What’s better than buying a brand new car? Buying a classic, a real classic car, with beautiful, timeless lines and styling that could last centuries. But, and this really is a gargantuan but, buying a classic car entails far more than the up front purchase cost. Anyone who has ever delved into the world of classics will know old age is a bit of a dastardly bugger who will creep up on you every couple of weeks, meaning your classic beauty will spend more time in a workshop than anywhere else, not to mention those non-existent parts will cost an arm and a leg to acquire, and possibly a kidney on the black market too. So herein lay the opportunity, the niche waiting to be filled, and Woodley Healey have done just that.
You see, they manufacture Austin Healey replicas (right here in SA) to the highest standards, 100% bespoke right down to side mirror placement and interior fittings and finishes. But in an interesting turn of events, they have teamed up the classic English Austin Healey with BMW 325i engines and gearboxes, creating a unique combination that some would call sacrilege, and other genius. The end result – we had our chance to find out, as we got into the driver’s seat of a red and white Healey – was nothing short of spectacular.
The top was down, the sun was shining, and the 6-cylinder BMW engine up ahead rumbled to a start as I turned the key. I sat low in the Healey, looking out over what seemed to be an almost never-ending bonnet behind the slim wooden steering wheel in front of me. Behind the wheel there were no indicator stalks or anything of the sort, just a few dials and standalone switches on the dashboard for indicators, wipers, and hazard lights. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel like I’d just jumped back in time a few decades, I was sitting in something classic, and classics are more heart-warming than any modern monstrosity of a sports car.
Driving the Healey, it really felt like an old car – not in a negative way though, but it felt raw, unhampered by modern electronic trickery – It felt pure. The lack of power steering and wide turning circle are to be expected, but was more than made up for by the responsive nature of the steering whilst on the move. It all felt rather mechanical, and as I used the clutch and changed gear each time, I could hear mechanical tinkering ahead of me as each part moved into place before being replaced with the roar of the BMW engine, which adds throaty character and apparently closely mimics the attributes of the original Austin Healey engine.
In modern society, in a modern car, this mechanical nature would often be a huge fault in the engineering, but in something with this sort of history and heritage, the flaws made it feel genuine, they added character and they gave it class. The styling and noise emanating from the low slung roadster accrued stares and smiles from everyone, with traffic parting to allow me in, taxi drivers smiling and waving and making gaps for me to drive through. All the while, the atmosphere was one of complete relaxation and comfort; and the soundtrack of the engine replaced the usual 5FM banter I was used to hearing in a car – but that was all I needed.
There were clunks and clicks coming from all the oily bits, but not once did anything creak that wasn’t supposed to – because it’s a brand new car. These Austin Healeys are brand new cars, with warranty and all, and can be serviced by any mechanic who knows a BMW 325i engine. The brakes are BMW, the wishbone suspension is BMW; but the sound, the feel, the presence of the Healey is something far more prestigious, it’s classic, and a classic will garner far more attention and produce far more joy than any point-and-shoot racer available for a few million Rand today.
As Holly Black once said, “Crippled things are always more beautiful. It’s the flaw that brings out beauty,” and it is this that makes the Austin so great. It is by no means perfect, there’s play on the gear lever, and there’s a harshness to its low-slung ride, but the beauty of it all lies in the little quirks that make this a true classic; but one with all the reliability of a modern car, one that can be driven to and from the shops, one that can be serviced at your local service yard, one that can stand proudly in your garage, on the street, and out on the open road. By the end of this drive I was left with a wondrous smile on my face, and a joy in my heart that something so pure still exists in today’s market – my only gripe was that I had to walk away without the keys in my pocket.
Engine: BMW E30 325i inline-6 producing 128kW
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Driven Wheels: Rear-wheel drive
Price: R350 000
A few hundred words are not enough to convey just how wonderful the Woodley Healey Austin Healeys really are, look out for our full road test and review coming soon. For more information or to order your own, visit www.austinhealey.co.za or www.spartanautomotives.com.
Author: Roger Biermann