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1951 Nash Healey Roadster

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Donald Healey was technical director at Triumph during the 1930s, and following World War II, in 1946, he established a new company in Warwick, England. The Donald Healey Motor Company Ltd built the Healey Elliot saloon powered by a Riley engine followed by the Healey Silverstone in 1949. The Healey Elliot won the 1947 and 1948 Alpine Rallies as well as the touring class at the 1948 Mille Miglia. The Silverstone model had a lightweight two-seater body formed from aluminum. Named after the famed racing circuit, the dual-purpose road and race car had a shortened frame, stiffer suspension, a spare wheel positioned in the tail, and doubling as a bumper. It proved very capable in motorsport competition with Donald Healey (and co-driver Ian Appleyard) securing a class victory in the 1949 Alpine Rally. Two examples were purchased by American millionaire racing driver, Briggs Cunningham, with one being 'standard' and the other acquired as a rolling chassis. The chassis was modified, a Cadillac overhead-valve V8 engine installed, and raced successfully in the USA for several years.

Business is not always done in the boardroom, demonstrated by a chance meeting of Englishman Donald Healey with Nash-Kelvinator Chief George Mason during a transatlantic voyage aboard the RMS Queen Elizabeth. The new Anglo-American roadster that debuted in 1951 is often considered to be America's first post-World War II sports car. A prototype Nash-Healey was entered into the 1950 running of the 24 Hours of LeMans, where it emerged 3rd in class and 4th overall, behind a pair of Talbot-Lagos and a Cadillac-powered Allard J2.

Mr. Healey had traveled to America in hopes of securing overhead-valve V8 engines from Cadillac for use in the Healey Silverstone after Cunningham had demonstrated the potential of this union. He would leave America without a deal, but a dinner aboard the Queen Elizabeth with Mr. Mason resulted in a production plan and a friendship.

A prototype example was displayed in September of 1950 at the Paris Motor Show with the production version introduced a few months later in February of 1951 at the Chicago Auto Show. It was shown later that month at the Miami Auto Show (perhaps due to its proximity to the B.S. Cunningham Company of West Palm Beach, Florida?).

Nash had resumed passenger car production on October 27th of 1945, with an Ambassador sedan being the first off the production line. Like most automobile manufacturers, styling and products were similar to their pre-war catalog. Postwar Nashes were only powered by six-cylinder engines, as the eight-cylinder unit did not return. Thus, the engine supplied to the Donald Healey Motor Company by Nash Motors was the Ambassador's inline six-cylinder, overhead-valve, seven main bearings, 234.8 cubic-inch unit developing 112 horsepower. Healey removed the cast-iron cylinder head and fitted a lighter, higher-compression aluminum unit and twin 1.75-inch SU carburetors, boosting output to 125 hp. It was backed by a three-speed manual transmission with Borg-Warner overdrive, torque tube, and differential.

The box-section ladder-type steel frame of the Healey Silverstone was widened and strengthened, then clothed with an aluminum body. The front coil spring suspension with trailing link and sway bar was from the Silverstone, while the rear used Nash's coil springs, a beam axle, and Panhard rod. Drum brakes at all four corners were concealed behind steel, dressed up wheels with full-diameter chrome hubcaps wrapped with 4-ply 6.40x15-inch whitewall tires. The interiors were comfortable and well-appointed, with leather upholstery, foam rubber cushions, a cigarette lighter, and an adjustable steering wheel.

Nash of Kenosha, Wisconsin sent Healey the motors, the vehicles were assembled in England, clothed with bodies built by Panelcraft Sheet Metal of Birmingham, and then sent back to the United States where they were sold through the Nash dealership network with a base price of $3,767. In comparison, Nash's entry-level model listed at $1,715, and its top-of-the-line Ambassador Custom Line sedan sold for $2,225. 1950 Cadillac vehicles ranged from $2,760 to $3,650, while the range-topping Cadillac Series 75 Fleetwood (7-passenger limousine) models were in the mid-to-high $4,000 range. Cadillac's overhead-valve V8 displaced 331 cubic inches and produced 160 bhp, 35 more horsepower than the Nash-Healey. While the Nash-Healey did not represent a 'bargain,' it did succeed at generating show-room traffic, serving as a halo car, and was very successful in motorsport competition. A total of 506 examples were built during its lifespan with 104 in its inaugural year followed by 150 in 1952.

The 1952 Nash-Healey
The complexity of the Nash-Healey expanded to three countries for 1952, with Nash commissioning Italian designer Pininfarina to update the styling with the goal of bringing more inline with the rest of Nash's products. The restyled car was displayed in 1952 at the Chicago Auto Show with numerous modern and 'American' styling cues including the small tailfins in the rear, a curved windshield, and distinct fender character lines. The grille with inboard headlights was later adopted in 1955 by the Nash Ambassador and Stateman.

The engine now displaced 252 cubic inches and breathed through twin Carter carburetors, bringing horsepower to 140 hp. Nash shipped the engines and drivetrains to England for installation in the Healey-fabricated frames, then was sent to Italy. The bodies were built by Pininfarina in Turin using steel (the hood, trunk lid, and dashboard were aluminum), assembled the finished product, then exported the vehicles to the United States.

The 1953 Nash-Healey
By 1953, the Nash-Healey base price had risen to $5,908, nearly double the cost of the newly introduced Chevrolet Corvette. Despite the astronomical cost, the Nash-Healey enjoyed its best year in 1953 with 162 units sold, helped along by the versatility of a new closed coupe body style. Additionally, its success in motorsports had reinforced its performance credibility with a fourth-place finish in the 1950 24 Hours of LeMans. Driven by Tony Rolt and Duncan Hamilton, its appearance at LeMans earned it the 'first' to use an overdrive transmission. The race had begun with 66 entrants but only 29 were able to finish the race. Rot and Hamilton returned to LeMans in 1951 where they placed fourth in class and sixth overall. Leslie Johnson placed third overall and 1st in class in 1952 at Le Mans, behind two factory-entered Mercedes-Benz 300SL. Johnson then brought the Nash-Healey to the Mille Miglia that year and placed seventh overall and fourth in class. The coupe driven by Donald Healey and his son Geoffrey crashed out. For 1953, the final appearance of the Nash-Healey at grueling 24 Hours of LeMans, two cars with special bodies were entered by the factory. Johnson and Bert Hadley drove one example to an 11th place finish, beating both of Donald Healey's new Austin-Healey 100s. The other Nash-Healey, driven by Pierre Veyron and Marius Aristide Yves Giraud-Cabantous retired after nine laps.

In honor of the Nash-Healey's accomplishments at LeMans, the new closed coupe was called the Le Mans Coupe. Its elegant design was awarded in March of 1953 with first prize in the Italian International Concours d'Elegance held at Stresa, Italy. Golfer Sam Snead was photographed with his Nash-Healey roadster on the cover of the June 1953 issue of Nash News. A roadster owned by Dick Powell was driven by George Reeves, as Clark Kent, in four TV episodes of the Adventures of Superman.

The 1954 Nash-Healey

Ninety examples of the Nash-Healey were built in 1954, its final year of production, with a base price of around $5,130 after Nash had lowered the POE (port of entry) price by over $1,200. The introduction of the '1954' model was delayed until June 3rd and production continued through August of 1954. When it arrived, only the Le Mans Coupe remained, the convertible having been discontinued. Minor styling updates were applied to the coupe, including a reverse slanted 'C' pillar and the removal of the previous one-piece rear window in favor of a three-piece unit. Vehicles not sold in 1954 were sold as 1955 models.

1954 was also the year that Nash Kelvinator became reorganized as a division of American Motors Corporation (AMC) following the merger with Hudson Motor Car Company on May 1st of that year.


by Daniel Vaughan | Feb 2022

Related Reading : Nash Healey LeMans Roadster History

In 1949 Donald Healey and George Mason had a chance meeting on an ocean liner. Healey was in the business of designing and producing sports cars while Mason was the president of Nash-Kelvinator. Their conversation led to sports car and resulted in an agreement that the Nash Company would provide engines for a new Healey sports car. In 1950, production began on this Nash-Healey alliance. In 1951, the....
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1951 Vehicle Profiles

1951 Nash Healey Roadster vehicle information
Roadster
Coachwork: Panelcraft Sheet Metal of Birmingham

Chassis Num: N2041
Engine Num: NHA1044

1951 Nash Healey Roadster vehicle information
Roadster
Coachwork: Panelcraft Sheet Metal of Birmingham
1951 Nash Healey Roadster vehicle information
Roadster
Coachwork: Panelcraft Sheet Metal of Birmingham

Chassis Num: N2001
Engine Num: NHA-1001

1951 Nash Healey Roadster vehicle information
Roadster
Coachwork: Panelcraft Sheet Metal of Birmingham
1951 Nash Healey Roadster vehicle information
Roadster
Coachwork: Panelcraft Sheet Metal of Birmingham

Chassis Num: N2066

Performance and Specification Comparison

Price Comparison

$800-$4,060
1951 Healey Roadster
$4,060-$11,000
1951 Nash Healey Roadster Base Price : $4,060

Other 1951 Nash Models
$1,675 - $1,725
$2,135 - $2,320

Healey LeMans Roadster

Year
Production
Wheelbase
Engine
Prices
104
102.01 in.
6 cyl., 252.52 CID., 142.00hp
$4,060 - $4,060
150
102.10 in.
6 cyl., 252.60 CID., 140.00hp
$5,910 - $5,910
4
100.00 in., 102.10 in.
6 cyl., 200.00hp
166
102.00 in.
6 cyl., 252.00 CID., 140.00hp
$6,000 - $6,000

Industry Production

#1#2#3Nash
1956Chevrolet (1,567,117)Ford (1,408,478)Buick (572,024)83,420
1955Chevrolet (1,704,667)Ford (1,451,157)Buick (738,814)96,156
1954Ford (1,165,942)Chevrolet (1,143,561)Plymouth (463,148)91,121
1953Chevrolet (1,346,475)Ford (1,247,542)Plymouth (650,451)121,793
1952Chevrolet (818,142)Ford (671,733)Plymouth (396,000)154,291
1951Chevrolet (1,229,986)Ford (1,013,381)Plymouth (611,000)205,307
1950Chevrolet (1,498,590)Ford (1,208,912)Plymouth (610,954)171,782
1949Ford (1,118,308)Chevrolet (1,010,013)Plymouth (520,385)135,328
1948Chevrolet (696,449)Ford (430,198)Plymouth (412,540)110,000
1947Chevrolet (671,546)Ford (429,674)Plymouth (382,290)101,000
1946Ford (468,022)Chevrolet (398,028)Plymouth (264,660)94,000

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