Performance Modifications for the Big Healey

by Greg Greathouse

Originally published in the Austin-Healey Magazine


Editor's Note: While some HR readers (purists) will not agree with Greg Greathouse's article, I feel many willenjoy & appreciate it's content. That's what makes strong clubs. --S.J.


Having owned and/or modified several Big Healey's over the years, I have probably learned the hard way what makes one of these rascals "work" for performance use. While I share in the joy at the sight of a "gennie original" with all you "purists" out there; many updates and re-bops make sense for both technological modernization and safety reasons.


I will spare everyone in this particular diatribe regarding my personal preference for the advantages of eight cylinders (though I personally believe that had the marque continued, the aluminum Rover or Cosworth V-8 could have been a reality). The bulk of this article will deal with suspension and handling-oriented changes targeted at the 100-4; but work equally well on 100-6, 1000 and 3000 models.


SHOCK ABSORBERS


Nearly all front-engine, rear-driver vehicles suffer from poor front-rear weight bias. This translates into an understeer condition and generally lots of body roll. All big Healey's can benefit tremendously with the addition of tubular shocks giving superior dampening, rebound and roll-control. (How many late model cars have you seen without tube shocks?) The good news is that Koni made bolt-on tube shock brackets and shocks tuned for the big Healey. The bad news is that they're rare and very expensive. About ten years ago I bought the front brackets for $20; about 3 years ago I needed a set for the race car and they had skyrocketed to $14O - then you buy the shocks! Being your basic "cheap racer", I merely pulled the set off my streeter, then measured and copied them for $10 worth of steel and fired up the old arc welder. As a more reasonable alternative for the shocks themselves, I have found the Gabriel Adjustable "E" series an acceptable alternative ($20 each versus $70 each for the real "Dutch treat".) It worked in the front, so I made brackets for the back. If you like to play rat-racer on winding roads, tube shocks is the first thing I would do!


WHEELS


Saying it like it is, tire technology has been a major factor in breaking track records over the years. Compounds are softer, tread width is much wider-all requiring a better wheel. Stock Healey wires for performance work are junk (cute, but junk!) Wires compound the problem, 'cause when you thump-thump a sail-cat they're out of tune. If I had to have wires for aesthetics; they'd be triple-laced, alloy-rimmed Baronni’s off a Cobra (a no-brainer change as they fit the Healey splines) the rub here is that your checkbook needs a 4 digit balance to stand the gaff. If you can't afford Baronni’s; but still wanna play and gotta have wires-run nothing less than 72-spokers. The third (maybe best) alternative is solid wheels (all kinds of "mag"-type wheels are available that look good, are light and strong and available cheap at swap meets and flea markets.) Ah, you say they won't fit your splines Bunky? Well hang on Castrol-breath, we can make 'em work! A neat solution exists to kill two firebirds with one stone - solid wheels and disc front brakes for drum-type early Healey's.


DISC BRAKE/SOLID WHEEL COMBO


Front disc brakes offer a super safety solution for 100-4 and later non-disc big Healey's. The great part is that it's an absolute bolt-in from later models (including upper control-arm/shock assemblies, lower A-arms, springs, uprights and the works!) If you can find them, solid wheel disc setups are slick 'cause a Buick-Olds-Cad bolt pattern goes right on (more bad news- they're rare so costly). Both my race car and streeter (both 100-4's) are equipped with late model discs in font. The "best" discs are those pirated from 65-67 models with the thicker rotors and redesigned calipers. The trick (because of availability) is to use the wire wheel type front-ends and adapt them to solid wheels. I designed and made adaptors for this function which become an integral part of the hub-rotor assembly. I have plans and drawings for this procedure at a nominal cost. The slick part here is that you can design the bolt pattern for any wheels you buy (Ford, Chev etc.)


OTHER HANDLING MODS


There's more in store if you want to get real serious, folks. I nearly forgot about sway bars. If you've got a 100-4 get rid of the gennie front "hairpin" bar and swap in a late 3000. (If you’re a racer, make an even fatter one; mount the bar in aluminum pillow blocks, heim joint the connection points and throw away the panhard rod!) For those of you contemplating the addition of a rear sway bar (anti-roll bar, to be accurate) DON'T! It will probably change the car to oversteer at the critical point of adhesion-"feels" neat to a point, then wham the car pirouettes like a ballerina. If the desire for further precision exists, fully adjustable (caster and camber) upper A-arms can be fabricated (must have tube shocks for this one); replace all suspension bushings with nylon or delron; solid-bush the front eye of your rear leaf springs; and replace the original "worm and squirm" with an MGB rack and pinion. When you get done you'll have a pocket-rocket which will absolutely shock the porschephiles and Revel-racers (Vette owners) in your neck of the woods.


By the way, I am not the only non-purist out here. At a recent get-together of Healey-Freaks, I rapped with a club member contemplating a turbocharger for the big six - now there's an idea worth looking into! I apologize for the length of this dissertation but you can't flag my enthusiasm, 'cause modified Healeys are fun! I have plans and specifications for all the modifications I have described and am willing to part with them cheap (if I get about a thousand responses, I may recoup half the dollar-loss on my mistakes).


Not what you were looking for? Don't forget you can check our back issues using the AHCUSA Magazine Index.

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