In 1971 Mark Donaldson bought his first Austin-Healey, a 100, from a friend who had decided to sell-up as he was off on his big OE. Totally smitten by the Healey’s look, only months later Mark decided to set up a local Austin-Healey club and before long he had attracted a small but dedicated group of fellow Healey owners. In December 1972 the newly formed Austin-Healey Car Club of New Zealand – one of the oldest Austin-Healey clubs in the world – held its inaugural meeting at Mark’s home in St Heliers, Auckland. In early 1973 the club was legally incorporated and today operates throughout New Zealand from six main centres – Auckland, Tauranga, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch and Dunedin.
Catering for Healeys, Austin-Healeys and Jensen-Healeys, as well as the Austin-Healey Sprite, the club maintains a register of big Healeys and Sprites. The club’s bi-monthly magazine – Healey Torque – as well as acting as a treasure trove of technical tips and advice, also provides a place where club members can buy and sell Austin-Healey parts and find out about upcoming and past events as well as club history.
Mark Donaldson remains an enthusiastic part of the club and today he maintains a garage full of Austin-Healeys.
Healey enthusiasts from all over the country have been invited to take part in the Grand Tour which will take participants over 2000kms of our scenic highways and byways, with a variety of activities and events taking place along the route. Local club members are organising various points of interest at each stop. There will also be plenty of free time for everyone to explore independently if they wish.
The Grand Tour begins with a large opening function at the Hilton Hotel, Karaka in South Auckland. The tour then proceeds south on March 18 via Tauranga, Turangi and Havelock North, arriving in Greytown on March 22. From there it’s a short drive to Wellington for the ferry trip to the South Island with the cars arriving in Blenheim on March 23. From there the tour travels south through Hanmer to Christchurch for Days 11-13 (March 29-31), then Dunedin for Days 14-16 (March 31-April 1) before travelling to Invercargill for a farewell function at Bill Richardson Transport World on Day 18 (April 2).
Although the Grand Tour officially ends on Day 20 (April 4) for those with more time, there is an After-Tour Adventure, taking the tour group from Invercargill through Central Otago via Queenstown to the fabulous Wheels at Wanaka Easter gathering (April 7-9). A large number of club members are planning to take part in this After-Tour Adventure, and they will be putting on a special 50th anniversary display. On Easter Monday (April 10) all elements of the Grand Tour conclude, with members departing for the drive back home.
The club is planning for up to 50 Healeys to participate over the full course of the Grand Tour. Some will be taking part in the entire tour while others will join up as the tour moves through their local areas. The tour will include entrants from Australia, Canada and Spain, although none of these overseas enthusiasts will be bringing their own car to the event.
As part of the lead-up to the Grand Tour, we gathered together five Austin-Healeys, including a Frogeye Sprite and a Jensen- Healey, and asked the owners to tell us all about their cars and their enthusiasm for Healeys.
Mike says that he’s loved Healeys forever – his parents claim that by the time he was three or four he knew the make of every car on the road, nearly all of which were British. At the time the Sexton family car was an Austin Somerset, purchased new in 1952, hence his strong bond with the Austin marque.
Fast forward to Mike at the age of 49, and a decision that he needed a project. This resulted in a trip to Baccus Marsh in Victoria, Australia, to visit the renowned Austin Healey expert, Steve Pike of Marsh Classic Restorations. Steve was and still is a global authority on the restoration of Austin Healey 100S models and to date he has been involved in the restoration of most of the surviving 100S cars.
As a result of this visit, Mike brought two projects back with him to New Zealand – a 100/4 BN2 and a 100S tribute project.
The BN2 had been raced for many years and was in the process of being restored back to a road car. The car was duly shipped to New Zealand and the restoration was completed at The Healey Shop in Tauranga, and it is now owned by John Dennehy and also features in this article.
The 100s tribute was a project started by Steve Pike who had accumulated a significant stock pile of genuine 100S components, and it was intended to become an exact recreation of a 100S. That was something that Mike couldn’t resist, and the result was that he took over the project.
It was a complex undertaking, but Mike was determined to stay true to Pike’s original objective of creating an exact nut and bolt recreation of a 100S with the aim of obtaining an FIA HTP and ultimately taking it to Europe and competing. The restoration journey would take eight years and involved machining many items from scratch including the differential housing, the 2.9:1 CWP, the oil cooler, and the brakes – remembering that the 55 100S cars built were the very first production cars to be fitted with four wheel disc brakes.
However, the biggest challenge was the engine. Originally Weslake manufactured a high performance, eight port alloy head for the 2.7-litre Austin engine. However, they had the carburetion and exhaust manifolds on the opposite side to the standard engine. This caused a major problem as it meant the distributor had to be moved to the opposite side as well. In order to achieve this, all existing stud holes and push rod holes had to be filled in and then new ones created.
The risk of water leaks was and still is a big issue. Mike completed the exercise twice, building a standard engine and a full race engine, which is now in the car. Once again, much of the restoration was carried out by The Healey Shop in Tauranga.
With the race motor on board and run in, the car was shipped to Europe where it was accepted as an Austin-Healey 100S under FIA Appendix K requirements for a number of historic events.
“The first of these was the Cento Ore Rally that ran out of Rome and ended four days later in Modena,” said Mike. “During the rally we competed on the circuits of Mugello, Vallelunga and Imola as well as in several closed road stages. From there we competed in the Vernasca Silverflag Hillclimb in northern Italy and then drove the car into Switzerland to have a crack at the Arosa Hillclimb, which is approximately eight kilometres with 76 corners.”
Back in New Zealand, Mike has taken part in Classic Trial events and, of course, has been on many runs around the country.
“A 100S only weighs around 900kgs, and with 170bhp (127kW) and buckets of torque it offers surprising spritely performance in a very raw way. It’s a keeper car for me as I’ve loved the journey we’ve shared together.”
John tells us that he’d been after a British OTS for some time, having missed the XK150S OTS he’d enjoyed in the UK many years ago. And while his thoughts may have remained on Jaguars, in 2015 an invitation from Mike Sexton to co-drive the 100S tribute car in the Modena Cento Ore across Italy, saw John shifting his allegiance towards an Austin-Healey.
“I was so impressed with the all-round performance and ‘use-ability’ of the Healey, that I resolved to pursue one when time and circumstances allowed,” he said. That opportunity arose early in 2022 when Mike Sexton asked if he was interested in buying his M-spec Austin-Healey – one of the project cars Mike had brought back with him from Australia and now fully restored. A derivative of the BN series, the ‘M’ spec cars were either built by the factory or by dealers, and with enhanced performance had considerable appeal to club racers and enthusiasts alike.
“What interested me in particular about the car,” said John, “was the fact that Mike appeared to be some years ahead of what would soon become a common suite of upgrades on the early BN cars being offered in the UK, principally by Rawles Motorsport who dominate the Healey restoration market in the UK. The result is a car that is more responsive, more drivable in today’s conditions and, of course, with serious street presence.”
The upgrades to John’s BN2 include a fivespeed ‘box, higher compression M spec with 13/4-inch SUs, ‘cold air box’, front drums replaced with discs, magnetic trigger in the points, four-point harnesses, and a louvred bonnet. Importantly, every single part that has been removed has been preserved.
“I have owned and raced far too many classic cars for more years than I can recall, mostly early Astons as well as two 1980s ex-Le Mans Group C cars,” said John. “Currently I still campaign my long-owned 1987 Aston Martin V8 Zagato, although the process of the continuous (and totally unnecessary) compliance tug-of-war between Motor Sport NZ and LTNZ, is reaching the point where I may well send the car back to Europe where it can be used on road and track without the same mind-numbing bureaucratic overreach.”
In the meantime, John enjoys driving his gorgeous Healey.
Back in 1984 Brenton began considering the purchase of an Austin-Healey, a marque he was introduced to in the ‘70s when his then brother-in-law owned a red over black 100/6, closely followed by a wonderful BRG 1967 BJ8 finished in British Racing Green.
His first car was a Fiat 500D followed by an MG TF1500 and a Wolseley 4/44. For a time, he also owned a Jaguar XJ-S “until it became obvious the maintenance bills would bankrupt me!” Brenton is also a keen motorcyclist and has several classic/vintage motorcycles to keep him entertained.
But back to that early desire to own a Healey – in the early 1980s these cars were hardly plentiful in New Zealand, so Brenton had to work with what he could afford and what was available, and the Healey he ended up owning was basically a stripped-down assembly of parts, some still attached to the chassis. A full rebuild was required and he would later discover that many parts were missing.
After a false start on the restoration due to problems with the first panel beater who worked on the car, Brenton was forced to begin all over again.
“At this point I had to start again as the previous work was totally below standard,” he said. “After much stress and more money, I was finally able to put the car back on the road in 1997 to attend a club rally held in the Nelson district.”
Due to the condition of the car when purchased there was no point trying to make it all original, instead the aim was to end up with a great road car that would take Brenton and his wife Vivienne around New Zealand, something it has since done on many occasions.
As the engine as purchased was fitted with extractors (no manifold came with the car) and a Healey 3000 head, this was enhanced with an improved camshaft profile, increased capacity radiator, an oversized front roll bar and replica Minilite alloy wheels to aid the car in being more usable in modern traffic.
The Healey’s Heritage Certificate states that this was built in December 1956 for the UK market. However, the record of ownership in New Zealand only dates back to 1978, with Brenton being the third Kiwi owner.
“It’s fun for me to drive, being quite a visceral experience, but Viv is not that keen, so I’m the pilot while she enjoys the ‘underfloor heating’ as a passenger/navigator,” said Brenton.
“Our next major outing for the car is the Club’s 50th celebration tour from Auckland through to Bill Richardson’s Museum in Invercargill, and when coupled with the inevitable detours we should notch up about 4000K, and that’s how we like to use our Healey.”
First registered in Surrey, England in July 1960, this Frogeye Sprite passed through several owners in the UK before the third owner, Carl Watson, brought the car with him when he emigrated to New Zealand in 1974 the car being registered here on July 17, with 62,182 miles on the clock and a Customs’ assessed value of $200.
In February 1981 the original engine ‘expired’ and Carl installed a refurbished 1098cc A-Series engine, refitted the original gearbox, carburettors and other ancillary engine parts.
Charles became the Sprite’s fourth owner in February 2017. “When I bought the car,” said Charles, “it had seen better days, not a disaster but it was a little worse for wear. In addition, it had Playboy stickers on it and ‘plush’ door inserts! It seems that Carl had been a bit of a ‘lad’ around town during the ‘70s and ‘80s!”
Soon after purchasing the Healey, it developed a fuel pick-up problem that was traced to a rusty fuel tank. Replacing the tank kicked off a nine month ‘lite’ restoration project most of which was carried out by Charles himself. Whilst not perfect, the car is now in a good useable condition, presents well but is still subject to a “rolling” restoration as required with a respray of the back half of the car being the next major project.
Originally born in England, Charles has been a car-nut for as long as he can remember, following in the footsteps of his father who was similarly afflicted.
Charles and his father regularly went to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone and the Motor Show at Earls Court. CHARLES WILMER’S 1960 AUSTIN-HEALEY SPRITE MkI Charles’ first car was 1965 Mini purchased for £50, followed by a Hillman Imp. His first sports car, a Triumph Spitfire MkIV, gave him his first taste of open-top motoring. Around the same time Charles began to gain some mechanical knowledge as he helped a family friend renovate a Triumph Stag.
Charles moved to New Zealand in the early ‘90s to set up a new business, something he successfully accomplished, retiring as Managing Director in 2017 after only thinking he would be in New Zealand for three or four years.
“I’ve always loved small British sports cars,” said Charles. “I think it’s the clean lines, the simplicity of the mechanicals and the sheer driving experience. With the wind rushing past your ears and your bum so close to the ground, it’s easy to think you’re in a car with the performance of a McLaren!”
Charles joined the Austin Healey Car Club soon after he bought the Sprite.
“Through the club I heard about an engine and gearbox one of the members had in his shed. After a hard negotiation a price was agreed, a case of Pinot Gris and the motor was mine.”
With his children getting older, Charles began looking for something more classic than his new company car and while he always liked the Sprite, he couldn’t find one at the time and instead acquired an MG Midget MkI. However, his desire for a Sprite eventually led him to the Carl Watson car.
“It’s an absolute buzz driving the Sprite,” said Charles, “it sounds great and is so easy to drive. The car is a real head turner and I get many admiring looks, waves and whistles. It’s a keeper, at least until I can’t bend my knees enough to get into the damned thing!”
The first car that Malcolm owned that would now be called a classic was his second car, a 1952 2.5-litre twin-cam Riley saloon. This car was eventually replaced with a Ford Zephyr MkI convertible, a very smart car back in the ‘50s.
Malcolm’s introduction to the Healey marque came while attending the Te Onepu hillclimb around 1956/1957.
“This black very noisy Healey came at great speed around a corner and disappeared in a cloud of dust,” recalled Malcolm. “I was 17 years old, and there and then decided I was going to have one.”
In 1964 he was able to buy a very nice Austin-Healey, a blue 100/4 with a factory hard top. “A lovely car, which I reluctantly sold three years later.”
Many years passed, but Malcolm’s passion for Healeys remained undiminished and in 1996 he was told of an Austin-Healey for sale in Christchurch – a 1954 100/4 which had been treated to 100M modifications a few years before. The car was painted black over red. Malcolm purchased the car, swapping the 48-spoke wire wheels to 60-spoke rims – and he still owns it.
However, Malcolm’s 100/4 acquired a stable mate in 2002 when he decided that an upgrade to a BJ8 Healey would be nice.
“While in Los Angeles we visited Peter’s Marina Motors, he restores classic English cars,” said Malcolm. “On a whim I asked did he know where we could buy a BJ8 Healey and he said there was one under a cover we could have.”
The car in question had been originally purchased in Germany by an USAF serviceman and subsequently imported by him into the USA. Pete purchased the Healey from the man’s estate as a one-owner car and in January 2003 it was landed in New Zealand.
“Once I had it in our barn,” said Malcolm, “I stripped it down and had chassis and body panels bead blasted. They then went to Cliff Everson to do the restoration work on the body.”
While that work was being attended to, Malcolm had the engine, gearbox and overdrive rebuilt, and restored or replaced all other parts. All parts not replaced were restored to new condition.
Stadium Panel & Paint in Auckland handled the repaint, the body coming back from them on a mobile frame, painted in its new colour, metallic Golden Beige.
“Cliff had built me a frame on wheels which the chassis sat on, and I was able to move it around the barn. I started putting the car together, made new hydraulic brake lines, fitted a new wiring harness and converted it to RHD.”
Once the suspension and wheels were complete, Malcolm was able to refit the engine and gearbox to complete the rebuild.
David’s Jensen-Healey provides a departure from the other Healeys featured here.
The Jensen-Healey was originally devised as a successor to the Big Healey, but it took the entrepreneurial skills of Kjell Qvale to marry Donald Healey’s idea to Jensen’s West Bromwich production line, with an eye to selling the new sports car in the US. During the pre-production development the original Hugo Poole body design did not go down well, and ex-Rootes’ stylist Bill Towns was called in to chivvy it up. However, the final result was still disappointing enough to cause Donald Healey to resign from the Jensen board in 1973. The car’s plain styling lacked the brutal good looks of the Austin-Healey 3000. However, Jensen’s major headache was brought on by their choice of engine, the car essentially becoming a testbed for the new Lotus 907 16-valve twin-cam engine. As you might expect, this engine proved rather unreliable, and its problems would only be solved with the introduction of a MkII model. Between 1972 and 1975, 10,926 examples were built.
David’s introduction to the Healey marque came in the early ‘60s when one of his friends purchased an Austin-Healey 100/6, although not used competitively it was a lovely car and much envied by the local lads.
“Several years later I recalled my earlier desire to have sports car,’ recalled David, “and whilst an Austin-Healey was desired, it was beyond my means and availability.”
However, his search led him to the car being sold by renowned racing driver and performance car importer, Ross Jensen who was the first importer of Jensen and BMW cars in New Zealand, and with the blessing of his wife and two sons, David purchased the Jensen-Healey on June 15, 1984, at which time the car had completed 64,500 kilometres. David was the car’s fourth owner.
David’s car was imported to New Zealand in December 1972, a MkII model fitted with the Lotus 907E 1973cc engine and a fivespeed Getrag gearbox – earlier cars were fitted with a Sunbeam Rapier H120 closeratio four-speed ‘box.
The car was subsequently used as an everyday classic, with minimal operational issues other than having to repair or replace the odd component due to age or wearing out. But by the late ‘90s it was beginning to show its age, the paint was not up to condition, the synchromesh in the gearbox was not working properly, rust was showing up in some of the panels and David decided to take the car off the road for a full rebuild.
With the car stripped of all its various components, the body was shipped off to The Healey Shop at Mt Maunganui with the motor being rebuilt by Taylor Automotive in Mt Eden. Upholstery was replaced by John McKechnie Motor Trimming, and they also crafted a new soft top.
David reassembled the car himself using diagrams taken from the parts book, and aside from the usual frustrations of trying to find original parts or suitable replacement parts, the only major issue was with replacing the gearbox synchromesh cones, this work being carried out by the Gearbox Factory.
After a fruitless search, David was eventually able to source replacement cones as remanufactured by BMW Traditional.
“My contact with Ross Jensen came in handy as he put me in touch with the local BMW distributor who procured them on my behalf,” said David.
During the rebuild, the only modification involved replacing the original ‘5mph’ bumpers with better looking MkI items.
The Jensen-Healey has now travelled just over 47,000kms since it was put back on the road in 2000, with most of that travel being in association with the Austin-Healey Club’s biennial rallies over both the North and South Island.
A more recent and very worthwhile modification, has involved changing the distributor to fully electronic but apart from that, David’s attitude is to try and keep the car in an as original condition that he can, only using modern substitute parts when originals are unavailable or where there is a recommended alternative.
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