Big Healey Mystery
(extract from 1983 Auto Capital magazine)
“The Austin Healey 3000 photographed on these pages is seriously a hybrid but
not a fake. This unique car, seen by very
few people, recently came to light again here in Italy.
Factory legend has it that two cars were
built originally, one was destroyed by fire in Germany and the other is our
“This car’s history began in 1960 when a group of BMC designers headed by
Geoffrey Healey set about updating the Big Healey for the US Market.
The experimental car known as project
X230 on the existing occasional 4 seat chassis type H-BTZ. The most significant modification and
the one which strikes the eye first is the widening of the front end in order to
accommodate the 4 headlights. Consequently,
the grille was also redesigned, as were the front wings, which now incorporated
small wider wheel arches, necessary for the car’s wider track.
A new style bonnet grille was used, and
the front and rear bumpers replaced without overriders.
Other improvements were made to the
interior, where the dashboard was now given a complete set of instruments.
The removable folding hood was retained.
“Other interesting modifications were made to the car’s mechanicals.
Four disc brakes were now mounted instead
of the two as on early Healeys, and at the rear a De Dion bridge was installed
which interfered with the location of the larger capacity fuel tank, with a
consequential loss of boot (trunk) space. New
3.54: 1 axle ratios were used to cope with the extra power being developed by
enlarged SU carburettors.
Though the car had been extremely modified, the end result pleased neither the
BMC design staff nor Healey (Geoff or Donald) himself and the project was
subsequently shelved. After its first
road test in August 1960, the car did not surface again until 1971 when it was
first registered. Ten years later it was
discovered in Italy.”
And additional paragraph on page one of the article reads:
“The surprising front end of the Austin Healey 3000 X230 prototype: twin
headlights and rectangular rather than round sidelights and plain bumper.”
FINAL SUMMARY ON THE RESEARCH DISCOVERED BY D. MATTHEWS
The three-page article in this magazine is in Italian, and as Editor of
Ten Tenths magazine of the Southern
Counties Centre of the Austin Healey Club UK at the time, I forwarded these to
Geoff and Margot Healey and asked if they could interpret them so that I could
use the article in our centre magazine, Margot being Italian was of course a
I attach the reply from Geoffrey Healey dated February 1983.
It will be clearly seen that Geoffrey
dismisses the car’s existence completely as in fact it was built on a 3000 Mark
I (in 1959) standard chassis and when the car’s future was condemned to the
dustbin, the modified panels were removed from the brand new car* sent by MG to
carry out the design. (*Source: Bill
Recently you may be aware of the 2007 Calendar produced by the AHCUSA has in
fact an original photo of the car at Jensens and it can be clearly seen the X230
is built on a standard width and length 3000 Mark I.
This then negates any similarity between
the original car and the car we see today as the X300 sheet – inspection carried
out by Bill Emerson and Marion Brantley.
Geoffrey’s letter (see attached) goes on
to say that the X230 died when all the items of modification were removed – the
car fitted with standard bodywork and a competition engine fitted and sold to a customer in the USA in May 1962.
The car was given a prefix ST number.
The wings, shroud and bonnet were scrapped and sold to Denis L. Smith of Rugby
who regularly “disposed” of this sort of thing from the Donald Healey Motor
Company. This was confirmed by
Healey and John Wheatley, who in fact gave me the address in Leicestershire -
“The Old Bakery, Main Street,
Lutterworth” - where he (Denis L. Smith) lived. I
called there on Wednesday, 10th October 2007, and met the new owner (a Mr.
Hurst) of the house for the last 15 years.
He showed me round the outbuildings and also the separated section from
the original house (now sporting a new bungalow) and this site was where Denis
L. Smith had a large motor and engineering shop.
The new owner introduced me to the next door neighbour, Pat Pickering,
who was his (Denis Smith’s) neighbour for 30 years and he (Pat Pickering) runs a
small garage today at Bruntingthorpe,
five miles away.
Denis L. Smith had premises in Rugby which kept all kinds of scrap items and
engines etc. from the motor trade. It was
well known it appears – allegedly – that Denis L. Smith sailed very close to the
wind! His premises were raided in
the 1970s by the police and many items of subject origin were removed!
Denis L. Smith had several Austin Healeys throughout his time in Lutterworth and
his neighbour confirms even seeing one with a Pexidome Hardtop – clear Perspex -
of which only 34 were ever built.
His neighbour considers that Denis L. Smith was more than capable of building
such a car. He incidentally had an
Austin 3 Litre as well – and this car’s headlights are what is on the car (the
Where then does Mr. Alan Riley come into the picture? He worked at the Longbridge Research
and Development Dept as a mechanic (confirmed by John Wheatley).
He (Alan Riley) brought the 4-headlamp
car to Longbridge looking for some supportive paperwork from Austin at
Longbridge to give the car some provenance, but this was not forthcoming
(source: John Wheatley).
Alan Riley lives in Hartlebury in Worcestershire, he has been located and I have
written to him, but he has declined to reply.
I have also had a colleague call on him, to no avail, and also left my
details and telephone number at Hartlebury Post Office (100 yards from his
home). It is the same Alan Riley and his
address is also confirmed by John Wheatley.
This supposed prototype X230 4-headlamp was dismantled in 1960/62 and the
bodywork scrapped. (It was of course
rebuilt with a standard body and sold on in May 1962.)
It is supposed then to have laid under a
cover for some 11 years and then sold by Donald Healey Motor Company in 1971.
Worcestershire records office shows that
the registration JNP 543K (not JPN
543K as listed in the Healey Marque
article and on the websites of the garage and seller etc.) was issued in
Aug/Sept 1971. By this time the Donald
Healey Motor Company were Fiat dealers (source: Bic Healey), and as Sales
Manager for the Donald Healey Motor Company, Bic certainly did not sell such a
car he confirms.
Alan Riley advertised this car in Exchange
and Mart in 1974 – Joe Jarrick confirms he still has the advert , and he
spoke to both Alan Riley and then to Geoff who confirmed it (the 4-headlamp car)
was not correct (source: Joe Jarrick). Alan
Riley brought this car to National Healey Day 1977 at Dodington Park stately
home, now owned by the Dyson magnet. This
is referred to in Geoff’s book The Big
Healey. However, in Geoff’s letter of
February 1983 (attached) he clearly states that the car no longer existed and
goes on to say that the chassis is of more interest. This is probably the prototype X251
De Dion Prototype. Here is mention in
Geoff’s book of the Strignant Ferrari being modified and a De Dion assembly
fitted to an Austin Healey. Geoff’s
letter confirms that this prototype was also destroyed after all the useful
pieces were removed.
Again in Geoff’s letter of 1983, clearly this project was also scrapped and
would have gone the way of other discarded development ideas.
As you are aware the car again was the subject of an in-depth report in the
December 1985 issue of Thoroughbred &
Classic Cars (T&CC) magazine. As
this was in English it was then very easy to check out a number of items:
The history of the car being bought by Stefano Pasini in January 1978; its time
in Italy being restored etc. by Romano Bernadoni at the Emilianauto company in
Bologna. Telephone calls and emails to
this gentleman have so far produced nothing, but he is still there at
Finally, in April 2002, the Austin Healey Club UK were approached through Mel
Ward, the club’s 100/6 and 3000 Register Secretary, by a Gabriele Ansolini
requesting confirmation of the car’s legitimate standing.
This request was discussed at the
National Executive’s meeting and was declared not to be X230; a photo at the
time was sent in with an Italian registration barely discernable but appears to
be the same as in the 1985 T&CC article, A52282 BO – unfortunately there is no
address for this enquiry date.
Finally, I attach the comparison sheet produced after six hours of inspection by
Bill Emerson and Marion Brantley.
Clearly there is so much that is incorrect about this particular car against
standard components of the day – dimensions etc. – that Geoff’s comments sum it
up, “No one can be serious in suggesting that this is a Healey prototype.”
As an Austin Healey enthusiast for over 40 years, employed in the motor trade in
the 1960s and having worked at the Donald Healey Motor Company and BMC as well
as at Automotive Products (AP), and having written many articles for periodicals
and authors, as well as running my own International Austin Healey hobby for 25
years, I hope this helps to “solve” the intriguing question set by the
appearance of this car.
Final Post Addendum:-
Finally, I was able to meet up with
Alan Riley at his Hartlebury home in October 2007 after I had filed
the report to Healey Marque. Alan, was almost 80 and although had
high recollection of the car - he would not commit to paper the fact
that he built it in conjunction with Denis L Smith the official
scrap dealer to BMC and DH Motor Co. and who left the country very
suddenly in the early 80,s to live in Spain after a messy divorce,
his whereabouts today are not known.