Caton powers Austin-Healey back into production
The Austin-Healey 100 is making a comeback as a $500,000 restomod which will soar past the 100 mph top speed that gave the car its name.
The project comes from newly-formed British company Caton, which says it “brings an exceptional harmony of experience, passion, OEM-level technology and craftsmanship to bare, focusing exclusively on the sympathetic enhancement and evolution of cherished products for the modern age.”
Caton plans to bring its take on traditional craftsmanship and modern luxury to other products in the future, but the 100 will be the first to showcase its talents.
Although some six different versions of the Austin Healey 100 were built between 1953 and 1958, Caton has chosen the first, known as BN1, as its inspiration. Surprisingly, that includes using a four-cylinder engine rather a straight-six, like the later models. However, since Donald Healey reportedly preferred the lighter unit and it was easier to upgrade, the four-pot honors the original more accurately.
Caton has embraced Healey’s ethos, going to town on the engine with the aid of specialists at JME Healeys in the U.K. Based on an original Austin-Healey block, the 2954 cc motor is stripped down, lightened, and balanced. A steel crankshaft, upgraded bearings, high-compression pistons and a race camshaft are fitted. Twin H8 carbs and gas flow inlets provide fueling and there’s a side-exit racing exhaust system. All told, these mods add up to 187 hp and 195 lbft of torque, compared to the ordinary BN1’s 91 hp.
The original three-speed transmission falls by the wayside in favor of a modern five-speed unit, and in doing so, the transmission tunnel has been narrowed, which frees up space. A new pedal box design allows tall drivers, for the first time, to sit comfortably.
As a testament to the Healey’s well-conceived standard suspension, the modifications are relatively minor. At the front we find double wishbones and adjustable coils springs with lever arm dampers, while the rear end retains its leaf spring system. Rose jointed bars sit at both ends.
More sophisticated stopping power comes in the form of vented front discs with four-pot calipers at the front, and solid discs with three-piston calipers at the rear. There’s no ABS, no traction control, and no power steering—conscious omissions to preserve the Healey’s exciting analog driving experience.
“To remain true to the car’s DNA, we asked ourselves ‘What would Healey have done when building a car in the Fifties if they had the tools and manufacturing techniques that we are in the unique position to have at our disposal today?’” says Caton design director Darryl Scriven.
Taking that approach to the car’s styling has resulted in a more streamlined exterior, with all seams and beading removed. The grille is described as “a piece of jewelry on the front of the car. A piece of art with each slat individually created, pieced together to create a floating look, behind the Caton hexagonal trim, a shape that flows delicately but deliberately throughout the vehicle.”
The bumpers are removed, new aluminum fenders and hood are formed in the traditional way—on an English wheel—and the rear end has “more substance”. There’s also less clutter, thanks to the removal of the car’s trunk hinges and handle.
The cabin is trimmed in a mix of shrink-optimized leather for the dash and door cappings, while the seats are natural leather from Bridge of Weir, chosen, not just for its look, but for its smell and the way it will age. It “enriches the cabin with the fragrance of leather and will develop a beautiful patina over time. That’s part of the Healey by Caton’s authentic appeal, which will only get better and better the more the car is driven,” says Scriven.
With just 25 Caton Healeys set to be built at the company’s base in Coventry, U.K., each will be uniquely tailored to its buyer’s taste, with an almost limitless choice of paint and trim.
Caton CEO Tim Strafford says: “It will be our privilege to collaborate with Caton’s customers to specify their car to their exact requirements, whether they choose to visit in person or liaise from anywhere across the globe. No two examples of the Healey by Caton will be the same, but each will be of exceptional beauty and built to the highest possible OEM levels of quality. Each will represent a true reincarnation of the iconic Austin-Healey 100 sports car utterly fitting for the modern age. Our aim is to deliver an unrivaled, immersive, intoxicating, and highly emotional driving experience.”
After its public debut at the Salon Privé in London on April 21-23, production will begin. We’ve been promised a drive this summer. Our flying hat and goggles are already packed.