Above The Madding CrowdTo say that the new Healey Hundred was the sensation of the 1952 London Motor Show in October would be an understatement. It had arrived too late to be included in the pre-show publicity, and so show-goers and the press were surprised by the stunning two-seater positioned behind a pillar on the Healey show stand. It didn't take them long to find it, however. Among the interested parties was Sir Leonard Lord, the Chairman of the Austin Motor Company. Sir Leonard immediately recognized the potential of the Healey Hundred, and he and Donald Healey agreed that Austin would take over production of the Healey while Donald Healey would continue its development. The next morning the Healey badge on the nose of the ice-blue prototype on the show stand had been replaced by a new, winged Austin-Healey badge, and a new car marque had been created. Additional prototypes were built and sent on the show circuit. At the Miami World's Fair the design won the Grand Premier Award, and at the New York Motor Show the new Austin-Healey Hundred was voted International Motor Show Car of 1953.
The Austin-Healey 100Series production of the Austin-Healey 100 began at the Austin Longbridge factory in May 1953. The 90-bhp A90 engine provided plenty of torque, and the three-speed transmission with overdrive on the top two gears allowed for five speeds and good performance. The front independent suspension with a live axle on half-elliptic leaf springs looks crude today but was state of the sports car art 50 years ago. By 1955, the three-speed transmission had been replaced with a four-speed unit, still with the Laycock de Normanville overdrive unit.
If the Austin-Healey was unremarkable mechanically, it was a visual feast for any automotive enthusiast's eyes. There is something about the flow of the long nose and saucy curve of that pert tail that screams sports car. It was truly a new look, and it gave away nothing to the best efforts of the Italian coachbuilders. Donald Healey had designed a clever folding windshield that would lay almost flat, giving the car an even more rakish appearance. The cockpit of the Austin-Healey Hundred was strictly functional but was quite comfortable and roomy compared to the Jaguar XK120 or the MGA.
Even before production officially began, the Austin-Healey began its competition career. In March 1953, Gregor Grant and Peter Reece were given one of the original prototypes to run the Lyons-Charbonnieres Rally in France. The car did well on the snow-packed timed hillclimb and special tests before a broken rear shock absorber slowed the team. The next event in May, and one that was probably more appropriate, was the 1,000-mile open road race around Italy, the Mille Miglia. Two factory cars were sent, but both cars retired with clutch problems. Still, competition was an effective way to find the problems before the customer did and was always a mainstay of the Austin-Healey development program.
The 1953 Le Mans 24-hour race in June seemed like the perfect opportunity to show the speed and reliability of the new sports car. Two factory cars were entered and in appearance at least were almost standard. The engines had been breathed upon slightly with a high-lift camshaft, higher compression pistons and some improvements in the intake manifold. The engines put out about 103 bhp, and the cars were capable of almost 120 mph on the Mulsanne straight. The cars finished in twelfth and fourteenth, second and third place in class. By July 1953, production at the Austin factory was approaching 100 cars per week, most of which were shipped to the United States. In fact, during the big Healey's production, nearly 90% of the cars were shipped to the America.