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Book Review: Austin-Healey: The Bulldog Breed by Jon Pressnell

Austin-Healey: The Bulldog Breed

Offered by Motorbooks, Austin-Healey: The Bulldog Breed is an independent, richly illustrated history of the affordable small sports car Austin-Healey; it is based upon interviews conducted over a twenty-year period. The detailed history is recounted in short chapters with frequent background stories appearing in sidebars. There are also a practical buyer's guide and driving tips for each model made. Coverage is given to all production, racing and special sports cars, even those that never entered production. The encyclopedic detail Presssnell shares for each of these models makes this book a must-have for Austin-Healey aficionados everywhere.

Although the marque lasted only eighteen years, the Austin-Healey is still a well-known and well-loved car founded by Donald Healey, a small garage owner who enjoyed racing and dreamt of building his own sports car. After WWII, the car he envisioned got its start, with his eldest son Geoffrey on board as its chief engineer. Sitting on a light, rigid chassis, the earliest Healey was powered by a Riley engine. It handled well and was reasonably priced. In the early fifties, Healey began using Nash engines and his relationship with Nash likely saved the impoverished company—but the car, available only in the U.S., was expensive to produce and had sluggish sales. A British spinoff of that car was the 3-litre Alvis-Healey only made for three years and, like its American cousin, a poor seller.

Then, from 1954-56, the popular two-seat roadster Austin-Healey 100 sold as a less-expensive Jaguar alternative. And a six-cylinder 100-Six Austin-Healey appeared in 1956, both models utilizing as many mass-produced components as possible to keep prices manageable. From 1958-61 the plain, simply shaped Frogeye Sprite came out with excellent steering and sufficient power to zip over the roads. As those sales began to dip, however, the newly designed Sprite took its place (from 1961-1970), accompanied by the Italian-made Innocenti Spider (1961-1968) and followed by the Jensen-Healey (1972-1975). That car, while showing great promise, soon earned a poor reputation as a cobbled-together machine.

Pressnell's final chapter tracks various attempts to revive the Healey name and marque, starting in 1977. Saab and Ford, among others, showed interest but none of these later cars entered production.

About the Author Jon Pressnell is a freelance journalist specializing in classic cars. A senior contributor to Classic and Sports Car magazine, he has a special love for the British car industry and has written about classic sports cars, the Morris Minor, the Mini, and the Austin-Healey. He lives in Lherm, France.