Donald Healey: The Healey Motor Company

Rear view of prototype Nash Healey [JWD 300] with American plates (37 550) parked near Kittatinny Mountain road tunnel. [c.1949-1950]
Warwickshire County Record Office reference CR4804/2/221

Healey considered several names for the car, such as Invicta, Railton, and Vindex, but after advice from Victor Riley he decided to use his own name. The Donald Healey Motor Company was formed by Healey, Bowden and Sampietro in February 1946 with capital of £50,000. Subscribers included James Watt who became Sales Director (he had known Healey at Triumph).

The new car

The body on the new car was started by Riley but an alternative maker had to be found after changes within the Morris group (that now owned Riley) and work was taken over by the Westland Engineering Company of Hereford. RAF Honiley (five miles from Warwick) was used for testing on what became the Healey Westland roadster. It was exhibited to the press in January 1946. Work on a saloon car started with the body from Elliotts of Reading (hence the Healey Elliott saloon). It won the 1947 and 1948 Alpine rallies and the touring class of the 1948 Mille Miglia. Elliots’ Managing Director also became a director of the Donald Healey Motor Company.

These two models were in production from October 1946 to October 1950. The Healey Silverstone, a high performance sports car was introduced in July 1949 and was the first Healey car to cost less than £1,000. It won its class in the 1949 Alpine Rally and came second overall, and three Silverstones took part in the British Racing Drivers’ Club international trophy meeting at Silverstone – driven by Louis Chiron, Tony Rolt and Tommy Wisdom, and winning the Daily Express team award.

A turning point

In December 1949 Healey travelled by sea to the USA to obtain Cadillac engines from General Motors to replace the Riley engine. By chance he met on board George Mason, President of Nash Kelvinator Corporation. Mason knew General Motors and warned Healey that he would not get the Cadillac engines because of production delays. He told Healey to get in touch with him if that was the case as he wanted to get into smaller sports cars for the American market and would supply engines.

This led to an agreement and the first series of the two-seater Nash-Healeys was built in 1951 at the Cape Works with bodies built by Abbey Panels of Coventry. Nash also paid off Healey’s debts (£50,000) which was to be paid back in sold cars (which were for export only to the USA) – and this proved a turning point for the company. A prototype Nash-Healey was driven by Donald Healey at Mille Miglia and Le Mans in 1950 and was introduced at the Paris and London Motor Shows in the same year. The last Nash-Healey was delivered to the USA in August 1954 and the association with Nash ended.

The previous article looked at the Triumph and war years, whilst the next focuses on his association with Austin.

The ‘Warwick Healey Motor Company’ material was purchased by Warwickshire County Record Office from the Healey family in June 2016 and includes items from different branches of the family. Subsequent donations were made by the family and others, including former Donald Healey Motor Company employees, individuals, and Healey enthusiasts.

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