HMC Big Healey road test

By Great Escape Classic Car Hire road tester Matt Nichols
I don’t just ‘want’ this new Big-Healey in my life I ‘need’ it, and no not like my wife or daughter ‘needs’ a new pair of shoes to match their latest outfits, or my son ‘needs’ his electric guitar at every family gathering. No I really ‘need’ it. Because right now for me and OK they may argue in their case for them as well, this car is in my blood running through my veins making perfect sense and not something I am ready to have challenged by anyone, whoever they may be.

As a beautifully retro styled sports car from 1999 the HMC model looks just like an original late 1960’s Healey 3000, whilst at the same time sounding like a roll-out TVR, revealing its compelling old-new theme. For instance, the steering has a new power assisted lightness combined with old-school directness ensuring every apex is touched with just a hint of lock as the front of the car fully commits to each one of your driver inputs. An experience further enhanced with the equally new fully independent rear suspension that in turn combines brilliantly with the period wire wheels to doggedly hang onto each direction change once the inevitable slack has been taken up. Put simply this car rocks, closing the gap perfectly between real drivers machine and modern in-car systems and going some way to explaining why I very nearly drove constantly for the entire 24 hours I had it. Even the lights worked well and heater sublime with the roof down under a rapidly cooling late summer’s night sky.

The HMC MKIV is a car that was given official recognition by the Healey family as a successor to the original ‘big’ Austin Healey 3000 (MK111). It copies its predecessor’s classic styling, this time in GRP, with the only obvious visual differences being the slightly flared front arches and newer interior trim. The classically styled lightweight body also hugs a modern tubular chassis and all-round independent suspension with disc brakes and aurally pleasing 3.9 litre Rover V8 engine. The dashboard mixes a touch of old world walnut, Smiths dials and chromed toggle switches, that include two for the heated seats, which for me nails just how perfectly well old and new worlds are joined together.

I will also forgive this car its Ford heater controls and vents simply because; a) they sit below or to the side of your natural eye line and are rarely clocked, b) sourcing chrome equivalents would completely disguise the control knobs, and c) they work so damned well, I had to switch them off at times regardless of how cold it got outside.The truth is I only returned this particular car to Great Escape Classic Car Hire on the promise of a test drive in a recently refurbished and scrummy looking bright red 4.2 Series 2 E-Type.

In my personal journey of ‘Try before you buy’ I wasn’t 100% clear what I was looking for but the HMC Healey has come closest to date combining jaw dropping classic car looks with more modern running gear, construction and systems. Even the tiny period rear view mirrors work well for goodness sake. Details like the piping over the front arches, blue over cream paint, wire wheels and small circular auxiliary lights all add to the picture perfect concept of a classic you can use regularly without the potential pitfalls of other completely original cars. Shame on everyone then this side of the pond, that most were exported to Germany.

In terms of classic car traits a few appeared to have been built in. All of the pedals are offset to the right, along with a good couple of inches of travel in the brake pedal before resistance is found, leaving enough of a gap to the throttle pedal to ensure any toe and heel attempts are completely thwarted. When you first have to brake you can therefore experience a slightly disconcerting moment when you think you must be pressing the wrong one given its position and free flowing motion, I had to look down at least twice.

There was also at the time of driving a cold idle issue, the idle being conspicuous by its absence, but once over the initial car park embarrassment this is short lived. The only other minor point is that this car’s slammed to the ground stance means the exhaust will drag on bumpy B-roads and whilst exiting garage forecourts, causing the need to slow down or lift until the terrain smooth’s back out again. Overall the fact that when I did finally park up, in the Clifton area of Bristol, I had 3 separate conversations with 3 people in as many minutes; one from someone who had owned an original Big-Healey, is pretty much all you need to know. Put simply this car works on every level and is well worth a go.

HMC Big-Healey MKIV
Driving
The steering and independent rear end combine to create a unique and rewarding experience that has to be experienced to be believed
Engine
Rover 3.9 litre V8 delivers useful torque low down before revving freely up to the 5,500rpm maximum. All accompanied by a truly pleasing soundtrack
Performance
Strong but not wild, I think if it were mine I’d find ways to get a few more horses up front
Brakes
Discs all round are well up to the job once you’re accustomed to the initial take-up slack in the brake pedal
Handling
You’ll never miss an apex and the rear is difficult to unstick in the dry with the car tipping into corners very nicely. I would need some track time to explore what happens at and beyond the limit but on the road I’d give it full marks
Desirability
Interesting one this as most left our shores to be exported to Germany and so other than being extremely rare in the UK, very difficult to call. I’d have one tomorrow though
Pro’s
Classic car looks combine with modern systems to create a compelling ownership prospect
Con’s
Buying – Take an expert along with you just in case. A TVR specialist may prove valubable if an HMC equivalent is difficult to find, as the main components are very similarRenting – Other than returning the car afterwards, absolutely none.
Overall
5/5

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