1956 Austin-Healey 100: Restored with no regrets
The 1956 Austin-Healey 100 filled a gap that British automakers had left vacant between the smaller MG and the larger Jaguar. Many of these desirable sports cars were destined for the American market.
In June 1975, Tim Flaherty found one for sale not too far from his Virginia home. “It needed pretty much everything,” he recalls. After all, it was 19 years old at the time. Despite the shortcomings, he bought the car.
Flaherty thoroughly enjoyed his Austin-Healey for the next 19 years, until it required major repairs. When the Austin-Healey was disassembled, Flaherty discovered “everything was worn out.”
Still, he persevered and first attacked the mechanical parts, starting with the 162.2-cubic-inch, four-cylinder engine that requires 14.11 pints of oil and 24 pints of coolant to be perfectly content. A four-blade fan behind the radiator keeps engine temperatures under control. An electric pump in the trunk feeds fuel from the 14.4-gallon tank to the engine.
Because the black convertible top is somewhat vulnerable to vandals, a security lock is located inside the lockable trunk near the electrical and fuel cutoff levers.
Once the Austin-Healey was stripped down, Flaherty discovered that it had originally been painted red. While the current top remains black, the body is now painted white. Austin-Healeys were reportedly offered in red, silver, green, or black in 1956.
The interior provides a nice contrast to the blonde walnut instrument panel and three-spoke Derringer-style steering wheel. A lever on the hub of the steering wheel controls the traffic turn signals. The headlight dimmer switch is located on the floor convenient to the driver’s left foot.
Mounted next to the 120-mph speedometer is a 6,000-rpm tachometer with a redline of 4,800 rpm. Flaherty reports factory figures claim a top speed of 104 mph with the windshield up or 111 mph with the windshield canted for racing.
Because the engine in his 2,176-pound Austin-Healey was rebuilt with a LeMans kit and is equipped with a four-speed transmission with an electric overdrive, Flaherty suspects his car will perform better than new. In 1962, the engine output with two single-barrel carburetors was rated at 90 horsepower.
Helping the engine breathe are two rows of 19 louvers, each row running the length of the hood. Both rows of louvers are interrupted once to accommodate the leather strap that crosses the hood.
The low-slung car rides on 5.90×15-inch tires with only 5.5 inches of ground clearance. A 90-inch wheelbase supports the sports car with a cozy cockpit that is only a hair wider than 5 feet. Both mirrors and the optional driving lights are made by Lucas.
Flaherty declared the restoration complete in 2004, and although he has invested considerably more than the “as-new” $2,995 price of the Austin-Healey, he says he is pleased with the results and has no regrets.
“It’s absolutely gorgeous,” he exudes. Of his 1956 model he observes, “It’s the most beautiful car ever made.”
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