Donald Healey’s first racing and rally driving competition experience was in 1921-1922 when he drove a Buick in a speed trial run by the Truro Motor Club near Perranporth, and reached 66 mph. He also drove an Ariel 10 from Land’s End to John O’Groats to demonstrate the cars economy and reliability. It helped with the car’s sales, which was beneficial to him as he was the sole agent in Cornwall for Ariel cars. He wanted better racing so met the Riley brothers and bought a Riley Redwing (entering it for the Land’s End Trial) but during tests the car caught fire – he towed it home and entered another car to win the event. He was also asked to test the MG Super Sports before the Land’s End Trial and used a prototype MG TD Midget through the Second World War (the car wasn’t announced until 1949). He drove Triumph Seven and Super Seven in events all over the country and his success proved valuable advertising material. He won the Royal Automobile Club’s first British Rally outright (and also the Brighton Rally in 1929).
The Monte Carlo Rally
He first entered the Monte Carlo Rally in 1929, driving a Triumph Super Seven (having never driven outside the UK before) winning its class in the Mont-des-Mules speed hill-climb. The same car was used for the 1929 Barcelona Rally and won the event outright – another success that helped boost sales of the Triumph (Healey’s garage was a dealer for Triumph). He drove a Triumph Super Seven in the 1930 Monte Carlo rally (finishing seventh overall).
Healey was making a name for himself and was recommended to Noel Macklin, creator of the Invicta, who was looking for a driver to publicise the car in international rallies. He won the Alford Alpenfahrt outright driving an Invicta (July 1930) and was asked to drive the Invicta in other international rallies. This included the 1931 Monte Carlo rally, which he won outright (despite crashing into a telegraph pole and damaging the car). It had been his greatest ambition to win this rally and he asked his wife Ivy to come to France to join in the celebrations (she didn’t have a passport and had to have a special one issued by Home Secretary).
More Invicta rallies and wins came, and for one of the Alpine Trials James Bond writer Ian Fleming was his navigator (when working for Associated Press at the time and covering the event). He would often meet Fleming years later during frequent sea crossings to America to publicise his company and cars. He came 2nd overall in the Monte Carlo Rally in 1932.
The association with Invicta ended in 1933 but he remained friends with Noel Macklin – his son Lance later became a Healey driver. By this time he had covered 20,000 miles a year in UK and international rallies but was still looking for more experience of driving other cars. As a result he was invited to join Riley in the Midlands and started using its cars. The first time was in the 1933 Alpine Trial and the subsequent award of a Glacier Cup (for a fault-free run) gave the company publicity.
Concentrating on the motor industry
This led to the sale of his Perranporth business to concentrate on the motor industry. Later in 1933 he was approached by Triumph as it was developing a new car and he took up the post of Experimental Manager, moving the family from Cornwall to Warwickshire. He came third driving a Triumph Gloria in the 1934 Monte Carlo rally. As a result of this and previous firsts and seconds in Invictas, he was awarded the Coupe de l’Illustration Automobile.
The previous article looked at Healey’s early life, whilst the next focuses on his time at Triumph, and the war 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.