1953 Austin-Healey 100
Lot 433
'Barn Find' fresh from 42 years in single ownership, The Ex-Works, Le Mans 24-Hours, Sebring 12-Hours, Carrera PanAmericana and Bahamas Speed Week, Nassau ,1953-55 Austin-Healey Special Test Car/100S Prototype Sports-Racing Two-Seater Chassis no. SPL 226/B Engine no. SPL 261-BN
Sold for £843,000 (US$ 1,400,964) inc. premium
Lot Details
'Barn Find' fresh from 42 years in single ownership, The Ex-Works, Le Mans 24-Hours, Sebring 12-Hours, Carrera PanAmericana and Bahamas Speed Week, Nassau
1953-55 Austin-Healey Special Test Car/100S Prototype Sports-Racing Two-Seater
Registration no. NOJ 393
Chassis no. SPL 226/B
Engine no. SPL 261-BN


  • Here Bonhams is privileged to offer not only an extraordinary 'barn find' sports car with works racing pedigree, but also a competition car which survives today as an immensely significant reminder of an event which changed the entire course of International motor racing history.

    Furthermore, 'SPL 226/B' presented here is not only one of the Donald Healey Motor Company's four original 1953 Works-racing - or 'Special Test Cars' – but it is also one of only two of those which were subsequently converted to full-blown Works 100S specification.

    And even then this especially evocative survivor – offered here in unrestored, effectively 'barn find' condition – has still much more significance.

    This is the only one of the works Special Test Cars that were constructed through 1953-54 to have competed in not just one Le Mans 24-Hour Grand Prix d'Endurance race, but in two.

    As part of his original Austin-Healey Hundred production agreement with Leonard Lord of the British Motor Corporation, specialist constructor Donald Healey had undertaken to produce four Special Test Cars for racing and record breaking. They had to look exactly like the production vehicles, while there was little time to modify the Austin A90-derived 4-cylinder engine for use in them before the works racing programme would commence.

    Body paneling for the cars was to be made by the Jensen company. In his book 'The Healey Story' (Haynes Publishing, 2004), Donald Healey's son Geoffrey, who was also the company's Chief Engineer, later described how "These Special Test Car bodies were good examples of the high-quality work that Jensen could turn out when cost and volume were not too important. (Stylist) Gerry Coker was responsible for checking on progress and ensuring that Jensen did what we wanted...".

    The quartet of 1953 Special Test Cars – including 'SPL 226B' offered here – were built to the following specification:

    • Chassis frames lightened and strengthened.
    • Body panels in Birmabright BB2 and BB3 aluminium alloys with 2-3 per cent magnesium, giving high strength and corrosion resistance.
    • Riveted understructure in BB3 in half-hard condition which has a minimum tensile strength of 18 tons/sq. in.
    • Engines built in the Austin Experimental Department under Alf Depper – exactly as the production '100' units except for nitride-hardened crankshafts with tri-metal bearings and lightened steel flywheels. Pistons standard production Brico – two grades smaller to give extra clearance. Connecting rods selected standard production units with clamp-type gudgeon pin retention.
    • Modified taxi gearboxes fitted with specially-built overdrive units.
    • Special clutches from Lockheed Competition Department.
    • DAS10 rear dampers on Warwick-modified chassis frames, stiffer front shock absorber valves.
    • Increased-thickness anti-roll bars.
    • Girling 11 x 2¼-in. twin trailing-shoe front brakes with Mintex competition linings.
    • Lucas competition equipment with wiring installed by Lucas Competition Department, including racing dynamo and battery.
    • Aluminium-alloy bumpers chemically brightened.
    • Dunlop 5½ x 15-inch racing tyres.

    The cars' chassis frames were lightened, strengthened and modified at Healey's Warwick factory, their steel floor panels removed and replaced by BB3 alloy sheet, riveted into place. Altered gearbox mountings were added, all suspension pick-ups reinforced and lightening holes opened where suitable. The frames were then delivered to Jensen for their lightweight alloy bodies to be fitted, and painted in metallic Docker-green. The engine spec adopted provided the same 95bhp as the production units, but with greater margin of durability. In the gearboxes, overdrive acted on second, third and fourth gears. Road speed with the Dunlop tyres specified gave 773 turns per mile, using a 5,000rpm rev limit.

    Geoffrey Healey took the first completed car to the Geneva Salon in March, 1953, while two of them then contested the round-Italy Mille Miglia road race crewed by Bert Hadley/Bertie Mercer and Johnny Lockett/Jock Reid. They suffered throttle and clutch problems during the race, corrective measures being built into the Works cars that were then entered for their second competitive event – the 1953 Le Mans 24-Hours.

    In this, the world's premier endurance race, journalist Gordon Wilkins was assigned to co-drive Special Test Car 'NOJ 391' – chassis no. 'SPL 224/B' - with the Belgian Marcel Becquart. However, on the return drive from Le Mans scrutineering to the team's hotel base, this original 'NOJ 391' was rammed by a French truck being driven by an intoxicated farmer who had just enjoyed a particularly good day at the local market...

    Poor 'NOJ 391' suffered severe off-side-front damage, impossible to repair in time for the race. Consequently the Healey team set about transferring the stricken car's engine, brakes and all scrutineer-stamped components into their spare Special Test Car, 'NOJ 393' – chassis no. 'SPL 226/B' - which had been brought to Le Mans "as insurance". The necessary registration and race numbers were painted onto the car now offered here, and so – bearing the registration identity 'NOJ 391', and in effect masquerading as the same car that had just cleared official scrutineering - it was this car that then competed in the 24-Hour race, driven by Wilkins and Becquart. During the long race, both Austin-Healey Special Test Cars ran reliably and rapidly. One electrical connector on the Wilkins/Becquart 'NOJ 393' car came loose, while Wilkins also had the overdrive jam temporarily, before the problem cleared itself.

    Johnny Lockett/Maurice Gatsonides in 'NOJ 392' finally finished 12th overall and second in class, while Wilkins/Becquart in the car now offered here followed them home to finish 14th overall, and third in class.

    As a measure of the support given by the British motoring press to its manufacturers in that period, no mention was published of the post-scrutineering road accident and the subsequent chassis/engine/driveline swop that the Austin-Healey team had first suffered, and then made... In effect, the British in that period were "all in this together" to sustain and hopefully enhance industrial and national prestige.

    For 1954, a new batch of Special Test Cars was completed, road registered with the prefix letters 'OON'. They featured new Dunlop disc brakes, 16-inch aluminium disc wheels, light-alloy radiators, aircraft-type fuel tanks and uprated engines with single-port Weslake cylinder heads. These power units drove through David Brown S430 four-speed gearboxes. Lance Macklin was retained as senior Works driver, and entries were made for the Sports Car World Championship-qualifying Sebring 12-Hours, the Mille Miglia, Le Mans 24-Hours and Carrera PanAmericana road race, in Mexico.

    For the 1954 World Championship-opening Sebring 12-Hours, in Florida, USA, the lone Works Austin-Healey Special Test Car was co-driven by Lance Macklin and George Huntoon. They brought it home into a magnificent third place overall, beaten only by the pure-blood sports-racing prototype OSCA of Stirling Moss/Bill Lloyd and a Works V6-engined Lancia D24! The Austin-Healey Special Test Car won its class handsomely, and the marque's next model name deservedly became '100S' – for 'Sebring'.

    So which car was it that had "put the 'S' in '100S'"? The most eminent of Austin-Healey Special Test Car and 100S authorities, Joe Jarick – for whom we are most grateful for his assistance and research for the catalogue description – has comprehensively researched these cars, and he has volunteered the following information. He states: "I am confident 'NOJ 393' was the 1954 Sebring entry. Additional to the DHMCo documentation, close scrutiny of the photographic evidence of the entries for Sebring and the next year at Le Mans (ignoring the re-grilled front centre sections), supports this view. In the 1954 Sports Car World Championship, seventh place was a tie between Austin-Healey, Aston Martin and Cunningham with 4 points each."

    That Sebring third place had scored those points.....

    Following this success, two cars had been entered and had begun preparation for the 1954 Le Mans 24-Hour race. However, while Lance Macklin drove in the Mille Miglia, finishing fifth in the over 2-litre sports car class, he was only 23rd overall in the final classification. Looking forward to Le Mans, Donald Healey objected very strongly to the organisers' lax entry regulations, as Geoffrey Healey recalled: "We ran what were basically standard production cars (while) the regulations permitted cars bearing not the slightest resemblance to production cars...such racing lost its value to both the manufacturers and the buying public".

    Consequently, to back their argument in favour of a level playing field within this form of motor racing, Austin-Healey withdrew from World Championship-level sports car competition until the Mexican Carrera race that November.

    This tremendous challenge was run in five long daily stages over the PanAmerican Highway from Mexico's southern to northern borders. Meanwhile the first car to have been converted to new 100S specification, featuring disc brakes, uprated engine, different gearbox and remodeled nose styling with the soon-famous lenticular radiator grille, had been 'NOJ 391'/'SPL 224/B'. It was followed by conversion of 'NOJ 393'/'SPL 226/B' offered here, and by three of the 1954 'OON'-registered Special Test Cars.

    The 100S engine featured a Harry Weslake-designed aluminium 'single-port' cylinder head with reversed manifolding and it became unique to the 100S – (total production of only 50 or so customer cars, plus just the handful of Works cars). So in effect, this was a bespoke engine – and a good reason why the 100S has been so rarely replicated.

    The two Special Test Cars campaigned in Mexico were driven by Lance Macklin and the second car by Carroll Shelby and Roy Jackson-Moore. The English star was forced out on the opening stage by ignition failure, while Shelby shone – finishing Stage One fourth overall – before crashing heavily next day.

    In respect of this race, Joe Jarick confirms the following: "The Donald Healey Motor Company stock-take at November 1954 lists;

    Chassis SPL 226/B, Engine Number 1B136878, Registration Number NOJ 393, as being 'used' as follows;

    '1953 Le Mans in place of SPL 224/B. The car then rebuilt with new engine and used at Sebring. Rebuilt now on Pan American Road Race.'"

    The car offered here, 'NOJ 393'/'SPL226/B' is the car used by Lance Macklin in Mexico, 1954, in which its sister sustained severe damage in the Shelby accident. With its ignition system revived, this same Macklin car was then taken to the inaugural Bahamas Speed Week in Nassau - December 10-12, 1954 – in which he drove it to finish sixth in the 100-mile Bahamas Cup before being placed 25th in the 200-mile Nassau Trophy. In the shorter event, this Austin-Healey was headed only by two 4.5-litre Ferrari 375 V12s, a 3-litre Ferrari 750 Monza, Porsche 550 and Maserati A6GCS.

    Into 1955, however, a number of entries were made by owner/drivers whom the factory regarded as "mediocre" and Donald Healey became uneasy that their limitations could discredit his painstakingly created new brand.

    Consequently the factory team's prime driver, Lance Macklin – in conjunction with the French Austin importer AFIVA – persuaded the Le Mans-organising Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO) to accept a private Austin-Healey entry under his name. This was to be, in effect, a quasi-works entry, and the car selected for the event was 'NOJ 393'/'SPL 226/B' as offered here, ready for its second outing at Le Mans.

    BMC engine specialist Eddie Maher specially-tuned '393's engine for the coming race, achieving 140bhp with high-lift, long-period camshaft and two SU HD8 carburettors. Lance Macklin invited 500cc Formula 3 star Les Leston to be his co-driver. Geoffrey Healey explained: "We had no hope of winning with a basic production car, but had a good chance of a high placing with the train-like reliability of the big Austin four-cylinder engine...".

    Marcus Chambers of BMC/MG was running the pit, accompanied by Le Mans old hand – and former Bentley Boy race winner there – 'Sammy' Davis of 'The Autocar' magazine.

    Lance Macklin kept 'NOJ 393' well in contention during his opening race-stint, but as the first round of scheduled pit stops fell due he was in the process of being lapped by the leading group of more powerful and faster sports-prototype cars from Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz, coming into the straight, when he swerved to avoid Mike Hawthorn's heavily-braking D-Type Jaguar as it veered across his path to make its refueling stop. The Austin-Healey was then struck from behind by the veteran French driver 'Levegh' in his works-entered Mercedes-Benz 300SLR sports-prototype.

    The Mercedes struck 'NOJ 393's left-rear corner, rode up over the left-rear wheel and crashed down upon the top of the track's left-side retaining bank, where it disintegrated. Flying debris causing mayhem amongst the packed spectators standing behind that retaining bank. Meanwhile, 'NOJ 393' spun to the right of the roadway, bouncing off the pit-counter wall before slewing to a halt on the other side of the track. Macklin escaped without physical injury, but the magnitude of the disaster within the spectator area was to trigger enormous International ramifications that would change the entire face of International motor sport.

    Switzerland banned circuit racing within its borders, a number of high profile events were cancelled, while major safety requirements emerged, closing many of the public-road race circuits which had been so widely used until that time.

    This car, 'NOJ 393', was then impounded by the Le Mans police authority, pending a full inquiry into the accident presided over by Judge Zadoc-Kahn.

    His inquiry took time, and it was not until September 1956 that the Donald Healey Motor Company was able to negotiate release of their damaged car. Upon its return to The Cape, Warwick, they found that the worst damage was confined to 'NOJ 393's left rear and left-hand side, the heavy impact against the pit wall having affected the same bodywork area struck by the Mercedes.

    By that time the Healey company was deeply committed in selling the latest Austin-Healey100-Six model, having been introduced to the market in August 1956, and were keen to sell the repaired 'NOJ 393' to clear the deck. Even then, the car was as advanced, and as fully-developed, as any 100S in terms of works Le Mans specification. It is interesting to note that today the left-hand side front wing, door and rear wing are steel, whereas the rest of the body is aluminium. The school of thought is that by late '56/early '57 the DHMCo. had exhausted their stock of alloy 100S panels and replaced the damaged wings and door with their stock of steel panels prior to selling the car into the privateer world.

    Extensive detailed history, documentation and photography of 'NOJ 393' accompany the car today, including a copy of the ACO scrutineering fiche which accepted it to compete in the 1955 Le Mans race. This confirms the identity of the scrutineered car – race No: 26 - as bearing "Chassis No: (correctly hand-written) SPL 226B" and "Moteur No: (hand-written) 261-BM" (this is a hand written error as it was in fact 261-BN).

    Incidentally, we believe NOJ 393 retains to this day the original engine 'SPL 261-BN' as it has the ultra-rare Works angled cylinder head and evidence of scrutineering security measures to prohibit tampering.

    The original buff logbook document records the 'Austin Motor Company, Longbridge, Birmingham' as 'NOJ 393's original owner, the first change then being date-stamped 28 February 1957 alongside the company title 'Donald Healey Motor Co Ltd, The Cape, Warwick'. This change was plainly made upon completion of the car's factory repair following its return from its French impoundment, as on 29 March 1957 a second ownership change is recorded – the car having been purchased from Healey by David Buxton, of Derby.

    He was an emerging club racing driver at that time, and after racing 'NOJ 393' only briefly would go on to found the Team Elite organization, racing Lotus Elite GT cars very widely and with considerable success – including Le Mans.

    The ageing car subsequently passed through the hands until it was bought in the 1960s by Healey exponent Ron Kirkham, of Oldham, Lancashire who kept it for the next few years.

    Ultimately, in 1969, it was acquired by the present vendor the same condition in which it is offered today. The engine at that time was seized and he had been to see the car and was told it had already been sold for £150. As the purchaser had not yet paid, the present vendor persuaded the seller to let him have it for a fiver more! He bought it initially in partnership with others, then bought out their share – but the extremely modest overall cost reflected the car's condition and the fact that it was, in effect, merely a sixteen-year-old obsolete racer.

    Today, no fewer than 42 years into its present ownership, 'NOJ 393's evocatively untouched, unchanged fabric bears incontrovertible testament to its specific history.

    Most significantly its left-rear wing, left-side door and front wing are all production steel panels, which would have replaced the Birmabright alloy originals in the Healey factory's post-Le Mans repair. While the right-side door hinges are of the original 1953 Special Test Car design, the replacement left-side door features the later production design hinges – entirely consistent with 1956-57 repair by which time the original type hinges had become unavailable. The intricately lattice-framed scuttle structure is original 1953 Special Test Car design.

    At scrutineering for the 1955 Le Mans 24-Hours, the Works team had been required to add a further two leather retaining straps from scuttle to bonnet and the legacy of these modification are still apparent today. The bonnet also retains the drillings, now plugged, that were used to prevent the lateral leather strap from fluttering in the airstream by the bridge-piece bracket, that was riveted to the opening bonnet panel. The panels surviving on the car today have filled drillings corresponding precisely with this centre-fixing's location and the additional retaining straps – as photographed uniquely on this car at Le Mans 1955. Furthermore, areas of both the 1953 Docker Pale Green and 1955 British Racing Green paintwork show through the later paint coats applied subsequently.

    So 'NOJ 393' – chassis serial 'SPL 226/B' – has its two-time Le Mans 24-Hours racing history embodied within its structure as indelibly and unmistakably as a human fingerprint.

    As one of that so-rarefied group of Austin-Healey 100 Special Test Cars this amazing, time-warp example has by definition inbuilt iconic status.

    As the unique double-Le Mans car it has especially enhanced stature.

    And – tragically – as the quasi-works Austin-Healey involved in the racing incident that changed the entire course of motor sporting development, 'NOJ 393' plainly becomes a crucially historic landmark car.

    It is worth reiterating that in its heyday this Works Special Test Car shared the grid with such now multi-million-Pound classics as 3-, 3.4- 4.5- and 4.9-litre sports-prototyes from Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Maserati and Lancia. Within its up-to-3-litre Sports Car class alone it faced not only the Aston Martin DB3S, Maserati 300S and Gordini T24S but also the irresistible Mercedes-Benz 300SLR and even the Cunningham-Offenhauser C6R! Truly, 'NOJ 393' now offered here holds a place, by merit, at motor racing history's top table.

    The opportunity now presents itself to a connoisseur collector to revive this significant war horse. The choices are self-evident although perhaps the majority opinion would be to restore the car to the zenith of its Works career – in 1955 Le Mans start-line condition, resplendent in British Racing Green, race no. 26.

    Whichever route is taken, we offer the new owner here a blank canvas, one for which the successful bidder can select his restorer and specification of choice and thoroughly enjoy the process of reviving one of the most important sports-racing cars to have come to market for many years...

    Today, an Austin-Healey 100S provides an entry ticket to every one of the blue riband historic motor sport events - such as the Goodwood Revival, Mille Miglia Retro, Le Mans Classic, Carrera PanAmericana...and countless more. This will be especially so for a newly revived ex-Works Special Test Car/100S 'NOJ 393' that we offer here with such confirmed originality and provenance.

    Estimate upon request
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  1. Tim Schofield
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