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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Rare Austin-Healey Lost in Time Set to Live Again at Amelia Island


Copyright © 2016 Bold Ride LLC.

How does a car become a survivor? How does history lose a prototype racer? Sometimes it just takes a letter from the right person.
Stephen Pitcairn wrote Donald Healey to congratulate him about a decent showing at the 1964 12-Hours of Sebring. At the same time, Pitcairn was fishing to get his hands on one of the prototypes that he saw on the track. There were only two Sebring Sprite coupes built for the event, and Healey wasn’t in the habit of allowing his specialty “Works” cars into private hands after only one race. But Pitcairn was both an SCCA driver and a Pennsylvania BMC (British Motor Corporation) dealer that carried his production convertibles. So a deal was struck.


In the 1960s, the Donald Healey Motor Company made a few handcrafted racing machines. They shared names with the production Sprites, but each one was individually unique and purpose-built for the track. Car #HAN8-64-R-2 was constructed with an 1100cc XSP racing motor that produced an estimated 97 horsepower. That might not seem like much, but it was a 64% jump in power over the similar displacement in the production MkIII Sprites. Combine that with the bespoke wind-cheating alloy body, and it was going to be a lightweight competitor to watch.
This prototype wore number 67 at Sebring, but not for very long. A bent rear axle sidelined it in the ninth lap. This was a shame because the Austin-Healey’s 1275cc bigger brother was beating up on the other A-cars (Abarth, Alpine, and Alfa.) But for a brief moment, #67 shared a track with legends like the Ferrari 250 GTO, Chevrolet Corvette C2 Grand Sport, and Shelby Daytona Coupe.

The damaged prototype was packed up and shipped back to England. Before it even arrived, Donald Healey already had Pitcairn’s deposit in his hands. For the sum of $5,000 (about $38K today), the factory outfitted it with a handsome interior and restored the car back to, as Bic Healey pledged, “A1 condition and ready to race.”


The same week that the other 1964 Sebring Sprite coupe was competing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, this one was back on a boat to the USA.

This is the behind the scenes story. To the automotive public, this car just vanished. In fact, since it only went nine laps at Sebring, there were few pictures of the streamlined coupe in competition. It retired early, went back to Britain, and then was promptly shipped into private hands. This car was practically a ghost.

Pitcairn did take it out to some local hill climb events in Pennsylvania during his first few years of ownership, but then it was retired to his collection. A friend bought the car in 1985, and he occasionally brought it to Healey events in the northeast. This limited use is supported by the body’s intact condition, original motor, and less than 800 miles total on this 52-year-old racecar.

It’s rare to have a racer that’s a survivor. These are built to be worn out and harvested for parts. But even this Healey’s factory special competition magnesium wheels barely show a mark, and they still wear their original Dunlop tires.

But now the car is about to get its full day in the sun. The coupe will make its public re-debut at the Amelia Island Concours this weekend. It seems only fitting that this prototype Austin-Healey is returning to Florida for a redeeming shot at glory.