Article by Mark Trotta
Often cited as America's first post-war sports car, the Nash-Healey was a joint venture between Nash Motors and Donald Healey, pairing his frame and bodies with Nash's engines, gearboxes and rear axles. The cars were fast and beautiful, but with a price tag of over $3,700, just 507 Nash-Healeys were built in the four years produced.
The production of Nash-Healey's were a collaborative effort between Donald Healey and George Mason, the president of Nash-Kelvinator. Healey was a former Royal Air Force pilot turned race car driver, designer, and builder. His business, Healey Motors, was founded in 1945.
Healey and his staff had designed and built three special cars with lightweight aluminum racing bodies. They competed in four consecutive Le Mans races and one Mille Miglia. At the 1950 Le Mans, a Nash-Healey entry, driven by Tony Holt and Duncan Hamilton, finished in fourth place. This outstanding achievement brought about a contract with Nash for a limited run of production sports cars.
Nash-Healey Design and Production
Nash Motors supplied the powertrain components, which consisted of the Ambassadorís 3.8-litre straight-six engine, three-speed manual transmission with Borg-Warner overdrive, plus torque tube and differential.
The existing Healey-Silverstone chassis, a box-section ladder-type steel frame, was widened and reinforced. Independent front suspension featured coil springs, trailing link, and a sway bar. The rear suspension was Nash's rear end and coil springs replacing the Silverstone's leaf springs. Wheelbase was 102 inches.
The Nash cast-iron cylinder head was replaced with a lighter, higher-compression aluminum head. Dual 44mm SU carburetors helped increase power from the stock 112 horsepower figure to 125. Compared with other British sports cars, the engine was long and heavy. Healey had originally intended to use an even heavier engine, a 331ci Cadillac V8. The engine bay was large enough for Nash-Healey owners to convert their cars to V8 power.
Healey designed the aluminum body, which was built by Panelcraft Sheet Metal of Birmingham. It incorporated a Nash grille, bumpers, and other trim. Full chrome hubcaps covered steel wheels fitted with 15" whitewall tires. Brakes were four-wheel drum. The interior featured leather upholstery, adjustable steering wheel, and a cigarette lighter.
Completed vehicles were shipped to the United States for sale through the Nash dealership network. Transportation costs were high - the Nash parts were shipped to England, then the completed frame and drivetrain went Italy for the body and final assembly, then back to the U.S. A prototype was exhibited at the Paris Motor Show in September 1950. The suggested retail price was $3,767.
For 1952, Nash commissioned Italian designer Pinin Farina to revise the body, the intention was to give the sports car a look similar to the rest of the Nash models. The front received a Nash-style gille incorporating inboard headlights. A curved windshield replaced the original two-piece flat windshield. The fenders received more distinctive lines, and small tailfins were added to the rear.
The bodies, built by Carrozzeria Pininfarina in Turin, Italy, were now steel except for an aluminum hood, trunk lid and dashboard. The Nash inline-six engine now had a bore and stroke ratio of 3.50" x 4.38" which increased displacement to 252ci. Equipped with twin Carter carburetors, the engine produced 140 hp. The restyled car appeared at that year's Chicago Auto Show.
1952 Mille Miglia Race
In 1952, driver Leslie Johnson raced a Nash-Healey in the Mille Miglia, the legendary thousand-mile Italian road race. Automotive correspondent Bill McKenzie rode as passenger. They finished seventh overall and took fourth in class. Another car, a coupe driven by Donald Healey and his son, Geoffrey, crashed and did not finish.
Nash-Healey Le Mans Coupe
For 1953, a new model joined the roadster, a closed coupe with a longer wheelbase of 108 inches. Although it was Mercedes-Benz that scored a one-two victory at the 1952 Le Mans, a Nash-Healey driven by Leslie Johnson and Tommy Wisdom finished third overall (first in class). In tribute, the new coupe was called the Le Mans. At the Italian International Concours d'Elegance, held at Tresa, Italy, the Le Mans model was awarded first prize in March of 1953.
American Motors Corporation
Nash Motors became a division of American Motors Corporation in January 1954. New president George Romney, a practical-minded businessman, did not see a future for the low-production sports car. The roadster body was dropped, leaving just the Le Mans coupe, now with a three-piece rear window instead of the previous one-piece glass. The introduction of the 1954 model became delayed until June of that year, now with a price-tag of $5,908. In comparison, a new Chevy Corvette was $3,513.
The Nash-Healey was the first of Donald Healey's several production sports cars, including the Austin-Healey Sprite and the Austin-Healey 3000. His company had already started work on the Austin-Healey 100 as Nash-Healey production was ending.
Nash-Healey Production by Years
- 1951 - 104 (roadsters)
- 1952 - 150 (roadsters)
- 1953 - 162 (roadsters and coupes)
- 1954 - 90 (coupes only)
A total of 507 Nash-Healeys were built. Although production ended in August of 1954, some '54 models were sold as '55s. The majority of cars were exported to America.
With very low production numbers, and being one of the first post-war sports cars, all Nash-Healey models are very desirable to classic car collectors. Because they were all hand-built, no two are exactly alike, making authentic restoration difficult.