Healey Westland and Elliot

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Austin Healey Westland

Austin Healey

Healey Westland

1946 - 1950
United Kingdom
Straight 4
2443 cc
77 kW @ 4500 rpm
4 spd. MT
Top Speed:
Number Built:
104 Elliots
5 star
Healey Westland
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5


The Healey Westland was released in 1946 and went on to make a name for itself as a supremely stable high-speed touring car which would obey the control of the driver at all speeds of which it was capable, and under all road conditions. The chassis was built up of very light box section members, the side members being straight in both vertical and horizontal planes from the front right back to the rear wheel arch.

The front cross tube was extended beyond the chassis on each side to carry welded sheet steel boxes on which the front suspension arms were pivoted. A box member was located immediately behind it, and between the centre of the frame and the wheel arch was a short, very sturdy cruciform, which was unit-built with the tailshaft tunnel. A box member at the apex of the wheel arches and steel under panning to the rear completed the chassis.

The chassis frame unit weighed but 160 lb. yet was exceptionally rigid. Front suspension was by trailing parallel links and coil springs, with hydraulic shock absorbers. At the rear coil springs were also used, with axle location via a Panhard rod and torque tube. The power unit was based on the 2.5 litre Riley 4 cylinder engine. This engine had twin camshafts, one on each side of the block located in a very high position, so the push rods were very short and the reciprocating masses in the valve gear were considerably lighter than otherwise.

Inlet ports were siamesed, with an S.U. carburetter to each port, while on the other side of the engine was a large bore four-branch exhaust manifold. Bore and stroke was 80.5 m.m. x 120 m.m., compression ratio was 6.9 to 1, and the power output was 104 b.h.p. at 4,500 r.p.m. Though only of small car dimensions, the saloon body was very spacious and comfortable, with an exceptional amount of head room. All body panels were of light alloy and in the interests of weight saving side and rear windows were made of perspex. The lines of the body were very pleasing and were given by what was doubtless the best compromise design of aerodynamics and driver convenience ever successfully produced up to that time.

Benford Cement Mixer Works

Donald Healey stole a march on car makers around the world when he created the Healey Westland. After the war most European car plants had been flattened by bombing, even the British and American plants had been on war work and they took time to switch back. Most companies revised old designs and rushed those into the showrooms while they planned what to make next. Meanwhile Donald Healey didn't have to steer an industrial empire, he didn't have to replace worn-out or obsolete machinery costing millions. Instead Healey had a small technical team, a collection of experimental parts and some brand new plans, and he knew exactly how to use them.

The plans were for a new high performance touring car, as fast, well built and reliable as a pre-war sports racer. His calculations provided for an engine giving about 75 kW in a car weighing about 1000 kg, for about 160 km/h on the road. After Triumph's command structure looked at the plans and knocked them back, Healey borrowed a spare corner of the Benford cement mixer works and started on a prototype himself. The chassis was made by Westland Aero-parts nearby.

Many Riley Parts Used

The engine was a reconditioned Riley unit, by courtesy of his connections there. Other parts came from all round the place, bought from stock or specially made. Healey took whatever fitted best. The chassis was made of 18 gauge steel folded in a top-hat box section. The Westland Aero parts folder couldn't handle anything bigger than a 2.4-metre sheet, so that fixed its length. It turned out to be very strong and it weighed just 72.5 kg. It was used in nearly all the Healey models that followed.

The 2.4-litre engine was the usual Riley pattern with a camshaft high on either side of the block, working the valves by short pushrods and rocker arms. It was a bit heavy and expensive, but its hemispherical head was very efficient and it was reliable and strong. It was rated at 16 hp and it produced about 60 kW, but Healey and his mechanics modified it to give 77 kW at 4500 rpm. The 3.5 to 1 back axle ratio gave 35 km/h per 1000 revs in top gear. The design included the independent front suspension with trailing arms, coil springs with hydraulic dampers and an anti-roll bar. There were coil springs and a Riley torque tube at the back. The steering layout was unusual, with the steering box controlling the wheels through a swivelling plate and link rods. There were 28 cm Lockheed drum brakes in front and 25 cm at the back.

The body was 4267 mm long on 2590mm wheelbase and 1371mm tracks. It was tested in a wind tunnel for smoothness and it was made of magnesium alloy panels on a wood frame to save weight. The tall long-stroke Riley engine didn't help toward a small frontal area, but they did the best they could. It was drawn in two styles, a compact four-seater sports saloon and a roadster the same shape. The roadster style was picked for the prototype. It went back to Westland Aeroparts for its body, so it was named the Healey Westland. Westlands made the rest of the open bodies in that style.

As Tested By "The Motor" and "Autocar"

The first Westland was ready early in 1946. Its specifications were announced on January 6 and aroused a lot of interest. At "The Motor", Laurence Pomeroy's calculations showed a top speed of about 169 km/h, which was better than any car tested by the magazine before the war. Donald Healey numbered the Westland's chassis 1501, decorated it with a false registration number, VVV 214, and showed it to the press, and they were keener still. During the next few years it seems British motoring writers never mentioned Healeys except to applaud them. The Motor's writers were pleased to find the cars were almost as fast as Pomeroy had predicted. They were small, but they were roomy inside. The suspension was soft by that day's standards, but they handled well. They were easy on fuel. Exhaust noise and slightly deficient headlights were the only faults mentioned.

"Here is a vehicle which projects into the modern world all the virtues and advantages (and, let us admit, some of the disadvantages) of the classic type of vintage car," they said. Motor Sport reported favourably on all the Healey's technical points. "The over-100 mph maximum of the Healey, coupled with tremendous acceleration (it goes from rest to 60 mph in about 121A sec.) is a most outstanding show by a 2.4 litre saloon basically priced at £1250 today," it said. The Autocar's writer drove a Westland in 1948. "Here is a sports car par excellence in modern form," he said. He pointed out that top speed wasn't as important as some people thought, because at high speed other qualities came into the picture. But the magazine's tests showed the Healey's overall performance was tremendous.

The Healey Westland in Motorsport

The Autocar reviewer actualy drove the very same vehicle as used by Donald Healey in the Mille Miglia that year. When racing and rallying picked up again in Europe after the war, he'd joined in to publicise his new make. A Westland was the first Healey to get into competition. In 1947 Tommy Wisdom and his wife drove an early example in the French Alpine Rally, and won the 3 litre class in both the speed tests and the concourse, so they came home with four cups. In early 1948 Count Lurani drove an Elliot, the saloon version, in the Targa Florio to finish 13th. In the 1948 Mille Miglia Donald Healey's Westland and Count Lurani's Elliot were the only two British cars entered. The Westland was specially prepared and with the top up it reached 180 km/h. On the road Donald and Geoffrey Healey diced with all the top Italian drivers and cars, including Nuvolari driving a Ferrari in one of his last appearances.

The Westland's dynamo failed, then they had brake trouble, then they hit a dog and damaged a wheel and wing. After dark they had to drive without headlights, because when they switched them on the engine started missing. Just the same the Westland came fourth in the unlimited sports car class, and ninth overall. Donald Healey drove a Westland in the 1948 Alpine Rally for another class win. The Westland entered in the Paris 12-hour Race that year however it had to retire, but in 1949 Geoffrey Healey teamed with Tommy Wisdom in another Westland and won the touring class of the Mille Miglia outright. In 1948 Donald and Geoffrey Healey had taken a Westland on a long tour of the United States, west to Chicago and Detroit, south to Texas and west again to California. At this time the Healey work force was turning out about three chassis a week, mostly for Westland and Elliot bodies, and numbers of these were exported. Some even reached Australia.

The Healey Westland Design

The Healey Westland featured large doors which were hinged at the back so that the front seats could tip to let people in behind. But all the seats were short on leg room. The driver had to sit with their knees wide apart and the big wheel in between, and the passenger had their knees right up. The back seats were noticeably higher, like the ones in a fourseater Morgan, so that with the roof up the people there would have to hunch to see out. There were small foot-wells but you would have still needed to sit with your knees apart or over to one side. A Healey Silverstone from the same period was cramped too. Donald Healey was a small chunky man and some detractors thought he was designing the interior of his cars to fit himself - although we do not believe that here at Unique Cars and Parts for a minute. Rather, it was an era when some compromise had to be made.

The top folded away under a neat panel at the back of the seat, and the boot was fairly big. The fuel tank was under the boot floor with a long filler pipe sticking up, and you had to open the boot to get at it, which cut into the space a bit more. Like most cars from the era, there was plenty of space under the bonnet. The body shell did appear both light and frail around the tall narrow engine - the body sides didn't even extend between the engine bay and the wheel space under the wings. Instead there was a louvred metal skirt clipped lightly in place to keep most of the mud off the engine.

The Westlands and their various half sisters were the top British high performance cars between the end of the war and the rise of the Jaguar XK 120 and Jaguar Mark VII. These were heavier, stronger, more powerful and faster, and were built in numbers the Healey company couldn't hope to match. By then Donald Healey was looking afield, planning toward the big Austin-Healeys. These were fine cars in their turn and more popular than the Healeys. But the Westland's design was where Healey first showed what he could do and if you judge by originality, ingenuity and economy you might think he never showed it better. Of course, the story of the Big Austin Healeys continues, simply click the "next" button at the bottom of this article.

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Also see:

Donald Healey
Austin Healey Heritage
Austin Healey Brochures
Donald Healey and the History of the Big Healeys
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