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Austin Healey's Make Their Marque on Bonneville Salt Flats

Recreations of the 1954 record breaking Austin Healey's remade history by achieving 149.06817 miles per hour for the "Modified" car and 127.41139 miles per hour for the "Stock" car at Utah Salt Flats Racing Association's World of Speed event on Bonneville Salt Flats!

September saw a small group of Austin Healey enthusiasts realise a dream of taking two very special Austin Healey 100S prototypes back to Bonneville Salt Flats.

Their aim was to emulate Donald Healey's 1954 record breaking exploits on the Salt through the recreation of the two Austin Healey's used that year. The two cars were faithfully constructed by a small team at Marsh Classic Restoration led by marque expert Steve Pike.

In 1954 the Austin Healeys took an impressive bag of records under United States national and international three litre class, class "D". The records were sanctioned by the American Automobile Association (AAA).

Brief details of the two cars constructed by the Donald Healey Motor Company for the 1954 record breaking program and recreated by Marsh Classic Restoration are as follows;

  • "Stock" Austin Healey: Constructed with a specification closely reflecting the 100S competition model scheduled for limited production in the following year. Usually referred to as the "Endurance" car as its role was to attack the 24 hour endurance record on a ten mile circuit. Average speed achieved by a team of drivers including Donald Healey, George Eyston, Carroll Shelby, Roy Jackson-Moore and Mort Morris-Goodall for the 24 hours was 132.29 mph and 142.63 over the measured mile; and
  • "Modified" Austin Healey: Constructed with streamlined bodywork styled by Gerry Coker, the designer of the Austin Healey 100's timeless lines, and powered by a 100S type engine fitted with a Shorrock supercharger. Usually referred to as the Streamliner, this cars role was for outright speed on a fourteen mile straightaway. Speed achieved in Donald Healey's hands 192.6 mph. On the ten mile circuit Carroll Shelby subsequently drove the car taking further records including 25 to 200 kilometres plus the one hour mark at 157.92 mph.

Marsh Classic Restoration of Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, Australia faithfully recreated the two Austin Healeys using a number of original components. In recent years Marsh Classic principal, Steve Pike, has developed considerable expertise in the restoration of the 100S competition model. Supporting Steve and the build team was a project team consisting of a small group of enthusiasts located in Switzerland, Australia and England. In addition to the construction and development work by the build team at Marsh Classic, each project team member contributed their expertise making it a truly international team.

While Steve Pike retained ownership of the "Modified" Austin Healey, Swiss resident and passionate Belgian Austin Healey enthusiast, Bruno Verstraete, signed up early for the 'Endurance' car. The "Endurance" car was the first of the two cars constructed and made its debut at the March 2009 Phillip Island Historic Race meeting. With the Endurance car sorted, Steve and the crew at Marsh Classic focussed on the construction of the "Streamliner".

Alongside Steve Pike, Bruno Verstraete took the role of the team stalwart as a sponsor and personally provided the impetus to drive the virtual side of the project. Project updates for Austin Healey enthusiasts were provided through a website,, supported by a series of regular newsletters. Once the team was on the salt a blog provided a summary of day to day activities to a wider audience. Incredibly more than a hundred and fifty Austin Healey enthusiasts travelled to the Salt Flats to share the experience and support the team and their support was greatly appreciated. The team members were very fortunate to have Roy Jackson-Moore, Gordon Whitby and John Beazley with them at Bonneville for the occasion. Roy Jackson-Moore drove the Austin Healey record cars for Donald Healey in the 1953, 54 and 56 and Gordon Whitby was at the 1954 attempts and was invited to join the Donald Healey Team for subsequent attempts. John Beazley was General Manager of Gough Industries, the BMC Distributor and prolific importer of Austin Healey's to the USA.

Drivers of the Austin Healey's at 2009 World of Speed were as follows;

"Streamliner" Austin Healey: Steve Pike (Australia) & David Pike (Australia)

"Endurance" Austin Healey: Bruno Verstraete (Belgium/Switzerland) & Joe Jarick (Australia)

With the exception of a high attrition rate for the Works Rally Austin Healeys, special Austin Healeys, race cars and prototypes largely survived in reasonable numbers thereby preserving a wonderful heritage. Sadly for Healey enthusiasts, none of the Big Healey record breakers survived, primarily due to the corrosive effects of the salt and limited usability. The Healey's Return to Bonneville project team set out to change that.

For the project a number of options were considered by the team for the return to Bonneville including hire of the Salt Flats to replicate the fourteen mile straightaway course and ten mile circuit as used in 1954. This was quickly discounted as a 10 mile circuit had not been used for many years and without team members on the ground logistics were likely to be problematic.

After consideration the team opted to enter the World of Speed event scheduled for 16-19 September 2009. This event, organised by the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association (USFRA), had a solid reputation as being run by enthusiasts. The World of Speed used a significantly shorter course of seven miles, but it had the infrastructure in place that allowed the team to focus on the cars tuning and performance at an altitude of 4,400 feet. Lack of access to altitude testing in Australia prior to shipping the cars meant that this work had to occur in real-time.

Team Healey lodged a detailed submission with the World of Speed organisers. This submission recognised that in their original 1954 form the cars were not eligible to run records at World of Speed. Assistance was requested with pre-scrutineering to ensure the best chance of compliance with event regulations. A critical issue given the cars had to be largely race ready when shipped to the USA from Australia.

Following negotiations with the USFRA agreement was reached for the Austin Healeys to run "Time only" thereby allowing a lower level of compliance with event regulations. Apart from being uncompetitive in the capacity class for a record, to run for a record would have required significant modification to comply. This would have included full roll cages and tyres unsuitable for fitment to the cars Dunlop alloy wheels. This would detract from Team Healeys wish to run as the most authentic recreations as possible of the 1954 cars including Dunlop racing tyres and Dunlop peg drive alloy wheels, as original.

In the spirit of the event Team Healey agreed to progress through rookie qualifying despite all drivers possessing considerable circuit racing experience. For the Streamliner as a 200mph car, rookie qualifying was required in three stages, 125 to 150mph, 150 to 175 mph and then 175 to 200mph. Once qualifying in the third speed ranking the Streamliner was free to run up to its maximum. As a rookie the "Stock" or "Endurance" car was required to run 125 to 150 mph, a speed within its nominated target range.

As Team Healey commenced setting up their pit on Monday 14th September the weather closed in from the south. The rain, wind and some flooding caused any such activity to be abandoned for the day. That was a minor inconvenience as next morning saw the salt flats turned into a lake following overnight runoff from the mountains ringing the salt flats.

Event cancellation appeared imminent. Fortunately, clearing weather accompanied by a breeze saw the water evaporate sufficiently to allow the organisers to announce the event was definitely on after a day and a half's delay. In the meantime the team set out to entertain the 150 or so Austin Healey enthusiasts who had come to the Salt Flats to see the cars in action. An impromptu hotel car park party was followed by display of the cars and demonstration runs of the Endurance Austin Healey on the runway at the Wendover Airport.

A highlight for many was the Wendover Revival Roundtable held on Wednesday evening in the Wendover Community Centre. The team shared the stage with participants from 1954 for a presentation by Joe Jarick on the development of the Donald Healey Motor Company cars and comparison to the recreations. A lively information, question and answer session followed ending and the evening ending with an auction to raise funds for two charities. These were the Donald Healey Memorial Fund and the USFRA Club Car Project, the latter being a project to give many volunteers within the USFRA a run on the salt. Both charities were well supported by the enthusiasts who bid and team members who donated items for the auction.

With Steve Pike at the wheel on its first run, somewhat reminiscent of Donald Healey's experience at Bonneville the Streamliner sheared its supercharger drive. This was as a result of the effects of methanol on induction system components, this car running on a 50% methanol fuel mix. The team and willing helpers worked to repair the drive and mount the engine more solidly to minimise the engine torque reaction on the supercharger drive. Their work was rewarded by a 149.06817 mph run by David Pike on Thursday. This speed was achieved at 4,400 rpm in fourth gear with one more gear to go! David described the car at this speed as incredibly stable and this was no doubt due to Gerry Coker's good design work. This speed qualified the Streamliner for the next speed range of the rookie class, 150 to 175 mph. Unfortunately, on the last afternoon of competition a start line incident involving the push car saw the Streamliner bumped off the course and the parachute deploy with minor damage, mainly to the push mechanism. The sight and sound of the Streamliner on full song could not fail to impress everyone as it was like no other Austin Healey they had seen before. It brought home to all what a loss it was that the original car no longer existed. Steve Pike and his Marsh Classic team received high praise for building the car and bringing both it and the Endurance car to Bonneville and in doing so sharing such a wonderful experience. Enthusiasts will look forward to the car's next outing at Lake Gairdner in Australia in March 2010.

As it was naturally aspirated the Endurance Austin Healey required careful tuning for the altitude and a number of runs were required to achieve the best possible setup. In the car's final run late on Saturday Bruno Verstrate achieved 127.70891 mph thereby qualifying for a run at its maximum. This will be a goal for Bruno another day using a longer course as the car showed it was continuing to increase its speed the further down the course it travelled.

Despite the bad weather delaying the event the team came away with the view that Bonneville is a truly unique environment and the experience was an immensely rewarding one. The team greatly appreciated the support of so many Austin Healey enthusiasts who literally came from all corners of the earth. Over the course of the event many enthusiasts approached team members and said that once they heard of the Healeys Return to Bonneville project, "they just had to come".

The day they stepped on the salt, Team Healey members were warned by several USFRA officials that the salt has a way of getting into your blood. When it came time to depart the old hands said they expected the team would be back as there was still a 100-Six Streamliner from 1956 to be built!

Contact: Joe Jarick

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