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Having achieved considerable success in the Monte Carlo and Alpine rallies prior to the war, winning the Monte Carlo Rally outright in a 4.5 litre Invicta in 1931, Donald Healey was anxious to produce his own car.
During the latter stages of the Second World War, Donald Healey, with a few close friends, put together a few ideas for a new streamlined car. Donald was hoping to develop a reliable and fast light weight sports car for the motoring enthusiast. The new vehicle would be based around an innovative chassis, designed by Barry Bilbie, which was both light and strong. With an extremely reliable and potent pre-war 2.4 litre Riley engine, which subsequently formed the basis for the E.R.A. engine, and independent front suspension and a unique steering mechanism, the new car resulted in an excellent package for competition.
Late in 1946 the first roadster version was produced. It was called the Healey Westland after the manufacturer of the body, Westland Motor Company Limited, who were based in Hereford. Shortly afterwards, and in order to achieve greater top end speed, a saloon body was created by Samuel Elliotts of Reading. The saloon car was called the Healey Elliott and had an all aluminium body to reduce weight.
In the summer of 1947, a Healey Elliott saloon was taken to the Jabekke-Aeltre highway in Belgium and achieved a top speed of 111.87 mph, which was recorded in the Motor. The Healey Elliott was advertised as the fastest production saloon in the World.
Having achieved such an accolade and with Tommy Wisdom, a good journalist friend of his, Donald Healey achieved a class win in a Healey Westland during the 1947 Alpine Rally. Donald then decided to make preparations for an assault on the international motor racing scene the following year.
Around that time, Donald became acquainted with an Australian by the name of Nick Haines, who had been a pilot in the RAF. Nick was already a successful club racer himself and became the Belgian Agent for the Donald Healey Motor Company in the early days. It was felt that the best way to advertise the new cars was to get some competition success.
In April 1948, the factory prepared two vehicles specifically for competition, a Healey Elliott (GWD 42) and a Healey Westland (GWD43) and registered both vehicles at Warwick on 21 April 1948, in readiness for the Mille Miglia a couple of weeks later.
The first Mille Miglia after the war, in 1947, was made up entirely of Italian entries, and so, in an effort to promote the British car industry and unity between the nations after the recent conflict, six Healeys were entered for the fifteenth Mille Miglia in May 1948, of which four were accepted. An official Healey team of three cars, which comprised the two aforementioned factory prepared vehicles and a further Healey Elliott car, previously prepared by the factory for Count Johnny Lorani, who had achieved first in class during the Targa Florio a few weeks earlier. These were the only cars within that year’s event which were not Italian. The factory prepared Healey Elliotts had their sun roofs removed to further lessen the weight of the car.
Being flagged off before the other team members, Nick Haines and Rudolfo Haller, a well known hill climbing champion, departed Brescia in car number 37 the Healey Elliott (GWD 42) and thereby was the first non-Italian car and first British car after the war to take part in the event. Of the 186 cars taking part in the event that year, 61 cars, including the two Healey Elliotts, were competing within the Standard Touring Car Category. The Healey Westland (GWD 43) was driven by Donald Healey, who was partnered by his son Geoffrey Healey, within the Unlimited Sports Car Category.
It had been raining for a few days prior to the race, but the start of the event was under a clear sky. All the Healeys entered proudly displayed the union jack on their bonnets. GWD 42 made a good start. After passing Rome and having travelled around 300 miles strange noises started coming from the rear of the vehicle which turned out to be a broken torque rod. The car was quickly diverted into a local garage where the rod was welded and refitted within 50 minutes. Unfortunately the repair only lasted another 50 or so miles. Not wishing to give up, Nick Haines and Rudolf Haller continued until they reached the Futa Pass just beyond Florence, around two thirds of the distance, when an oil leak in the gearbox and the seizing of the mainshaft, meant the inevitable retirement of GWD 42.
Despite suffering similar torque rod problems in the other Healey Elliott, Count Lurani came home 13th overall, finishing first in the Touring Car Category and achieving a record time. This was the first time that a British car had won the Touring Car Category in the Mille Miglia.
Donald and Geoffrey Healey had an even more eventful race, having struck a dog at 105 mph, but still finished 9th overall. With the likes of motor racing champions Nuvolari, Ascari, Sanesi and Cortese taking part in the event with Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Maserati, the achievement of the Healey team was all the more worthy.
To take advantage of the initial success of the Healey cars, Donald Healey, with Nick Haines as navigator, took part in the Alpine Rally with the Healey Westland (GWD 43) at the beginning of July, where they achieved first in class and an Alpine Cup.
Not satisfied with the success achieved in the demanding Mille Miglia Road Race and the Alpine Rally, Donald decided that it would be worthwhile entering a Healey in the Belgian Grand Prix for Sports Cars that year. As the classic Le Mans race had yet to be revived after the war, the Belgian Grand Prix was to be the most prestigious endurance sports car race for 1948.
So in July 1948, GWD 42 was entered in the Belgian 24 hour race at the Spa Francorchamps. GWD 42 was the only Healey entered for the event and thereby became the first Healey to be officially raced on a circuit. Tommy Wisdom, a well known journalist was asked to partner local agent Nick Haines. In view of Count Lurani experiencing some problems with the bonnet lifting during the Mille Miglia earlier in the year, a strap was fitted to GWD 42 as a precaution.
During practice prior to the event, Tommy Wisdom was a little concerned about glare and decided to put a rug on the rear parcel shelf, which is not a well known performance trick. Nick Haines did employ some special Dunlop racing tyres for the event, with the assistance of Dunlop “Mac”, which no doubt helped in the poor weather conditions. The Healey Elliott also experienced overheating but this was easily rectified.
Once again the race was preceded by heavy rain, although at 4pm on the day of the race, the sky cleared to allow a “Le Mans” start with the drivers running across the race track to the 40 cars entered for the event, which included Delage, Delahaye, Talbot, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Bentley, Aston Martin, Fraser Nash-BMW and HRG’s. This time the Healey Elliott was entered in the Sports Car Category rather than the Touring Category.
Tommy Wisdom recalled an incident which occurred at the start of the race. “It was a Le Mans start and we, of course, had a right hand drive car and lined up alongside us was an open BMW which had left hand drive. The very pleasant German driver of the BMW came over to me as we stood on the grid and said “Please, you will go first because we cannot both get into the car at the same time because the doors will touch”, I replied “No, please you will go first”. “No,” he answered “you will go first because I have the faster car and I will soon catch you up. That is only fair.”, and so I did go first and he never saw me again. I bet he was hopping mad!”
As the 24 hour endurance race was as much a human trial as a witness of the cars’ capabilities, Tommy Wisdom started the race in a tweed suit and trilby hat with the parcel shelf stuffed with sweets and cigarettes. Apparently Tommy wore the trilby to further protect his eyes from the setting sun. After a gentlemanly start, the competitive spirit took hold and the Heeley Elliott gradually came up in its Category.
Despite the casual approach of Tommy Wisdom, the Healey Elliott left the starting grid in second place just behind an Alta driven by Abecassis.
By around 10am the next morning GWD 42 was seven laps behind its Category leader, a 3.0 Litre Delage. As the last hour of the event approached the Delage pit realised that the Healey Elliott was on the same lap as its car and gaining.
With only half an hour to go, in the forest section of the circuit, the Healey Elliott sped past the Delage and led the Sports Car Category, which resulted in the Delage driver putting his foot to the floor. With smoke pouring from its front end, the Delage regained the lead on the very last lap, much to the dismay of Nick Haines and Tommy Wisdom.
The Healey Elliott finally finished 8th overall and second in its Category. The motoring press was quick to recognise the success of the Healey Elliott in the Targa Florio, Mille Miglia and now Spa and looked forward to further success in the remaining events that year.
GWD 42 enjoyed a triumphant return to the Cape Factory at Warwick, and designers and engineers alike, responsible for the preparation of GWD 42 earlier in the year, had photos taken outside Donald Healey’s office as a keepsake to record the achievement at Spa in the face of stiff opposition.
Towards the end of the season GWD 42 was entered in the Paris 12 Hours Race held at the famous Montlhery race circuit, which effectively was the alternative location for the Le Mans circuit. The BRDC entered a British Team, which included GWD 42 and GWD 43 against a French Team.
The Healey Elliott GWD 42 was driven by Nick Haines and well known racing driver Leslie Johnson, who was the managing director of the E.R.A. Company. The race was due to start at 6am, but in view of the difficulties in marshalling the 50 entries for the event, the race did not commence until 7am under clear blue skies.
In an effort to further reduce weight, Nick Haines removed the side lights which were considered to be superfluous for the race. No doubt the headlights were retained to warn slower cars of his presence.
Once again GWD 42 made an impressive start and Leslie Johnson pulled away from the entire field and took the lead as the cars left the start. However, by the end of the first lap, the Healey Elliott had fallen back to eleventh overall.
The Healey Westland driven by Tommy Wisdom and Norman Black retired due to transmission problems with around two hours to go. Whilst lying 9th overall and only 40 minutes remaining as the Team prize was guaranteed for the BRDC, GWD 42 was also withdrawn as the engine was starting to overheat and Leslie Johnson suspected engine problems. It was not thought necessary to flog a game car on to breaking point when the Team match had been won.
As Donald Healey was a good friend of Freddie March, the Duke of Richmond and Gordon, the next weekend saw GWD 42 cross the channel for the inaugural Goodwood Meeting in September 1948. Sporting race number 1, GWD 42 took part in the first race of the event which was for non-supercharged closed Sports Cars. The race comprised six Healeys, an HRG and a Pycroft Jaguar.
During practice on the Friday before the main event, GWD 42 was said to be having trouble with tight big ends. However Nick Haines lined up at the back of the grid the following day.
Shortly after the start of the race the Pycroft Jaguar took the lead, which it maintained to the finish. During lap two Nick Haines in GWD 42 overtook the HRG just after Madgewick but then spun off. In an effort to redeem himself Nick Haines carried on and achieved the fastest lap of the race and hence the first lap record for the Goodwood circuit which was subsequently bettered by Stirling Moss in a Cooper in the fifth race of the Meeting about two hours later!
And so the first full International Racing season for Donald Healey came to an end with the Healey Westland and Healey Elliott achieving some commendable results. Nick Haines, the principal driver of GWD 42 throughout the season, went on to race for Aston Martin and then Jaguar with some success and Leslie Johnson and Tommy Wisdom had further notable drives in Healeys in the 1950’s.
On the back of the very successful racing debuts in 1948, not least the success of the Healey Elliott GWD 42, Donald Healey had achieved his ambition to provide a lightweight sports car for the motoring enthusiast. Donald Healey subsequently developed the Healey Silverstone in 1949, the Nash Healey in the early 1950’s and of course the Austin Healey shortly thereafter. The rest, as they say, is history!
The first Healey Elliott was built in 1946. The manufacturer of the body was Sam Elliott & Sons of Reading, England. It was made by hand using an aluminium skin on an ash frame. The side and rear windows were made of perspex to reduce weight. The car had individual leather covered bucket seats in the front and a bench seat in the rear. As petrol was scarce the petrol cap was located inside the boot. The boot could only be opened using a pull switch on the front of the rear seat armrest. It is believed that 13 were built in 1946/47.
The car was tested by 'The Motor' magazine over an extended road test in England and on the continent, and reached 104mph in Italy. Donald Healey used the car to set a number of speed records for saloon cars in 1947. The average two way run over a mile was 110.8mph, with the fastest one way mile at 111.87mph.
The car featured a 2.4 litre 4 cylinder Riley engine of 2443cc with twin SU carburettors. It produced 104bhp and had a 4 speed gearbox. 0 - 60 mph took 14.6 seconds.
Approximately 101 were produced between 1946 and 1950.
The prototype Healey Elliott, the first car designed and built by Donald Healey, has now emerged after 45 years in the same ownership. Chassis 1502, engine B209, is currently undergoing a full rebuild at Classic Restorations in Bedfordshire and is hoped to be finished in time for the 60th anniversary to re-enact its record breaking 'The Motor' road test, when it achieved 104.65 mph on the Milan - Como autostrada.
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