Is this the best classic car in the world?


Classic cars are great. They press the nostalgia button and they turn heads. But the downside to all this, as we know only too well here at Great Escape Classic Car Hire, is that they take a lot of work (and money) to keep them roadworthy and reliable.
Step forward the HMC Healey. It looks like a classic but it does everything like a modern because it was built in 1999. Now this retro stunt is nothing knew - Panther did it with the Kallista and Lima, Morgan does and countless kit cars companies have tried it. Where the HMC is a little different is that deliberately blends old and new. And succeeds.
Unlike Morgans and Panthers, the HMC is a thoroughly modern car with a TVR-like spaceframe chassis and a GRP body. It was designed as an updated version of the original Austin Healey, a car that could compete alongside modern TVRs and Morgans on its own merits. It is known as a 'continuation car' much like recent AC Cobras and would have been badged as a Healey until a trademark dispute at the 11th hour put paid to that.
That heritage means that it adopts an updated version of one of the most beautiful British sports cars ever made. The Big Healey defined post was Never Had It So Good Britain, proving hugely popular Stateside too. 
So the HMC looks fantastic, particularly in the blue and cream colour scheme of our example. It is a major head turner. And 9 out of 10 assume it is a 1960s version. 
But this car is more, much more, than a car show queen. It is utterly brilliant to drive. Anyone who has driven an original Healey will have considerable respect for all those American servicemen who piloted them in their heyday. The Big Healey is heavy, extremely cramped, noisy, hot and frankly really rather demanding. 
The HMC is none of those things. Settle into the heated leather Recaro seats (which will be familiar to Capri 2.8 fans) and everything falls to hand - meaty gear lever, small wheel, lovely Smiths style dials within a wood veneer dashboard. Some of the minor switchgear is inevitably parts bin, but then that's a problem shared with Aston Martins...
Fire up the motor and the sensory explosion begins. The HMC is powered by the Land Rover version of the venerable Buick-Rover 3.9 litre V8, churning out a figure north of 200 bhp. Lest we forget, original Healeys used Austin engines so there is some tenuous continuity in this British Leyland parts bin raid.
The Rover v8 is a burbling, sonorous thing but in the HMC sounds particularly good. In fact, just like a British classic should. The twin pipe exhaust exits just behind your ears about 2 inches off the ground. 
Snick the stubby lever into first, release the handbrake (handily located in the passenger footwell) and feed out the light clutch. The HMC's brakes and clutch are up to modern standards and the steering is power assisted, meaning you can concentrate on enjoying the car rather than the mechanics of moving it. 
Which is just as well because the HMC is an absolute hoot. It is quick, obviously, and that engine is a joy - tractable, torquey and smooth. But it is the handling that really delights. Original Healeys are hard to exploit because of the sheer physical effort of doing so. Not so with the HMC. It is light and fluid with direct, communicative steering that signals the progressive departure of the rear end early on. Which is just as well. Because with a light GRP body, huge v8 power and precious little weight over the rear wheels (even with a svelte, some might say debonair pilot in place), it is very, very easy to kick out the back. 
The HMC makes a very strong case for a modern car with classic looks. It is a personal thing but for me it blends the best of both worlds, a great looking car with proper classic car heritage with modern engineering and reliability. 
I loved it. You can buy one of the 167 HMCs for about £30,000, similar to the price of an original car. I know which one I'd rather have to drive and enjoy.
You can hire this car from our Shropshire site at www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733.

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