healey, MGA, or Triumph and turning it into one of these Italian-styled GTs with a few weekends of work in the garage.
Certainly rusted-out donor chassis were available in abundance. There is a reason few Healey 100-6s survive today. By the time Fiberfab was at its peak, 100-6 cars were ten years old and finding their way to the junkyards in great numbers, with the bodies rusted beyond repair and the frame members deteriorating to the point that doors wouldn’t open or stay closed because of droop at the center.
On the other hand, there may only be five or six completed Fiberfab Healey conversions in existence today, although I drove one a few years ago that was for sale in California. It may only be coincidence, but it had the same interior and exterior color of this one.
Not easy to build
The reality was that creating a good finished car required that you rebuild the body, suspension, engine, and transmission of your clapped-out, ten-year-old Healey. You also had to know enough about working with fiberglass to be able to fit the other donor pieces and get the various panels to fit properly.
The windshield, rear window, lights, and hardware all had to be sourced from various other kinds of cars (“readily available at any junkyard or from aftermarket parts catalogs,” said the breezy literature).
Then the fiberglass body had to be cut and finished to accept the glass. From the Fiberfab instructions: “Cut all openings with sabre saw using windshield glass and rear glass as a template. Remember: when making any cuts in the body, you can always cut more, but once you’ve cut too much, it is difficult to repair.”
Next, all this had to be fitted on your rebuilt donor chassis, making sure the doors would fit cleanly into the openings, and all the panels would fit together. And finally, all the wiring and trim had to be installed.
About halfway through the process, most do-it-yourselfers realized that just restoring the original Healey would have been much easier than doing this half-restoration, half-creation job. Most of these projects were simply abandoned at that time.
A little-respected spectacle
The example I drove had been pushed into the back of a garage, and only completed in the mid-1990s by a restorer with significant skills in working with fiberglass and a constant urge to drive cars that were a little “different.”
But assuming you were able to get the project completed so that it looked as the advertisements had originally promised, what would you have?
Yes, these cars turned heads when they arrived at car shows. There were so few that they were unusual, and the lines were certainly sleek and eye-catching. However, the general reaction when they were new was not one of respect. They had been presented as a cheap sports car for someone who couldn’t afford a real Ferrari or Maserati, and that’s pretty much how they were evaluated.
Today, they are much more likely to show up at a kit-car show for their historic interest—or at a meeting of the Arcane Auto Society for their unusual attributes— than to appear at a high-end rally or Austin-Healey concours.
Driving the project car
What about the experience of owning and driving one of these cars?
For starters, if it is a little difficult to get into an Austin-Healey with the top up, try doing it with a door opening that is several inches lower. There is a reason why the example pictured here seems to have no padding in the seat cushions. With standard padding, no driver taller than 5 feet, 7 inches would be able to sit upright when driving.
With the body conversion, you lose the separate boot and most of your luggage space. The spare wheel looks sporting back there, but add any additional luggage and you lose all visibility out the rear window.
How a Jamaican conversion drove and handled depended on two things. First, since it still used Healey drivetrain and running gear, handling depended on the quality of the chassis restoration. Second, the body was lighter, but it proved almost impossible to mount it well enough to avoid squeaks where the body fastened to the chassis, and they rattle where aftermarket parts didn’t quite fit.
A rare—but not popular—car
The original Fiberfab company was effectively out of the business of making conversion bodies by the mid-1970s, although they did continue to make aftermarket hard tops and other body panels for a while afterwards. The company actually is still in business today making high-powered kit cars, having been revived by the original founder’s son.
As for the few examples from the 1960s that still exist, today they’re bought, sold, and shown as oddities, with few owners holding on to them for very long. The sale price of this car, about equal to an average, club-quality restored 100-6, was all the money that this ownership experience will be worth.
I would say that both buyer and seller did well here, with a plus for the buyer that he’ll surely win a prize for “Best Jamaican” at every concours he enters.