Amid today's great surfeit of automotive choice is a cruel irony: Cars are more alike than they've ever been, and our parking lots are melting pots of badge-engineered, generically styled sedan-SUV-sports car-crossover minivans. What happened to the characterful if unpredictable sports cars our dads were always swearing at in the garage? A lot of things, but mostly safety and reliability, features that certainly made cars better but also far, far less interesting.
Safety meant bigger, dumpier bodies. Reliability severed the bonds that tied men to their mechanics – those countless hours of Sisyphean wrench work. But buying investment-grade sports cars from the past can solve all that. They're appreciating assets that recapture the visceral motoring experience. If you're sick of driving roadsters that feel and sound like video games, sick of cars you can turn off and walk away from unaffected by the experience, read on.
The two-seat 3000 is the best-loved of the so-called Big Healys. In empirical terms, these cars weren't huge; in fact, if you aren't built like the typical Englishman – long arms, short legs, huge ears, bad teeth, I could go on – you're going to find the 3000 harder to live with than bird flu. But the 3000 was bigger than Healy's Bugeye Sprite, a car built expressly for tiny fairies and wood nymphs. What makes these biggest Healys important is that they argue convincingly that the muscle-car template was first laid down not in America but in Britain. Here was a car that used a bus engine to get its work done, a fine precedent for today's Dodge Viper, which delivers its massive mule kick courtesy of a truck motor.
Long associated with Austin-Healy at the height of its competition prowess (Le Mans, Sebring), the 3000 gave 175 lb-ft of torque from its 2.9-liter engine, which was substantially larger and more robust than that of its 100-6 predecessor. Externally the 3000 is nearly indistinguishable from the 100-6 save for its badges, but the 3000, with its power and the addition of front disc brakes, make this the most desirable of the Big Healys.
What to watch out for: Be sure to check the brake lines carefully, since these are particularly vulnerable to failure. Rust could be lurking out of view, so get a mechanic to put it on a hoist and give it a good once-over. Also, don't get hung up on every little leak; this thing has more of them than Scooter Libby's office.
Resources: Original Austin-Healy 100, 100-Six and 3000, by A. Clausager; Austin-Healy Ultimate Portfolio, by R. M. Clarke; Austin-Healy Club USA
Credit: Michael Steele / Getty Images