Austin Healey returns

Published: 19 June 2007

Austin-Healey’s coming back? Why?

The recent announcement that Nanjing Automobile Corporation (NAC) and Healey Automobile Consultants Limited (HAC) will collaborate on future sports cars has been given a warm welcome from the enthusiast community. But following the recent re-opening of Longbridge and the veiled promises of new sports cars in the pipeline, could it be that the new cars will be Austin-Healeys as well as the MGs? The deal inked between the two partners last week merely confirms that Healey’s automotive partner, HFI Ltd, is engaged in the design and development of sports cars and needs NAC-MG’s approval to use the Austin marque name. However, there’s ample opportunity to extend the scope of Austin-Healey, assuming the Longbridge revival is a successful. NAC-MG’s plans for Longbridge seem almost certain to revolve around offering a wider range of models, and plans are already been drawn up. Although the new cars’ introduction seems hinged on healthy sales of the revised TF in the UK and Europe, it’s clear that the Austin-Healey option is much more than a pipedream – with massive interest worldwide, especially in the USA. We’ve already seen glimpses of what a new Healey could look like; Project Warwick (above) was a BMW-era investigation into relaunching the Austin-Healey marque, but it was grounded by a lack of marque ownership rights.

What will the new Austin-Healey be based on?

NAC-MG’s quality director, Paul Stowe, has confirmed that heritage brands are in the running for a revival, and taking NAC-MG’s sportscars upmarket might find more favour under the Austin-Healey banner. MG’s last attempt at moving upmarket was with the XPower SV (above), which despite its advanced carbonfibre construction was far from successful. Ironically, it’s this car – or at least parts of it – that could re-appear as an Austin-Healey, as its intellectual property rights remain with MG Sport & Racing. With the 4.6-litre V8 engine allied to that well developed chassis, a new car could be produced in double-quick time. The first thing that would need to be abandoned would be the expensive carbonfibre body which, if rumours at the time were to believed, was already on its way out in 2004 before the MG Rover meltdown.

Will the new cars leave the drawing board?

A source close to MGR maintains that other sports cars were in development at the time of the company’s closure in 2005 – although more precisely, they languished on the drawing board. The proposals featured extensive use of aluminium in their construction, and were primarily designed for low-volume production. Since the arrival of NAC-MG at Longbridge, it’s been confirmed that related sports car projects have been sighted yet again, but they still remain on the drawing board until given the go-ahead from Chinese management. There have been a couple of serious attempts in recent years to revive the Austin-Healey marque, most notably under BMW. During the late 1990s, it’s believed that Project Warwick advanced sufficiently to necessitate talks with the Healey family. However, these ultimately broke down, and if alternative Munich whispers are to be believed, much of what was developed went into the Z4 roadster. After that it became clear that post-Rover, the Germans had lost ownership of the Austin-Healey name. Project Tempest (above) was a rendering from a failed MG Rover bidder in 2005; however, the styling is perfectly judged for future Healeys.

By Keith Adams

Devout classic Citroen enthusiast, walking car encyclopedia, and long-time contributor to CAR