28 October 2013

Collector Classics: 1950 Nash Healey Roadster

$400,000 restoration turns out better than the original


My wife rarely makes a comment about cars other than she would like to have a new Aston Martin (so would I, actually). So when she spotted the 1950 Nash Healey Roadster at the Louisville Concours, I was quite taken aback when she commented that she really liked the Sunset Maroon roadster with its full-wheel chrome hub caps and wide whitewall tires.

I had the chance to scrutinize the vehicle very closely because it once was on the cars in the class that I was judging. Having undergone a $400,000 restoration, which included a $21,000 restoration of the steering wheel, I asked myself, “How is this possible?”

My critical eyes could not find anything wrong with the car other than probably an over-restoration because I doubt that the car looked as good when it was new, as it does today. The engine was a little noisy when started cold but that was probably due to the modern oil (not enough zinc, which is recommended for breaking in new engines), and that it had only been driven five miles since the restoration was completed.

The significance of this Anglo-American vehicle is that it was America’s first postwar production-built sports car, and this particular car was built for Donald Healey. The combination of the beautiful Healey designed hand-built aluminum body by Panelcraft of Birmingham England incorporating a Nash grille, bumpers and other trim was mounted on a widened Healey Silverstone chassis. The in-line six-cylinder Nash Ambassador engine had been stroked by Healey in that the stock cast iron cylinder head had been replaced with a high-compression aluminum cylinder head.

Donald Healey had originally intended to fit a 331-cid Cadillac V8 engine and so had designed the engine compartment to accommodate that engine. A few owners later fitted V8s in themselves.

Only 104 examples rolled into the showrooms in 1951. Americans enthusiasts were probably bewildered why the conservative Nash Motor Company had entered the sports car market. The $4,063 price tag also played a role in the small number of sales.

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