1954 Austin-Healey 100-4 BN1
Chassis Number : 446766*4 Horsepower : 90 Displacement : 4-cylinder, 2.7 L Wheelbase : 90"
Why is this relatively common car in the collection? Quite frankly it deserves more attention than it ordinarily gets in the annals of performance sports cars. With a crude but very torquey engine with a bore of 3.44 inches and a stroke of 4.38 inches, it was capable of great pulling power, so much so that the American versions have the first gear blocked out. Beyond that, however, this 2.6 liter four cylinder 90 horsepower basic Austin engine, was very reliable, and consequently somewhat apart from other sports cars available in the early 1950s.
As a publicity stunt and also as a test of the endurance of this engine, Donald Healey took a stock passenger car to the International Record Trials at Bonneville Salt Flats in September 1953. He broke more than 100 class D (2.0 to 3.3 liter engine displacement) records and he also broke the all American stock car record distances from 5 to 3,000 miles. In addition, the strictly stock Austin Healey averaged 104 miles per hour for 30 hours with a high top speed, and a modified stocker achieved a two way average of 142.6 miles per hour! The company advertised “the world’s fastest production car”.
In his automobile biography The Healey Story, Geoffrey Healey describes the extent to which the AAA ascertained that the Bonneville records would be set by pure stock cars, “Two production ‘100’ vehicles had been selected at random from dealers showrooms in California by officials of the American Automobile Association who kept them under tight control on the 1000 mile drive to Wendover , Utah, just outside of Bonneville
Two servicemen drove the cars all the way with the AAA officials beside them. We were allowed to select one of these cars for the attack on the American National Stockcar Records but we were only allowed to work on the car under the eagle eyes of the AAA observers. Only factory listed parts and spares could be fitted. After checking the cars on the forecourt of the motel we went out on the Flats and Donald Healey tried them round the 10 mile circuit.”
The beautiful body was designed by Gerry Coker and to this day, represents a timeless styling, particularly the early folding windshield versions which, though very impractical (as we will see in the driver impressions) certainly gave the car a sexy look and increased the top speed in the down position. With its first gear boxed out, the Austin four speed transmission gave three useful speeds, but an overdrive which was actuated in second and third gear gave in effect five speeds. Because of the power/weight of the engine 60 miles an hour was easily achieved at the 2500 RPM.
As occurs with many production sports cars, the first model is usually the most classic, or at least the most attractive. Later came the heavier, less sporting 100-6 version which had creature comfort modifications described Road and Track in January 1957 as “two more cylinders, two more seats, two more wheelbase inches, and two more miles per hour.” Its acceleration was not much better than the more primitive 100-4 model.
In 1954, Road and Track Magazine wrote with reference to the effort at Bonneville, “Even more significant are the new production stock car records. This car finally cracked a 16 year old American unlimited record of 107.66 mph held by supercharged Cord, by clocking 109.23 mph for five miles. The 24 hour mark for international Class D racing cars was set by the Austin Healey at an average of 104.32 mph for the 24 hour distance
There’s nothing special to say about our car. When I realized the excellent Bonneville history and recognized the fact that the 100-4, with its folding windshield is the one to get, looking best in the black color, it was easy to find a fine example in Hemmings from a long term owner who restored the car but was moving to Florida as part of his retirement. I hope I convinced him that his beauty has a good home.