Austin-Healeys celebrate 60th anniversary

Recent visitors to RACQ House in Brisbane will have no doubt enjoyed viewing the silver Austin-Healey 100-Six on display in the foyer.

The beautiful English classic belongs to RACQ members Wayne and Glenda Rabnott, of Mount Warren Park, who also own a restored example of a smaller Austin-Healey, the Mk 1 Sprite.

This year, these two significant models celebrate a 60th anniversary and the ‘Bug Eye’ Sprite is about to follow in the wheel tracks of its bigger sibling in going on display at RACQ House from April 28- June 2.

The 100-Six was introduced in 1957 to replace the earlier 100. This model, with its more modern 2.6-litre six-cylinder engine replacing the similarly sized, slow revving ‘four’ of the earlier car, boasted a marginal increase in power but that was offset by reduced torque and a slight increase in weight.

This led to some disappointment in the new model’s performance. But the old saying “Racing Improves the Breed” held true.

Exciting performance was restored with the adoption of an uprated engine design that had been developed for the last ever Mille Miglia, the famous Italian 1000-mile road race. Healeys with the 15% power increase started arriving for Australian customers early in 1958.

Shortly after this upgrade, the British Motor Corporation (BMC) shifted Austin-Healey production from the Austin plant at Longbridge, near Birmingham, to Abingdon on Thames in a move to centralise sports car assembly.

More famous as the home of the MG range, Abingdon also became BMC’s sporting headquarters with one section of the plant set aside to become BMC Special Tuning where the successful rally competition Mini Coopers, MGs and Austin-Healeys were prepared

Meanwhile, the design team at the Donald Healey Motor Company, in the shadow of Warwick Castle, had been busy developing an all-new class of sports car. The Sprite was introduced in 1958 to provide a low-cost sports car to assist younger (and perhaps less wealthy) enthusiasts to enjoy sporting motoring.

Donald Healey had always used standard production power units to propel the Austin-Healeys. The first model in 1952 used the Austin A90 Atlantic four-cylinder engine, the 100-Six the A95 Westminster six-cylinder and the Sprite the 948cc four-cylinder found in the Morris Minor/Austin A35 range.

Both the 100-Six (further upgraded to the later 3000 models) and the Sprite went on to enjoy long careers with success at the Sebring 12 Hours in Florida, 24 Hours of Le Mans and Sicily’s Targa Florio, and top-level rallying during the European winters kept the cars in the headlines.

Wayne and Glenda are long-standing members of the Austin-Healey Owners’ Club of Queensland Inc. Wayne’s history boasts many significant achievements. After serving an apprenticeship as a panel beater, he established his own motor repair business on Brisbane’s north side at a very young age. His shop was one of the first to implement the use of the new May-Rack chassis alignment equipment.

A thirst for adventure saw him head to Papua New Guinea, where he managed a successful logging operation. Returning to Brisbane in the 1970s, he established the Sunland Automotive Accessories group.

Once the business was on a firm footing, Wayne felt a need to return to getting his hands dirty, so the Austin-Healey 100-Six was imported from the USA. A full restoration “from the ground up” ensued.

The Sprite was another proposition, having been found in a very derelict condition, subjected to a fire, then left to rot under a Brisbane house. Because of this history the little red sports car was given the name ‘Phoenix’ as it rose from the ashes!

The Austin-Healey Owners’ Club of Queensland was formed by a small group of enthusiasts in 1970 and today boasts a membership of more than 200.

By Alwyn Keepence