The Ex Le Mans / Mille Miglia 1953 Works Team Lightweight
Austin Healey 100
Chassis Number: SPL225B
Build Number: AHR6
Body Number: JM 4079-6
Engine Number: IB 136876
Registration Number: NOJ 392
• Sixth Austin Healey built at Warwick, second racing car.
• 1953 Works Mille Miglia entry.
• 1953 Works Le Mans entry, twelfth overall, second in class.
• Motor and Autocar road test car.
• Roger Menadue’s personal car.
• Geoff and Margot Healey’s honeymoon car.
• Featured in all the definitive Healey books.
After the 1952 launch of the Healey 100 twenty pre-production models were to be built at Healey’s Warwick base before production was shifted to Austin’s Longbridge factory.
In reality only nineteen cars were built at Warwick for some unexplained reason number ten was never built. Of these cars fifteen were built to standard specification and four, Special Test Cars, as they were known at Warwick, cars number five to eight, as competition cars.
Leonard Lord, the boss of Austin had agreed to finance the construction of the four competition cars, the assembly of which was entrusted to Roger Menadue, Healey’s experimental engineer and his staff of around eight in the new purpose built experimental workshop.
Jensen built the special test car bodies out of top quality Birmabright alloy, which was both light and strong. The cars were required to look as much as possible like the production 100’s, and the first three were fitted with bumpers, although these were again fashioned in chemically polished alloy rather than steel. The fourth car was to be used for record-breaking rather than racing and consequently was considerably different to the first three cars.
The four cars were painted in Dockers metallic light green, Donald Healey superstitiously thought that British racing green was unlucky but still wanted the cars painted in the British national racing colour. The other fifteen pre-production cars were painted a pale metallic blue. Dark green leather was used for the seats and the cockpit surround trims were hand made, each being stamped with that car’s number.
The Special Test Cars had strengthened, yet lighter chassis frames and engines built in Austin’s own experimental shop under the guidance of Alf Depper. The engines used special nitrided crankshafts, racing pistons and lightened flywheels and a special camshaft gave higher lift and a longer overlap. Stronger valve springs were utilised and by the time of the Le Mans Twenty-Four Hour race the cars had been fitted with cold air boxes and 1 3/4 inch over size SU carburettors. Power was quoted at 103bhp at 4,500rpm.
The cars were fitted with a Borg and Beck competition clutch and an Austin Taxi gearbox. A heavy-duty quick acting high ratio overdrive unit was used, giving a 32% engine speed reduction.
A 3.667 axle ratio was used and special lightweight aluminium radiators. 11”x1 3/4” Girling brakes were fitted with Mintex M20 fade free linings. The cars were equipped with Lucas competition wiring and ancillaries and suspension was modified by adding a thicker front anti roll bar and re-valving the lever arm shock absorbers.
Long-range fuel tanks were fitted along with Dunlop racing tyres. Holes were drilled to maximise the lightness of the car and both the floor and bulkhead were alloy.
Of the Special Test Cars only one – NOJ 392 remained in its original form. It remained a development car at Healey while the other ‘NOJ’ cars were rebuilt at Warwick into 100S’s and sold off. The last car, the record-breaking car was never registered and was eventually broken up.
NOJ 392 was the sixth Austin Healey built at Warwick in early 1953 and the second racing car; it undertook two of the most important motor racing events that year, the Mille Miglia and the Twenty-Four Hours of Le Mans.
In 1953 the Mille Miglia attracted an entry of 488 cars and only 283 were classified as finishers. Bert Hadley and Bertie Mercer driving NOJ 392 (race number 552) were eliminated during the difficult first stage from Brescia to Ravenna the stage claimed sixty-four cars including Stirling Moss’s Jaguar. The Healey retired with a broken throttle linkage.
Almost immediately after the Mille Miglia the cars were prepared for the Le Mans Twenty-Four Hours. The Healey team used a dilapidated French chateau as its base, which Geoff Healey described as offering “primitive accommodation with Napoleonic toilet facilities.”
Things didn’t start well for the Healey team at Le Mans. Gordon Wilkins driving NOJ 391 back to the chateau from scrutineering was hit by a vehicle driven by a drunken French peasant. Wilkins’s wife, a passenger in the car suffered severe damage to her mouth. Luckily Stirling Moss’s father, an excellent dentist, was also at Le Mans and he carried out some brilliant repair work. NOJ 391 was seriously damaged and required a complete rebuild in time for practice, this was not helped when all the team’s mechanics were struck down with a severe gastric complaint due to a combination of French food and Napoleonic sanitation.
Things improved drastically for the Healey squad during the race. Johnny Lockett and Maurice Gatsonides drove NOJ 392 (number 34) and having completed 2,153 miles in the twenty-four hours finished in twelfth place overall and second in class. The Wilkins/Becquart driven NOJ 391 (number 33) finished fourteenth, completing 2,105 miles. NOJ 392 was timed at 118.2mph during the race, which was the thirteenth fastest time of the sixty-seven entries and averaged 89.59mph for the event.
NOJ 392 was to become the star of the 100 road tests performed by Motor and Autocar in their September 1953 issues. These tests became somewhat controversial as NOJ 392 was represented as being a standard Healey 100 rather than one of the Special Test Cars. NOJ 392 was around three hundred weight lighter than a standard car and still had the 1 3/4” H6 carburettors and cold air box from Le Mans and all the other special modifications, providing it with at least 10bhp more than a standard car. In addition the high overdrive and 3.667 axle allowed NOJ 392 to reach 119mph, whereas a standard car would struggle to reach 105mph. Around two seconds were also shaved off the 0-60mph time. The actual figures achieved were 0-60mph in 10.3 seconds, standing1/4 mile times of 17.5 seconds and average top speed runs of 111mph (119mph in one direction). All figures that were unrepeatable with actual production cars but were sure to impress prospective Healey buyers.
Unique among the ‘NOJ’ cars number 392 did not become a 100S but remained a development car, which in 1954 was lent to Girling Ltd for tests of their new disc brakes, as a comparison with the Dunlop system, which was eventually adopted for the 100S.
NOJ 392 was most frequently driven by Roger Menadue, Donald Healey’s longest serving employee. Eventually it became his own car, Donald Healey apparently giving it to him as a reward for all his hard work on the project. Roger ran the car as his daily transport until 1962. It was registered in the name of the Austin Motor Company from April 1953 to August 1958, at which time it was changed to the Donald Healey Motor Company.
NOJ 392 is also believed to be the car in which Geoff and Margot Healey went to Italy for their honeymoon.
NOJ 392 is featured in many Healey books including Geoffrey Healey’s Healy the Specials and Austin Healey the Story of the Big Healeys and Bill Piggott’s Austin Healey in Detail.
NOJ 392 has only had three owners in the last thirty-six years and has been in Australia since the early eighties and re-imported to the UK by Cars International. It comes with comprehensive documentation including confirmed record of ownership, with all original UK ‘Log Books’ showing The Healey motor company as the original owner, an album of the photographic record of the car’s restoration Historic Vehicle Identity papers and copies of letters from Geoff Healey and Roger Menadue are also included. Of great significance is the original notebook from Le Mans with pencilled notes. The book was found in the door of the car and has been authenticated by Geoff Healey and Roger Menadue.
NOJ 392 was restored between 1994 and 1995 which was carried out with absolute authenticity and originality as the utmost priority and subsequently won the Austin Healey Owners’ Club Concourse outright. As an example, whilst all the body and chassis have been thoroughly protected with top quality primers, the car has been restored with colour only where colour previously existed and painted in acrylic lacquer rather than two pack enamel to closely replicate the nitrocellulose that it would have been painted with. (Pre restoration photographs are included in the comprehensive documentation.) NOJ 392 has better body alignment and gapping than was satisfactory in 1953 as photographs and personal inspection will show. Many components on this car are significant for being pre-production and hand made, unlike the standardised full production components. All these parts have been refurbished rather than replaced.
Today NOJ 392 has been returned by Cars International to exactly as It was on the starting ramp in Brescia, in 1953 to compete in the Mille Miglia
A unique piece of British motoring and motor racing history and as such represents an incredibly rare opportunity to own an extremely important road and racing car.