Donald Healey: Jensen-Healey and Beyond

Jensen-Healey 1972 publicity shot.
Warwickshire County Record Office reference CR4804/3/28

Donald Healey started to look for another partner to produce a Healey sports car and was approached by Kjell Qvale, who imported British and other cars to the United States. Healey knew Qvale as he was selling more Healeys and MGs than any other importer, and had arranged the MG dealership for him. Qvale suggested that a replacement for the Austin-Healey 3000 should be designed at Warwick, and added that he would buy Jensen and produce it. Qvale became a major shareholder in Jensen and made Healey chairman.

Jensen had previous links with Healey as it had been producing body work for Healey cars and Donald Healey had been friends with the Jensen brothers Richard and Alan before any Healey association.

Styling the car

Early Jensen-Healey styling was by Hugo Poole but the look changed after modifications to accept a Vauxhall engine unit. Bill Towns then designed a new look to cope with restrictions imposed by American crash regulations. The design team was headed by Kevin Beattie, with Gordon Holt looking after the coachwork. Barry Bilbie (Healey’s Chief Chassis designer) became Chief Chassis Engineer, and Howard Panton looked after day to day design work. A Lotus engine was then selected because the Vauxhall was not powerful enough, and the Jensen-Healey was introduced at the 1972 Geneva Show.

Production problems and the 1973 oil crisis meant that Jensen struggled with finances and although production increased to 100 cars a week in mid-1973 it was not as high as the original plan of over 200 a week. It could not keep up with demand, mainly because of Lotus’s inability to make their engines available on time or as agreed. Staff and management changes also caused problems and the company went into receivership in 1975. This was just before advice had been received from MG designer Syd Enever on a consultancy basis, and his design for a gull-wing Jensen-Healey reached an advanced stage before the company eventually collapsed.

Financial challenges

Donald Healey thought the best way forward was to purchase Jensen assets from the receiver and opened negotiations but it would have meant him raising £1,500,000. He talked to the Department of Trade & Industry to see if financial help could be forthcoming (as it was for the De Lorean in Northern Ireland) but no help was offered. Qvale eventually purchased the Jensen assets and formed another company.

Healey Automobile Consultants Limited (HACL), a subsidiary of the Donald Healey Motor Company Ltd had been formed in 1955 to separate out the consulting and research and development activities from motor retailing. After the end of the agreements with Austin and Jensen to produce Healey cars HACL continued to look for partners to keep the Healey name alive. In 1976 Donald Healey visited Australia for the first time as a guest of the Austin-Healey Club of Australia and had discussions with the British Leyland subsidiary there about producing a Healey car with an Australian engine, to be manufactured in that country and shipped to overseas markets.

Global discussions

There was also an approach in 1978 to build Healeys in Canada but the plan needed government financial backing, which wasn’t forthcoming. A Japanese distributor also made an approach to the family to produce a sports car under the Healey name in collaboration with HACL. Another attempt was made when talks were held with SAAB in the late 1970s and early 1980s over a link up but SAAB was too committed to developing its 9000 range.

The previous article looked at the company expansion, whilst the next focuses on Healey’s return to Cornwall, and his later years.

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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