Healey was on his way back to England after looking for engine sources for a sports car, and Mason just so happened to be looking to improve Nash’s image with a performance automobile. They both agreed that the engine from the Ambassador sedan would be well suited to a sports car, and by 1950 an aluminum-bodied prototype had been readied in time to race at Le Mans. The car finished fourth among stiff competition, which was more than encouraging enough for Mason to give the green light for a production version of what would be known as the Nash-Healey.
Into the production car went the Ambassador’s 3.8-liter straight-six, fitted by Healey with a high compression aluminum cylinder head and British SU carburetors to bring horsepower up to around 125. The gearbox was a three-speed with overdrive, again from Nash, while the chassis and front suspension were modified from the older Healey Silverstone sports car. On top was aluminum bodywork penned by Donald Healey.
Only a little over a hundred of these aluminum-bodied cars were made before a redesign came in 1952 to make the car more closely resemble Nash’s other automobiles. Aluminum was retained for the hood and trunk lid, but the rest of the body was steel and was designed and built by Pinin Farina in Turin, Italy. A different, more powerful engine also made its way into the 1952 cars and a gorgeous closed coupe was introduced in 1953.
As was typical of the cars of this period that had parts coming from all over, the Nash-Healey was extremely expensive. At $5,800, it was almost two grand more than a Jaguar XK120, a comparable car in both performance and good looks. When Nash-Kelvinator merged with Hudson in 1954 to form American Motors (AMC), priorities changed and costs were cut. A product like the Nash-Healey just didn’t make sense.
Just over 500 Nash-Healeys were built in total. Some of the aluminum-bodied race cars did quite well in the endurance races of the day, with the most notable result being third at Le Mans in 1952. The more luxurious Pinin Farina-bodied cars, meanwhile, were destined for the driveways and garages of the wealthy. Today, even the best examples go for only low six-figure money largely because, as they’re mutts with a multinational heritage, they get a little less respect than some of the thoroughbred sports cars that really aren’t any more capable or better looking.