Austin-Healey 100/4 BN1 Sports Car

Eleanor Hanson

A review of The Austin-Healey 100/4 BN1 Sports Car, covering development, important features, and technical data of this the first model in the range.

In this Article, I offer a nostalgic look at the Austin-Healey 100/4 BN1, one of an elite group of classic cars, which was manufactured during the period 1953 to 1955.

The Nash-Healey was a two seater sports car marketed specifically in the US during the period 1951 to 1954.

It was, in fact, the first post WW2 convertible to be manufactured in the US, and was a joint venture between Nash-Kelvinator Corp, who provided the drivetrain, and Donald Healey’s company, who were responsible for the chassis and body.

In 1951, following on from his involvement with the Nash-Healey, Donald Healey realised there was a market opportunity for a fast, versatile, and cheap sports car that was more up market than the prevailing MG’s, but less expensive than a Jaguar.

He received agreement from the Austin Motor Corporation to use the engine, transmission, suspension and drivetrain from their Austin A90 Atlantic saloon car, which was being produced at that time.

He then approached Gerry Coker, who designed the body for the Nash-Healey, to design a sports car that would be a big seller in America.

He named his new car “The Healey 100” since he was confident it would exceed the magic 100 mph.

The car made its first appearance at the Earl’s Court Motor Show in 1952, and was an immediate success.

Prior to the show, the head of the Austin Motor Company was so impressed with the car that he offered to mass produce it under the brand name of “Austin-Healey”.

Originally, the cars were built at his Warwick factory, and used one basic design for the chassis.

Following the agreement with Austin, he would be responsible for the design of the cars, whilst Austin’s Longbridge factory would build and market them as Austin-Healeys.

Both the body and chassis were built by Thompsons of Wolverhampton on a production line at Jensen Motors of West Bromwich.

A total on nineteen pre-production BN1’s were built at the Warwick factory, and all were left hand drive models.

The first of these were destined for motor shows in New York, Los Angeles, and Frankfurt, and a US sales promotion tour.

Subsequently, a prominent motoring magazine lauded the car as “The best handling car this year”.

Specification included the following:

  • 2660 cc, overhead valve, 4-cylinder, in line engine
  • Compression ratio of only 7.5:1
  • Two SU carburettors
  • Aluminium and steel body over a steel frame
  • Girling eleven inch drum brakes all round
  • Three speed gearbox with overdrive on second and third
  • Independent front suspension using coil springs with a rigid axle and semi elliptic leaf springs at the rear
  • Steering by a cam and lever system

The first production cars received badges using the name Austin-Healey 100.

However, this would change, and they would soon be designated the model name “BN1”, which was the first of a series of internal company codes:

  • B – denotes an Austin engine between 2-3 litres
  • N – denoted a two seater
  • BY – denotes a four seater
  • BJ – denotes an original convertible top rather than a detachable top
  • 1 to 8 – Each model had a suffix denoting the particular version of the car

The original engine of the BN1 developed 90 bhp, but Donald Healey modified a version of this engine to produce 130 bhp.

He designate this car the 100S, where “S” referred to Sebring.

In fact, an Austin-Healey 100S, driven by Stirling Moss, came in sixth position in the 1955 Sebring twelve hour race, beating a D-Type Jaguar, and two Ferraris and Masseratis.

The market was so impressed with the performance of the 100S that Austin-Healey introduced the 100M version, where “M” referred to Le Mans.

This variant was fitted with larger carburettors, higher compression ratio and pistons, and modified camshaft.

In 1953, a BN1 won the award of International Motor Car Of The Year in New York, and a standard production car averaged 104 mph on the Utah Salt Flats.

Also that year, Donald Healey reached nearly 193 mph when driving a 224 bhp, supercharged version of an Austin-Healey 100.

By the time production ended in 1953, 10,030 BN1’s were built, of which less than 10% were made with right hand drive.

This marked the end of the Austin-Healey 100/4 BN1

Perhaps this stroll down memory lane might have answered, or at least shed light on, a possible question:

Which Austin-Healey Sports Car is Your Favourite?

However, should this question still remain unanswered, I will be reviewing, in some detail, in future articles within this website, the entire range of Austin-Healey sports cars which were featured in the memorable era spanning 1953 to 1972.

I hope you join me in my nostalgic travels “down sports car memory lane”.

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