Thursday, April 2, 2015

Austin-Healey 100: 1950s British Sports Car Styling at Its Best

It seems that the Austin-Healey 100, to my mind the most successfully styled 1950s English sports car, came from the pen of body engineer Gerry Coker with kibitzing by Donald Healey.  That and other details of the genesis of the AH 100 can be found here.  Additional information can be found in this Wikipedia entry.

The focus of this post is the original "large Healey," produced 1953-1956.  Later versions were lengthened, extra seating space added, different engines installed, and the grille and other details revised

Styling was cleanly done with nice touches such as a character line crease from the front fender (wing) across the door to the rear wheel opening that subtly helped to reduce potential visual bulk on an otherwise plain side.  The standard-for-the-times fender flow with an upkicked rear fender line was used, but treated more successfully than on the slightly later MGA (a near-competitor) and the small Triumph Spitfire.

An unusual touch was that the car had a backwards-leaning aspect rather than a forward-thrusting one, something one might expect for a sports car with good performance.  This styling stance was due to the slope of the grille and frontal part of the hood (bonnet) that was echoed by the front and rear cut lines of the doors and the windshield slope.


A sales photo of a 1954 Austin-Healey 100.

Rear 3/4 view of a 1955 from Dusty Cars.

Side view of a 1955 100 from Goodman Reed car sales.

I used this image of a 1957 MGA here to illustrate my contention that "The front fender seems a little too long and bland, virtually featureless.  But in the area around the rear of the cockpit, we find a busy set of details -- the rear cockpit curve, the door cut-line, the transition to the rear fender, the rear fender itself, and the wheelhouse and rear wheel.  All this attracts the eye, making the front part of the car seem too long.  It also gives the rear a sort of tacked-on look."
Compare the MGA to the AH 100, which has a similar English sports car seating position.  The key differences are the character line noted above and that the MGA has a distinct rear fender whereas the 100 has the fenderline flowing over the rear wheel opening.  The AH also has the advantage of better basic proportions, in part due to a slightly shorter wheelbase -- 90 vs. 94 inches (2.286 vs. 2.388 m.).

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