Back on track at Goodwood in the first privately entered Austin-Healey ever to compete at the Sussex circuit. Words Greg Macleman. Photography James Mann.
FIRST AMONG SEQUELS – THE PIONEER PRIVATEER
Goodwood’s first Austin-Healey privateer
The sight of an Austin-Healey threading its way through this famous chicane is nothing unusual in itself, a scene played out every year since the first Revival Meeting in 1998. But for marque specialist Bill Rawles, sons Charlie and Jack, and this car’s lucky owner, today represents the culmination of a five-year project; of endless days researching in libraries; and of more than 1700 man-hours spent hammering, beating and fettling, bringing to life a piece of Goodwood history that might well have been lost for ever were it not for their joint endeavour.
The car’s owner, modest to a fault, would rather remain anonymous, but his is a rap sheet that would put most of us to shame. Countless cars have passed through his hands over the years, from a Riley Imp to one of two Singer Le Mans to have competed at La Sarthe, yet no marque has resonated in quite the same way as Austin-Healey, a passion sparked when he embarked on the restoration of a rare 100M.
Being such a fan, his quest led inevitably to the pinnacle of the Healey totem – a 100S, which in turn brought him to long-time specialist Bill Rawles. “I was driving over to visit Bill, having been recommended his workshop, when I rather embarrassingly ran out of petrol,” he says. “I rang up and told him the trouble – and that I was in a 100S. He was there in five minutes!”
‘The car left Longbridge on 18 August 1953, and by 6 September had already stormed to a class win at Brunton Hill Climb’
The 100S eventually made way for other cars but, wanting something to tinker with that wasn’t too complicated, he asked Rawles to keep an eye out for a suitable early 100, which duly turned up finished in white and red. “And it didn’t look too bad – my words, not his,” he laughs. “I took it home, thinking that I’d fiddle with it and, over the years, restore it. I started to take it apart and it became apparent that it was a little bit more ugly than I anticipated; the body came off and we gasped. Later brakes had been added, with the servo hammered through the bulkhead, which had to be replaced, and there was rust everywhere. We had the chassis dipped, and what came back was barely recognisable.”
A rebuild had always been on the cards, but greater impetus was given to the project after the owner followed up an interesting lead suggesting that, at one point, the car had been a racer: “I was reading Bill Piggott’s Austin-Healey 100 in Detail when I turned the page and there was a picture of this car. I started doing some digging, and soon ascertained that it had raced earlier.”
The investigation led to the purchase of 15 years’ worth of Goodwood race programmes. Sure enough, while leafing through the archive, a certain David Shale’s Healey turned up in the entry lists: “I even found out that he’d finished third in one of the races, thanks to the person who’d first had the programme and filled in the results in pencil.” With dates, photographs and race entries studied and compared, it quickly became clear that the Healey, DNH 828, was a highly significant machine for just how early it took to the track, being the first privately entered example of the marque to race at Goodwood.
Competition had been on the cards from the moment the Healey 100 made its debut at Earls Court – partially hidden by a pillar due to Donald Healey’s nervousness about how its front-end treatment would be received. Healey recognised the value in sporting success, and the contribution it could make to a new model’s image – particularly in the United States, where club racing in southern California was becoming hugely popular. As a result, four of the earliest cars produced at the Warwick factory were earmarked for racing under the vague guise of ‘special test cars’, leaving with the registrations NOJ 391, NOJ 392 and NOJ 393, the quartet rounded out by an endurance racer with spatted rear wheels and a headrest fairing.
Austin-Healey’s competition debut came in March 1953, when Autosport’s Gregor Grant and Peter Reece entered the Rallye Lyon-Charbonnières in the factory prototype, MWD 360, which had been registered for the road just five months earlier. By the following month, two of the special test cars would face an even greater challenge on the arduous Mille Miglia. Both failed to finish, due to a combination of clutch trouble and damaged throttle linkages. Remarkably, the cars were campaigned in near standard form, even wearing front and rear bumpers – though of alloy rather than steel construction.
David Shale, DNH 828’s first owner, was the archetypical club racer and the perfect candidate for a new Austin-Healey, which could transform from sporting tourer to weekend racer simply by lowering the windscreen as quickly as a chap could take off his necktie and pull on his driving gloves. Shale was in an enviable position to take early delivery of the new model, being the son of a garage owner in Northamptonshire, and an early car is just what he got. Stamped with a body number of 140 (visible on the inside edge of the bonnet and other panels), DNH828 was just the 140th Austin-Healey built, and the 120th since full production began – the lion’s share of which would have been destined for the USA. The car left Longbridge on 18 August 1953, and by 6 September it had already stormed to a class win at Brunton Hill Climb, still in factory trim, with the ’screen lowered and Shale at the wheel. A week later Shale was in action again, this time for the car’s first circuit outing at the 14th Goodwood Members’ Meeting on 12 September – nine days after the model’s debut at the Sussex track with NOJ 391 in the Nine Hours.
The Healey took to the track at 3:15pm in a mixed field for non-supercharged sports cars from 1500-3000cc and over 3000cc, dicing with XK120s, Allards, an SS100 and a Frazer Nash trio. Car 36 finished third behind Berwyn Baxter’s LMC-Bristol Special and the winner, a 21-year-old Tony Brooks in Arthur Hely’s Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica – a remarkable achievement for what was essentially a road car.
Shale campaigned the Healey throughout 1953 and ’54, returning to Goodwood on 21 August ’54 with the car in a more racy specification – bumpers removed and an aeroscreen in place of the factory item. It’s this specification to which the car has been restored and, sitting alongside the famous Super Shell building at the revitalised Goodwood Motor Circuit, the roadster cuts a wonderful dash. The striking blue paintwork – echoing that of the Earls Court star – is flawless, as you’d expect of a car so fresh out of restoration that the finishing touches were only applied a week prior to our shoot. Decals mimicking the roundels and numbers that the Healey wore during its 1954 Goodwood outing are less than 24 hours old. “Even the numberplate position is the same,” says Jack Rawles, whose mission is to make the car as authentic as possible. “They’re screwed straight into the valance, just as David Shale did in period.”
When Shale offered the car for sale in Autosport in October 1954, to fund the purchase of a 100S, it was advertised as being fitted with ‘full Le Mans kit’ including high-compression pistons, nearly a year before official 100Ms were available to order on 5 September 1955. This has led to speculation that the Healey was an early recipient of performance parts from the works.
It is thought that the kit fitted to DNH 828 consisted of a long-branch inlet manifold (which remains with the car), bigger SU carburettors and a hotter cam. “There’s a cross-brace at the front of the car, and if you look closely it has a kink in it,” explains the owner. “When they took out the camshaft, rather than remove the engine they lifted the motor slightly and bent the brace.
Every time you see Healeys restored people straighten that – it’s happened to me twice!” Meanwhile, the engine, usually painted green, was finished in red – just like its sister car, 10 chassis earlier, which he also owns: “That’s too much of a coincidence, so I suspect when they were building the early cars, they were getting stocks of engines from Austin that were coming to the factory in red.” Without hard evidence to back up the theory, Rawles’ team decided to paint the block green: “And that is how it will stay until new information comes to light.”
The history of the 100M is complicated, with cars being built both at the factory and modified later using kits supplied to owners. “We suspect some of the parts were tested on ‘semi-works’ cars,” says Bill Rawles. As the son of an official dealer, with such strong links to the factory, it’s likely that Shale would have had access to these components – particularly because it had been his intention to compete from the off.
The cabin is relatively Spartan but finished to a high standard, the dials sitting in the two-piece dash (later cars used a pressed one-piece item) untouched and showing their years. “We wanted to be as sympathetic as possible with the rebuild – I love the thought that these are the same dials Shale saw while flying down Lavant Straight,” says Rawles, though neither he nor the owner is willing to sacrifice everything at the altar of originality. “The wheels are wrong,” he explains.
“They’re 60-spoke wires, because the 48-spokes are weak, though the spare is the original.” The attention to detail is remarkable: the guide pins for the ’screen are aluminium rather than chromed steel, while the dashboard wears an enamel badge bearing the name of Shale’s family dealership, S&W Motors. “The same badge was fitted to Shale’s 100S,” the owner explains, “but that came from the Healey Museum and seems to be the only one. When the car was at Pendine, I phoned up and said: ‘You’ve got a 100S for sale with a nice badge on the dashboard… how big is it?’ And the chap measured it over the phone. I then had two badges made specially by a firm in Birmingham. You can still feel the fixing point for the original badge behind the dashboard.”
The freshly restored engine fires at the first press of the starter, filling the Goodwood paddock with the distinctive rumble of a four-pot Big Healey. Sitting behind the huge banjo steering wheel for the Healey’s first return to Goodwood in 65 years, the sense of history is palpable. Taxiing through the paddock offers an opportunity to get accustomed to the sensitive clutch and slightly recalcitrant first gear, and as we pull onto the start/finish straight the lumpy high-compression engine smooths out as the Healey quickens its step. Like all early cars, it has the Austin Atlantic’s three-speed ’box – a four-speed with first blanked off, rendered redundant by the torque from the 2660cc ‘four’ – with overdrive allowing a 100mph-plus top speed.
The Healey feels immediately at home on the track, with light, sharp steering and surprisingly soft suspension that really leans into corners, giving plenty of notice of when the rear end may step out. The package inspires confidence, and it’s easy to see why Healeys were such a success in races and endurance rallies. We’re not racing today but, having been given the freedom of the track, it’s difficult to stop the imagination running wild as we tick off the famous corners – Madgwick, Fordwater, St Mary’s – that Shale so deftly navigated all those years ago.
We barrel on down Lavant Straight, through Woodcote and approach the famous red-and-white chicane – brick in Shale’s day, now Styrofoam to protect the Revival’s valuable entrants. In an instant, today’s photoshoot is forgotten, hands grip the thin-rimmed sprung wheel tighter, and the urge to cut a tidy line through the quick right/left proves completely irresistible. The Healey is back where it belongs, doing what it knows best. And, for a moment at least, the old magic that so beguiled David Shale reveals itself once again.
Thanks to Goodwood Motor Circuit (www. goodwood.com). DNH 828 will feature with Bill Rawles Classic Cars at the Goodwood Revival from 13-15 September, on Over the Road stand 305-306 (www.rawlesclassiccars.co.uk)
Back in its element, the first privateer Austin-Healey to race at Goodwood returns to the circuit – here entering the doubleapex Lavant corner. Clockwise from main: beautifully trimmed, with recreated S&W Motors badge on dash; engine is uprated with new manifold, bigger carbs and hotter cam; Shale chases DB2 at ’1953 Members’ Meeting. From top: MacLeman guides the Healey through the Styrofoam chicane of the restored circuit; engine has been painted Healey green, but was previously finished in red; David Shale races at Goodwood in ’1954