“A DB5 Aston Martin (definitely a 007 car) arrived in the mirror with lights flashing while I was tooling along the A3 on a semi-motorway three-lane stretch at around 80mph. Down to third remembering that the synchromesh wasn’t quite as handy on the way down, red line, switch to overdrive III, red line, IV, red line. No Aston. Damn your eyes, James Bond” – journalist Eoin Young testing ‘ARX 91B’ for Sports Car World, October 1965.
As a label, ‘all-rounder’ can be a somewhat double-edged moniker, versatility having an inclination to imply, albeit subtly: Jack-of-all-trades, master of none.
Such a tendency though does not arise when discussing the exceptionally successful competition career of the model nicknamed the ‘Big Healey’, which over its lifetime was equally at home breaking records on the Bonneville Salt Flats, being thrown down a rally stage or playing a supporting role as four-wheeled crumpet-catcher in the 1960 film School for Scoundrels.
The CV of individual Big Healeys does, of course, vary. Arguably, however, none is more wide-ranging than that of one particular 3000 Mk III registered ARX 91B, a car which has seen action in rallies, road races, circuit races and on celluloid. It even provided the means in which a well-known motor journalist took his driving test...
The Austin-Healey 3000 Rally Cars
Donald Healey had entered four-cylinder sports cars in his own name at blue riband event such as Le Mans and the Mille Miglia since 1953. In 1957, with a new 2.6-litre, six-cylinder engine under the bonnet of his bluff ‘100’, he continued the programme for Tommy Wisdom, who picked up a class win on the last ever Mille Miglia.
The following year the British Motor Corporation (‘BMC’) took over the preparation of the rally entries, while the Healey HQ at Warwick was responsible for the racers. As a result, all works rally Healeys received ‘RX’, ‘MO’ and ‘JB’ registrations from Abingdon council. At first, BMC used the 100-Six two-seat hardtop, but in the summer of 1959 a new Big Healey was announced, the 2,912cc ‘3000’. It was a significantly more powerful engine and gave the company the best chance of competing in the 3.0-litre class in international events.
The 3000 also had front disc brakes, and the famous red-and-white cars were both highly successful in international rallying and a force to be reckoned with on the race track. The car was updated on a regular basis and 1961 saw the introduction of the Mk II ‘BJ7’ that had triple SU carburettors and a ‘central’ (not off-set) gear lever. All-round disc brakes were another plus. Works comp’ cars made use of the new three-carb homologation and from 1962 used twin-choke Webers, usually fitted to a special alloy cylinder head. By the winter of 1961-62, BMC had a world-beating rally car and in the hands of rally legends such as Paddy Hopkirk, Pat Moss, Rauno Aaltonen and Timo Makinen, the Big Healey scored countless class and overall wins.
The last evolution to see production, the Mk III (or ‘BJ8’) was introduced in October 1963. After the first 1,390 BJ8s, two modifications were introduced which would improve the model and increase its attractiveness to BMC’s Competitions Department. Addressing the car’s poor ground clearance, Geoffrey Healey designed an underslung or ‘dropped’ chassis at the rear, while fitting radius rods to replace the BJ7’s Panhard rod helped prevent rear spring breakages on rough events.
The first two ‘dropped chassis’ or Phase II BJ8s, built in 1963, were taken over to Comps in Abingdon’s B block for preparation, and would be registered ARX 91B and ARX 92B – with the former, chassis HBJ8-26754, registered on 9 April 1964.
This Motor Car
ARX 91B’s first event marked the competition debut of the newly announced 3000 Mk III Phase II. Held from 28 to 30 May 1964, the Österreichische Alpenfahrt (Austrian Alpine Rally) saw Paddy Hopkirk driving and Henry Liddon navigating the 1,200-mile course as the sole BMC factory entry.
Based in Velden, the Austrian Alpine course was roughly arranged in three loops and ARX 91B dominated the rally by setting fastest times on every test. Even in heavy rain, climbing up the Vrši? Pass – some of which is not surfaced toward the summit – Hopkirk and Liddon posted a time of 10 mins 48 seconds, which was 48 seconds faster than the second-placed car. Despite penalties docked each day for Hopkirk’s late arrival at the startline (he objected to the 4.30am kick-off…), the Austin-Healey 3000 would win its class and the event outright.
After a well-deserved rest and faithful service as a works reconnaissance car, ARX 91B was shipped to Italy for the 1965 Targa Florio. Australian tough guy Paul ‘Hawkeye’ Hawkins was paired with Finnish rally expert Timo Mäkinen. The duo was to feature in Mountain Legend, a Castrol publicity film narrated by the unmistakable Raymond Baxter, which detailed the 49th running of the great Sicilian road race around the daunting Piccolo Circuito delle Madonie.
Prepared to racing spec at Abingdon, ARX 91B had been lightened and further tuned to around 195bhp – with either vastly experienced driver behind the wheel, enough to keep the car in contention on the twisting mountain course. There was just one, six-kilometre straight for the faster entries – four Ferrari 250 GTOs in the same class – to stretch their legs. Scrutineering threw up one problem, though: no bumpers. The resourceful Comps team quickly scoured the spectators’ car park and were able to borrow a set for the race.
Each 45-mile lap started at Cerda and featured 295 corners. The race was over 10 laps and Mäkinen started the car, streaking away to the extent that by lap three, with Hawkins at the wheel, the pair was third in class behind two Ferraris. Five laps later, now leading the class, Hawkins ran into trouble. The practical Australian traced the fault to the distributor’s rotor arm and ran two miles back to the pits for a replacement. His earthy reaction on being told the only spare carried by the team was already in the car can only be imagined…
Car fixed, Hawkins screamed back into the race, but had lost first in class to the Ferrari 250 GTO 64 of Ravetto/Starraba. In a race dominated by cutting edge Porsche 904s, Ferrari 250 LMs and Alfa TZs, the British car, of a design that could trace its ancestry back to 1952, finished second in class and 20th overall in one of the most challenging long-distance events on the calendar.
BMC had been encouraged by ARX 91B’s Targa performance, so the Healey was loaned to Don Moore for the Brands Hatch 1000 race. With Comps mechanics in support, the car was driven by Paddy Hopkirk and Roger Mac and at one point was placed second overall in the 41-strong field of front-engined GTs. It was a two-part race, though, and various issues held it back. Despite these, it still finished fourth overall and second in the Grand Touring over-2600 class.
Over a year since its last factory outing, on 20 May 1966 ARX 91B was sold by BMC to David Hiam Ltd of Sutton Coldfield, UK. Hiam then traded it to North Yorkshire club racer Christopher Stewart, who subsequently sold it to fellow clubman Ted Worswick. Worswick was an experienced driver who wasted little time in entering the Healey in the 1967 Targa Florio, pairing up with Richard ‘Bondini’ Bond. The car obviously knew its way round the gruelling course and Worswick/Bond – benefitting from some under-the-counter assistance from BMC – finished an impressive second in the over-2.0-litre class behind the Ford France GT40, ninth overall and ahead of BMC’s own MGB GTS driven by Paddy Hopkirk and Timo Mäkinen.
This excellent Targa showing meant one World Championship point, so Worswick had an entry accepted to the final round of the 1967 Prototype and Sports Car Manufacturers’ Championship, the BOAC International 500 six-hour race at Brands Hatch. This would be ARX 91B’s last high-profile competitive event.
Driven to and from Brands – just as Worswick had done for the 1967 Targa – ARX 91B was co-driven with Peter Clarke and qualified in 36th and last place on the grid. Despite lasting race distance, the Healey would, alas, be ‘unclassified’.
Worswick, reminiscing about his and the Healey’s BOAC 500 participation, later said: “My presence could well be described as overly ambitious... Although we were not classified as a finisher, we were still circulating at the end of the six hours. I don’t think we caused too many problems, and later in the race we were getting cheery waves from some of the drivers in faster cars.”
Withdrawing the car from top-flight competition, Worswick continued to campaign it at national level for a further two years before selling it to Lancastrian enthusiast Brian McKenzie in August 1969. It would be ARX 91B’s last change of ownership for 43 years.
During this time the Healey competed in British sprints and hillclimbs before becoming a ‘high days and holidays’ road car, wintering for 12 years as an exhibit at the Bridgnorth Motor Museum. In June 2004, ‘ARX’ was repainted the correct Colorado Red and in 2005, the three surviving Comps spec thin-gauge aluminium wings were refitted – along with a fabricated replacement.
Already unusually original for a competition machine, in the opinion of Works Healey guru and historian Nick Howell this Austin-Healey is one of only two of the 24 ex-Works 3000s not to have been substantially rebuilt. Acquired at auction on 15 September 2012, ARX 91B – which retains its original chassis, engine, body and even Dymo-labelled dashboard, including Mäkinen’s Targa Florio cigarette lighter – has been maintained in its 1965 Comps road-race specification.
Making this task much easier, its Comps Department build sheets survive, covering everything from the Healey’s wiring (‘as rally car’) to the type of number plates fitted (‘stick on’). Fitted to the original chassis, the drivetrain has never been substantially modified: the .040in overbored Type-29K engine still has a polished and gas-flowed aluminium cylinder head with 704/539 rally camshaft, three Weber 45DCOEs and correct exhaust; while the transmission features ‘Tulip’ ratio spur-cut gears, a Works overdrive and a 4.3:1 final drive.
Thorough but largely invisible restorative work undertaken over 2012-2014 included cleaning and servicing, and returning minor Comps details to exact 1965 Targa spec; these include the correct 25-gallon fuel tank with central filler and quick-lift jacks.
As if all this was not enough, ARX 91B’s 1964 rally hardware survives with the car, for instance pod-mounted bonnet lamps and brackets, anti-roll protectors and assorted spares.
Arguably the most historic and adaptable of the ex-Works Austin-Healey 3000s, ARX 91B was reunited with the ever-energetic Paddy Hopkirk 50 years exactly after his Austrian Alpine Rally victory for a short Kidston film and a separate feature article entitled ‘Friends Reunited’ in Octane magazine, which concluded:
“Light, tight and well-behaved, this works ‘Healey is a delight. Many retrospective rally cars are set up hard, which renders them hot and edgy. ARX 91B remains cool and beguiling all the time and is a joy to drive both fast and in busy traffic. This is the only ex-Works Healey to have been campaigned internationally both in rallies and races – it’s a race-winning tool, but has been very carefully set up and developed into a sharp implement by the chaps at the BMC Comps, who clearly knew exactly what they were doing.”
The present owner was invited to show ‘ARX’ at the 2016 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este. Competing in ‘Class I - Rally Cars - Heroes of The Special Stage, 1955-1985’, the immaculately presented ex-Works racer barked and growled its way under the famous hotel’s awning by the banks of Lake Como. Hundreds of miles and 51 years away from its first triumph on the Sicilian Piccolo Circuito delle Madonie, the proud British warhorse once again competed with the finest exotica from Italy and Germany. If cars could talk.