Automobile Engineer, born in Perranporth Cornwall in 1922, and chief engineering director Donald Healey Motor Company 1955-1974, sadly, passed away April 29th, 1994.
Despite the Austin-Healey surviving for a mere 18 years between 1952 and 1970, today it is remembered both with affection and respect as one of Britain’s most successful post-war sports cars.
Although it is forever identified with the colorful extrovert figure of Donald Healey, an immeasurable contribution to the success of the 100, 3000 and above all the cheeky low cost Sprite, came from the quiet mustachioed figure of his eldest son, Geoffrey who was responsible for their engineering and design.
After attending Warwick School, Geoffrey Healey received his technical education at Coventry Technical College. He left in 1939 to join the Cornercroft EngineeringCompany as an apprentice, a task which he completed in 1943. In the following year he joined REME, (The Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers) and left the service in 1947 with the rank of captain.
His father had, in the meantime, established the Donald Healey Motor Company in Warwick, but before Geoffrey joined him there, Donald believed that his son should gain motor industry experience with another car maker. The youngest Healey therefore went to Armstrong Siddeley as a development engineer where he worked under W.O. Bentley and Donald Bastow on a stillborn 3-litre model. Thus is was not until 1949 that he joined his father full-time in what was to become the family business. His brother Brian, later ran the company’s sales side.
Geoffrey soon proved his worth in taking over responsibility for the construction of the Nash Healey and seeing, in 1950, the model into production. But these Warwick-built mostly Riley-engined, Healeys proved to be heavy, expensive products and Donald Healey recognized that he would have to produce a smaller, cheaper, lighter car if he were to remain solvent. He and Geoffrey therefore laid out the specifications of the Austin-engined Healey 100 sports car, which appeared at the 1952 Earl’s Court motor show.
Overnight it became the newly formed British Motor Corporation’s sports car and as the Austin Healcy was aimed at the burgeoning American market. Geoffrey Healey with a deep-rooted love of motor sport, took over responsibility for the tracing and record-breaking side of the Warwick business and in 1955 was appointed engineering director. It was in this capacity that he had overall responsibility for the Sprite of 1958 which was created in the utilitarian spirit of the prewar Austin Seven Nippy. Soon to be universally known, in Mark I form as the Frogeye, or Bugeye, on account of its distinctive protruding headlamp, it proved to be a great sales success for BMC and eventually some 130,000 were built.
Alas, the following decade saw BMC tumble into deficit and it became a subservient partner in the British Leyland Motor Corporation, created in 1968. Its chairman, Lord Stokes, decided to discontinue royalty payments to consultants. The Healeys had their contract terminated in 1969 and the last Austin-Healey was built the following year. The MG Midget version of the Sprite held on until 1979.
Geoffrey and his father were the first to recognize that the demise of the 3000 would produce a vacuum in America and the car created to fill it was the Jensen-Healey of 1972. They had joined the board of Jensen Motors and Healey senior became chairman. Sadly there were two many fingers in the corporate pic and the Lotus-engined car suffered from poor build quality, and lacked the persona that the 3000 had possessed in abundance. While the Healeys carried some responsibility for he car’s short comings they found their opinions disregarded and the world depression, following the 1973 world oil price rise, provided the knock-out blow which culminated in Jensen’s 1976 bankruptcy.
It was at this time that Geoffrey Healey turned to authorship and his book “AUSTIN HEALEY,” the first of three related titles, was published in 1977. Providing a first hand account of the 3000’s creation, it became required reading for a generation of classic car enthusiasts, who nostalgically recalled the great days of the Big Healeys.
In 1979 Geoff renewed his contacts with what had become BI. Cars and joined the business as a development engineer, a position he held until his retirement in 1987. He continued his work with Healey Automotive Consultants in Barford, Warwick, where he delighted in his involvement in an updated version of the Frogeye Sprite which impressed him sufficiently for it to carry the Healey name.
by Jonathan Wood
(Jonathan Wood is a noted automobile journalist and author, having written more than twenty books on classic sports cars.)