Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5
Long before Chevrolet's Corvette hit the showrooms there was another sports car in the making in America - the Nash-Healey. The Nash-Healey project started with the single-handed efforts of Donald Healey
. He acquired a 3.8-litre six cylinder Nash engine and driveline in 1950
and built a car around it, entering the product in the 24 Hours of Le Mans
in July of that year.
Although American engines were generally not highly regarded by European enthusiasts, the special Healey (driven by Rolt and Hamilton) finished fourth, impressing Nash officials in the US who decided to produce copies of the car. The production model was to use the same power-plant as Healey's racer, but the six-cylinder engine would be fitted with an aluminium head and dual carburettors.
, with an aluminium body by Healey, was ready for the Paris show late in 1950
. Production began in December 1950
and continued into 1955
. The first Healeys were remarkably luxurious with leather upholstery, adjustable steering wheel, chrome wheel discs, even whitewall tyres. Only two colours were available - Champagne Ivory and Sunset Maroon.
production stopped while arrangements were made with Pininfarina
(then Pinin Farina) for a new body. The Nash-Healey was getting to be an international car. The engines and gearboxes built in Kenosha, Wisconsin, were shipped to England where Healey provided the chassis before shipping the units to Italy where the bodies were added. A 4.1-litre sports-racing Nash-Healey finished the 1952 Le Mans
race third, behind a Ferrari
and a Talbot
In January 1953
Pininfarina introduced a hardtop model to join the open version. That year, a total of 162 roadsters and hardtops were built. The styling of the Pininfarina
Nash-Healey was remarkably reminiscent of his 1949 Cisitalia
, except that Pininfarina
had the awkward American Motors grille shell and bumpers to contend with, making the front end resemble a 1950s Wurlitzer jukebox. Subtleties included kick-up rear fenders with a slight suggestion of fins.
Behind the Wheel
We have not had the opportunity to drive one, but motoring journalists of the time compared it as "on a par with a milk truck". The Nash-Healey had a floor shift for the three-speed gearbox. Overdrive was standard, engaged via a lever on the steering column. The engine pulled strongly. In its day it claimed 140 horsepower at 4000 rpm. It breathed through two SU side-draught carburettors. First gear was good for about 48 km/h, which ran to within 300 rpm of the 4500 rpm redline. Second gear got you to 84 km/h and third would nudge 160 km/h. The Nash-Healey's steering was positive and smooth. The ride was smoother than most 1950s American cars because of the coil springs all around rather than the usual rear cart-type springs.
The seat was a bench type, this being the pre-bucket seat era. Safety belts were provided and they were rare in those days. Like the 1953 Corvette, the Healey came with snap-in side curtains rather than roll-up windows. Another bit of sports car awkwardness were the British style chain-pulls to latch the doors. Originally, the Nash-Healeys sold for about US$6000. Nash Motors became a division of American Motors Corporation (AMC) that was formed as a result of a merger with Hudson Motor Car Company in January 1954
. Nash was faced with limited resources for marketing, promotion, and further development of this niche market car in comparison to its volume models.
By this time AMC knew that a similar luxurious two-seat Ford Thunderbird with V8 power was being planned. In light of the low sales for the preceding years, Nash delayed introduction of the 1954 models until 3 June and discontinued the convertible, leaving just a slightly reworked "Le Mans" coupe, distinguished by a three-piece rear window instead of the previous one-piece glass. Healey was focusing on its new Austin-Healey 100, "and the Nash-Healey had to be abandoned." Although the international shipping charges were a significant cost factor, Nash cut the POE (port of entry) price by more than US$1,200 to US$5,128. Production ceased in August. A few leftover 1954s were sold as 1955 models.